Colo. governor’s mansion looking for ‘sustainable’ funding plan

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(Photo: governors mansion 1)Six years ago, while acting as Colorado’s first lady, Jeannie Ritter launched a campaign to raise $10 million to preserve the state's governor’s mansion. She said the effort would take ten years, and at the time conceded that it would be a tough sell.

“No sitting governor wants to put political equity into a mansion,” she told Colorado Matters’ host Ryan Warner in 2008. “It’s not very popular to fund a mansion.”

Fast forward to today and the Governor’s Residence at the Boettcher Mansion is still looking to “establish a sustainable long-term plan rather than the piecemeal approach of the past,” according to the mansion’s staff.

The mansion has raised $634,000 -- less than a tenth of the amount Ritter said in 2008 should be raised in a decade. Thursday, on "Colorado Matters," Nicole Bopp, executive director of the Governor's Residence Preservation Fund, says that goal is now likely a 20-year effort.

The fund adds that fundraising continues, including an event at the mansion this Saturday called "Brews and Bites."

The mansion's residence has been used off and on recently. Gov. John Hickenlooper lives most of the time outside the mansion, at his private home in Park Hill. Former Gov. Bill Ritter and his wife, Jeannie, lived in the mansion, telling The Denver Post it was out of economic necessity, with two children in college at the time. And former Gov. Bill Owens lived in the mansion for two years with this family before moving out, later telling the Post, "It's a beautiful building, but it is like living in a fishbowl."

About 45,000 public visitors have visited in recent years, raising visibility of the mansion. And, over the years, many projects have been completed there, including a recent restoration of the gardens and wall and gates around the home, the mansion staff says. Next on the list is restoration of the gazebo on the east side of the home.

From Denver, a view of Pikes Peak

(Photo: governors mansion 2)The mansion was envisioned in the early 1900s by Walter Cheesman, the man for whom Denver' Cheesman Park is named. The story goes that he rode an ox cart from Chicago to Denver in 1861 to join his brother in the drugstore business and then hit it big as a real estate baron. Though Cheesman died with only the plans for the mansion, his wife, Alice Foster Sanger, decided to see them through. The mansion was finished in 1908 atop Logan Hill in Denver, boasting a view of Pikes Peak 70 miles to the south. The Cheesmans’ daughter, Gladys, married John Evans, the grandson of Colorado’s second territorial governor, and lived for a time in the mansion.

It was sold in 1923 to businessman Claude Boettcher, who gave the deed to his wife, Edna, as a Valentine’s Day present in 1924. Claude Boettcher famously filled the mansion with large model ships -- so many that his wife told him they would have to go, Bopp says.

“So they wound up at The Ship Tavern in the Brown Palace,” she says. “That’s why they call it that.”

The ships are seen at that bar to this day.

After the Boettchers passed away in the late 1950s, a family foundation offered the mansion to the state. But state officials, citing the cost of upkeep, repeatedly declined. But after a two-year battle, near the end of his term in the early 1960s, then-Gov. Stephen McNichols accepted the mansion, causing a stir. It has been the state governor’s mansion ever since.

In the 1960s, the mansion was at the center of a standoff with President John F. Kennedy’s wife, Jackie Kennedy. It had to do with a Waterford crystal chandelier the Boettchers secured for the mansion. The chandelier had hung in the White House ballroom when Ulysses S. Grant was president, in 1876, the same year Colorado became a state, and Jackie Kennedy wanted it back.

Jeannie Ritter recounted that story in 2008: “Jackie Kennedy put a call out to the nation, you know, ‘Would folks please send back the White House treasures -- because by this time there were dining room tables and desk sets all over the nation?’ And, I love it: The Colorado Legislature said, ‘Ah, no. We’re keeping it here.’ And it's hung longer here than it ever has in the White House.”