August 20, 2010
The Bernard mansion’s dreadful appearance of late is due, in part, to a fight.
The mansion served as the offices of Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, which became embroiled in a bitter split in 2006 between a breakaway group led by the Rev. Donald Armstrong and congregants who wanted to remain with the Episcopal Church.
Both sides fought over the property in court and the original congregation prevailed in the spring of 2009. Meanwhile, the stately Queen Anne-style masterpiece at the corner of Tejon Street and Willamette Avenue drooped in disrepair.
It was once among the most audacious homes in the city, costing a whopping $40,000 to build in 1899. But by its 110th birthday, the Queen’s corbels were peeling. Its dentils were rotting. Its soffits were cracking in a most unseemly way. And the many porches wending around the mansion were literally propped up with 2x8 planks.
Now that ownership is settled, the mansion is undergoing a $286,000 face-lift that will restore the sagging mansion to its former splendor.
“It was in very, very rough shape,” said Mark Stritzel, a member of the congregation who is now overseeing the restoration project. “To be able to restore it is great. So many old buildings downtown have just been torn down.”
The Bernard mansion is a remnant of Colorado Springs’ glory days when money made in the Cripple Creek mines flooded the city, making millionaires practically overnight. The house was built by George Bernard, a grocer in town who had the good fortune to lend food and supplies to a group of miners in Cripple Creek who struck it rich in the Elkton Mine.
The loan, known as a grubstake, entitled Bernard to a hefty share of the gold. The mine eventually produced over $16 million.
The grocer built the mansion of his dreams, lived in it a year, then moved out because he wanted a bigger place.
After that, a procession of wealthy families owned the mansion until the Great Depression when it was carved up into apartments. The church bought it in 1969.
Like many of the elegant Victorian ladies of the Old North End, the stately Queen Anne deteriorated over time. By 2009 it was in danger of falling apart.
As soon as Grace Episcopal was awarded the property, members applied for a $170,700 grant from the Colorado State Historical Fund. Colorado Springs’ Downtown Development Authority kicked in another $20,000. Grace will pick up the remaining $95,300.
In July, carpenters descended on the mansion, carefully removing rotten boards and meticulously restoring the ranks of columns and balustrades to their original gold-rush dazzle. The workers even scraped and sanded through a century of paint to determine the house’s original colors.
Plans call for the project to be completed in November.
“It is a marvelous, elegant old place and it is wonderful to see this happening,” said Elizabeth Lilly, a long-time member of the congregation. “It has real historical significance, not just for the church, but for the whole town.”