Spencer Penrose (November 2, 1865 - December 7, 1939) was an American entrepreneur and philanthropist. He established a Colorado hotel known as The Broadmoor.
Spencer “Spec” Penrose was born on November 2, 1865, to a prominent Philadelphia family. The family traces its origins to Bartholomew Penrose, who arrived in Philadelphia in 1698. Spencer's father, Richard Alexander Fullerton Penrose, was one of Philadelphia's finest doctors, founding the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in 1854. Spencer's mother, Sarah Hannah Boies Penrose, promoted a simple life of austerity for her family. The couple had seven sons. Their first son died in infancy, leaving Boies Penrose, Charles Bingham, Richard Alexander Fullerton Jr., Spencer, Francis Boies, and Phillip Thomas. The Penrose family has a legacy of Harvard University graduates, with Boies, Charles, and Richard all excelling in their studies at the university. Despite graduating at the bottom of his class from Harvard, Spencer had ambitions to travel west rather than become a doctor or politician like his family members.
Western travels and enterprises
After Harvard, Spencer Penrose traveled to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he owned several businesses, selling each for enough to cut his losses and try his next venture. His luck changed in 1892, when his brother, Richard – by then a successful geologist – and Philadelphia family friend, Charles L. Tutt Sr. wrote to him about a potential gold rush in Cripple Creek, Colorado. Charles Tutt had arrived in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1884, where he found initial success in real estate. Tutt and Penrose had been childhood friends in Philadelphia, as both of their fathers were doctors at the children's hospital. Tutt loaned Penrose the money to purchase a half stake in his Cripple Creek real estate business which included the Cash on Delivery (C.O.D.) Mine and was the beginning of a long-lasting partnership between the two men. The Mine was one of the most successful in Cripple Creek, but as Penrose and Tutt continued their partnership and operations, they began to realize the value of opening a new business in ore processing. Tutt and Penrose sold the C.O.D. mine in 1895 for $250,000 and invested the money into their new venture: the Colorado-Philadelphia Reduction Company, an ore processing facility in Old Colorado City. The two men knew they would need someone with expertise in ore processing, so they brought on tenured miner and miller, Charles Mather MacNeill. The new partnership between Tutt, Penrose, and MacNeill led to the immediate growth of the Colorado-Philadelphia Reduction Company and its plant was treating over $3 million worth of Cripple Creek ore annually by 1899. The three men would create a mining, milling, and real estate empire in the years that followed. This initial success proved Spencer Penrose was capable of achieving great things in the west, but his true fortune would be found in copper from Utah.
As their interests in Cripple Creek dwindled, Tutt, Penrose, and MacNeill followed through on the suggestion of metallurgist Daniel C. Jackling, who believed that a massive copper deposit located in Bingham Canyon, Utah could be successfully mined. Jackling had been a metallurgist for the Bingham Canyon Gold & Silver Mine, as well as being the chief engineer at the US Reduction Plant Company in Florence, Colorado. A survey revealed the Bingham Canyon ore deposit contained only 2% copper. After consulting both Jackling and Spencer's geologist brother, Richard Penrose, the men determined that the copper could yield incredible profits if they could find a way to efficiently extract the copper from the ore. Penrose formed the Utah Copper Company in 1903 and began the momentous task of building a mill that could extract the copper at a rate that most other mining and milling experts thought impossible. Despite the high risk and uncertainty during the early years of the Utah Copper Company, the gamble paid off and led to a fast-growing enterprise that mined and milled more copper than any of the men could have initially imagined. His success in Utah led Penrose to invest and begin copper mining operations across the Southwest in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada. Penrose's success in both Cripple Creek and Utah Copper created his immense fortune, which he then brought back to Colorado Springs.
Colorado Springs and The Broadmoor
Penrose returned to Colorado Springs secure in his entrepreneurial acumen and inspired to showcase for the world the best that Colorado and the Rocky Mountains could offer. It was also during this time that he met his future wife, widow Julie Villiers Lewis McMillan. Spencer and Julie became friends, as they both belonged in many of the same social circles within Colorado Springs. Although Penrose had made a prior pledge to forever remain a bachelor, he was ultimately won over by Julie's charm. The two married in London on April 28, 1906, and spent their honeymoon traveling across Europe. It is believed that his travels through opulent European hotels and resorts inspired Penrose to return to Colorado Springs and build his own hotel to rival those of Europe.
