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Spencer & Julie Penrose: The Original Power Couple

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Spencer & Julie Penrose

The assets that propel Colorado Springs to the top of multiple “Best Places to Live in America” lists cascade like the spring runoff from Seven Falls.

The Broadmoor Resort and Hotel is a world-class destination, hosting VIPs and international events for more than a century. Thriving at 6,714 feet above sea level, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is the highest zoo in America. The Pikes Peak Highway enables the daring to experience America’s most famous peak, and the second-oldest race in the nation, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, is an international sensation. The Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo is celebrating its 80th birthday this year. Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun rings out from its eyrie above the Broadmoor, and the Broadmoor World Arena is at the center of figure skating and hockey excellence.

What you may not know is that each of these lasting legacies began with Spencer and Julie Penrose, Colorado Springs’ original power couple.

A scion of an influential Philadelphia family, Spencer appeared at first to be more prodigal son than golden boy. He graduated at the bottom of his Harvard class, more interested in “boxing, rowing, and drinking.” With $2,000 in his pocket, he went west to seek his fortune. He lost it all before he was invited to Colorado Springs in 1892 by a childhood Philadelphia friend, Charles L. Tutt. The partnership clicked, and they made millions in gold and copper.

In 1906, he married Julie Villiers Lewis McMillan, daughter of the mayor of Detroit, a widow and mother. Together, they set out to change the course of the town.

Julie donated her former home to create the Broadmoor Art Academy, which ultimately became what is now the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. They contributed to the Colorado Springs Day Nursery, Fountain Valley School, St. Mary’s High School, and the Boys and Girls Club. Julie was an original founder of the Central City Opera House and spearheaded creation of the Pauline Chapel and the Pauline Memorial Catholic School, both named in memory of her granddaughter.

They funded the Glockner Sanatorium to an extent that Mrs. Glockner requested it be renamed Penrose Hospital in 1959.

Two years before Spencer’s death, they established El Pomar Foundation. With assets now totaling more than $680 million, the foundation is one of the largest philanthropies in Colorado. Julie donated their home, now known as Penrose House, to the Sisters of Charity; El Pomar now operates it as a conference center for nonprofits. After Spencer’s death in 1939, Julie served as president of the foundation until her death in 1956.

Wherever you step in Colorado Springs, you’re likely to walk in the outsized footprints of Spencer and Julie Penrose.