DU has announced that it is planning on selling the Phipps Mansion in Denver. Located in Belcaro Park, the 6.5 acre property was the home of Senator Lawrence Phipps, built in 1933, and donated to the school in 1964.
The house is a neo-colonial/Georgian brick mansion containing something like 22 rooms at 33,000 square feet. Most interesting is the Tennis Pavilion which besides the massive indoor tennis court below a 125-foot-tall glass ceiling, also contains a lounge, changing rooms and a tiny soda fountain.
The university has used the mansion and pavilion as a conference and events center and it is rented out as a popular wedding site (the tennis court has been replaced with carpet but the pavilion is otherwise largely nicely preserved. The gardens are pretty spectacular example of an American interpretation of French parterre-design.)
What I find interesting in this change of program for the building is the ongoing life of the house. Having gone from a very private residence to a public events center, what does the future hold for this property? Will it return again to a grand single-family house? Let’s hope that it doesn’t get sold and cut into pieces, becoming so many condos.
I am currently working on two projects that have 100-year-old plus buildings as part of the overall existing buildings. But along with the original old house, there are additions that represent a owner’s need to alter the property with each passing generation. Bedrooms and kitchens get added on, interior walls are added or removed, the house changes and alters over time, a palimpsest of occupation.
Frankly I am not so interested in the big house at Phipps as I am in the magnificent pavilion. However, if a building such as this has survived this well for almost a century, let’s hope its new caretakers can steward it on in a manner that does justice to its past and does not simply mothball the buildings in a kind of Ye -Olde-Sturbridge-Village stasis. Or better yet, let’s hope some architects, when asked to update or transform the given buildings, take care and add an architecture that is modern and yet sympathetic to the old house and speaks of the overall property’s continual growth and change.
P.S. As a footnote to this post, a week or so later: It turns out that hundreds of people around the region have either been married on the grounds or had receptions there. How does the memory of these events move forward with new occupation? How is this space charged and lingers with so many happy memories, maybe a few regrets? Can you live in a house that seemingly “belongs” to so many other people?