Spencer and Julie purchased the home of their close friend, Grace Goodyear Potter, who had the Spanish-style villa constructed in 1910. The house was built on the site of the Dixon Apple Orchard, where the estate's name “El Pomar” (colloquial Spanish for “the orchard”) was derived. Spencer and Julie renovated the house with an additional two stories, corona marble tiles, exquisitely carved wood panels, and sophisticated crystal chandeliers. They also hired the Olmsted Brothers, famed for their previous work designing outdoor landscapes such as Central Park, to design the surrounding grounds. The house is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and operates as a conference and meeting space available at no charge to Colorado's nonprofit organizations.
Penrose is also known for executing his ambitious plan to build a road to the 14,110 foot summit of Pikes Peak. At a cost of $283,000, the highway was completed on August 1, 1916. The same year, Penrose started an annual motor race to the summit, the second oldest motor car race in the US, which still runs today as the Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
Perhaps the most prominent of Penrose's projects, The Broadmoor Hotel, was Spencer's next major business endeavor. After purchasing the land formerly owned by Prussian nobleman Count James Pourtales for $90,000, Penrose commissioned architects to design the hotel of his dreams. After rejecting several designs, Penrose selected the design of the firm Warren and Wetmore, known for their work across New York City including the design for Grand Central Terminal. They broke ground in April 1917 and held a grand opening on June 29, 1918. The hotel was completed at a cost exceeding $3 million. The Broadmoor attracted flocks of visitors, particularly due to Penrose's marketing skills. Targeting Midwesterners, Penrose placed advertisements in notable publications and invited celebrities to pose for photos and provide their own testimonials to the opulence of the Broadmoor. The golf course also attracted wealthy visitors from across the country.
Spencer and Julie Penrose were the catalysts for a number of projects and landmarks. Their legacy projects include the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Pikes Peak Highway, and the Glockner-Penrose Hospital (now Penrose-St. Francis Health Services). They founded El Pomar Foundation on December 17, 1937.
With a mission “to enhance, encourage, and promote the future and current well-being of the people of Colorado,” El Pomar Foundation still exists as a grantmaking organization. From an initial combined gift of $21 million, the assets of the Foundation now exceed $600 million, and its efforts have made more than $1.2 billion in impact for the state of Colorado. El Pomar also operates community stewardship programs, including: Awards for Excellence, Regional Partnerships, and a two-year Fellowship for young leaders.
The Foundation also operates two legacy properties of the Penrose Family: The Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun, where the Penroses are entombed, and the Penrose Heritage Museum, which showcases the Penrose's collection of carriages, as well as artifacts from their travels. Penrose died two years after founding El Pomar Foundation, leaving his wife Julie as President of the Foundation until her death in 1956.
- Helen Fairbanks and Charles P. Berkey, Life and Letters of R.A.F. Penrose, Jr. New York: Geological Society of America, 1952, p. 35
- Robert Douglas Bowden, Boies Penrose: Symbol of an Era. Freeport, N.Y.: Book of Liberties Press, 1937, p. 73
- Harvard College Class of 1886, Secretary’s Report No. II. June 1889, pp. 44, 74.
- “Gold in Cripple Creek,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 29, 1894, p. 1.
- Marshal Sprague “Mountain Money” Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979
- (“Charles Mather MacNeill Dies in NY. Financer Also Noted Ore Expert,” Colorado Springs Gazette, March 19, 1923, p. 1
- Penrose House, Spencer Penrose Collection, Box 10, File 32, letter from Charles MacNeill to Richard Penrose
- R. Thayer Tutt Family Collection, Stock Certificate Book, 1903-1904
- Parsons, The Porphyry Coppers, p. 198
- Helen Fairbanks and Charles P. Berkey, Life and Letters of R.A.F. Penrose, Jr., letter from R.A.F. Penrose, Jr. to R.A.F. Penrose Sr. dated June 4, 1906, pp. 412-413
- Our History. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.elpomar.org/About-Us/our-historyver2/
- Ibid. p. 83.
- Penrose House. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.elpomar.org/penrose-house/
- Letter from Spencer Penrose to R.R. Mulen, May 20, 1936
- Penrose House, Spencer Penrose Collection, Box 71, File 303, telegram from Penrose to MacNeill, May 9, 1916
- Ibid. p. 98.
- El Pomar Foundation, El Pomar Investment Company Minute Books 1 – 4, minutes from December 23 and 30, 1937, meetings.
- Our History. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.elpomar.org/About-Us/our-historyver2/
- El Pomar 2017 Annual Report(pp. 2-3, Rep.). (n.d.).
- Programs. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.elpomar.org/programs/
- About Us / Museum & Legacy Properties. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.elpomar.org/About-Us/penrose-heritage-museum/
El Pomar. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.elpomar.org/
Noel, T. J., & Norman, C. M. (2002). Pikes Peak Partnership: The Penroses and the Tutts. University Press of Colorado.