Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Restored Buchtel Bungalow has storied past

neighborhood home

Buchtel Bungalow. PHOTO BY: Wayne Armstrong.

On Aug. 4, 1911, the University of Denver’s third chancellor, Henry Buchtel, was in Maryland writing birthday greetings to his wife, Mary, in Denver. She was at the couple’s home at 2100 S. Columbine St., two blocks from campus.

On Aug. 4, 2007, the University’s 17th chancellor, Robert Coombe, was preparing to move into the 101-year-old home, a structure from which Buchtel charted DU’s future and ran Colorado as its 13th governor.

“Julanna (Gilbert) and I are thrilled to be moving into this house,” Coombe says. “When I became chancellor, it was on the market and almost surely would have been demolished by a buyer or developer. Our motivation was to save it. But as the restoration has proceeded, we’ve watched the house really come to life.”

The University of Denver has owned the stately, Craftsman-style brick home on the northeast corner of East Evans Avenue since Buchtel’s daughter sold it to DU in 1927 for $10 and the balance of a $6,000 loan. Over the years, the house has been a faculty club, residence hall, meeting place, fraternity and the residence of John Roning, DU’s last football coach.

Today, the renovated 2,792-square-foot, story-and-a-half home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is affectionately known as the Buchtel Bungalow.

The Buchtel legacy

To many, Buchtel (pronounced Book-til) is just a name on the boulevard skirting DU’s northern flank. But he was a giant of his era. Buchtel was the only clergyman to ever serve as governor — which he did as a Republican in 1907–08 — and was an orator and moral authority of national repute.

Buchtel built three churches, including the landmark Trinity United Methodist Church at 18th Avenue and Broadway in downtown Denver. More importantly, he rescued DU from crippling debt that threatened to turn University Hall into a glue factory.

As chancellor, Buchtel obtained funding for five buildings — Carnegie Library (torn down in 1990), Science Hall (demolished in 1997), Alumni Gymnasium (razed for construction of the Daniels College of Business), Templin Hall (DU’s first dormitory, torn down in 1979) and Memorial Chapel (destroyed by fire in 1983 except for one of its two north towers) — and saw the student body more than double to 1,116 students.

As governor, he ushered through the general assembly a broad legislative agenda that included Colorado’s first food inspection and purity law, an effective insurance code and new railway commission. A teetotaler, he also championed a local option law that allowed Colorado communities to exclude saloons by popular vote.

“When he assumed the chancellorship of Denver University, it was a puny, sectarian institution,” the Denver Postwrote following Buchtel’s death in 1924. “In 20 years under Dr. Buchtel’s guidance, $1,750,000 was raised on his personal appeal and it stands today as one of the leading institutions of higher education in the United States — a monument to the chancellor’s tenacity, faith and shirtsleeve energy.”

Much of that energy was exerted from an oversize rolltop desk in a 9- by 10-foot study in the northeast corner of the Butchtel Bungalow.

“It don’t take a big room to hold a brain,” quips Kevin Pranger, a worker for Holland Home Improvement, the company that completed the recent updates to the three-bedroom, two-and a-half-bath home.

A classic bungalow style

The bungalow architectural style was inspired by homes with low, sweeping roofs found in Bengal, India. It was exported to California in the late 19th century, where it coincided with the Arts and Crafts Movement — an architectural reaction to the stiffness of Victorianism. The homes were wildly popular from 1900 to 1930 and are common in older areas of Denver.

When the Buchtel Bungalow was built in 1905–06, it had a coal furnace, enclosed “tuberculosis” porch, wood-fired kitchen stove, a hutch for chickens and a shed for cows. The interior had a coffered ceiling with fir beams, electric lighting and a brick tile fireplace flanked by built-in bookshelves. Extra bookshelves lined the room’s perimeter along with a plate rail on which Buchtel displayed his extensive cup and saucer collection.

Today, the Buchtel Bungalow has a new granite kitchen, revamped electrical, plumbing and heating systems, updated baths, restored fir floors and a new cedar-shingle roof. It also has a new two-car garage and insulated, double-pane windows that match the originals and soundproof the home.

“What we’re doing here will last for another 100 years,” says University architectural consultant Jane Loefgren.

Coupled with central air-conditioning, state-of-the-art security, wireless Internet and a donated wine cellar, the blond-brick home is an updated mix of 21st century necessities with 19th century history.

“The house was very cleverly designed to be a chancellor’s home open to the University community and guests of all kinds,” Coombe says. “It’s an historic, wonderful, really very comfortable place that the University should be proud of.”

In character with Craftsman-style homes, the house had a pitched roof with dormers and overhanging eaves supported by large wooden brackets. It was constructed of white brick, which was new to Denver at the time, and had at its base a layer of rhyolite — a volcanic stone quarried in Castle Rock that is the predominate material on University Hall’s façade.

The house was built to accommodate students and faculty, Thomas Russell Garth wrote in his 1937 biography of Buchtel, and when the chancellor and his wife had their housewarming on May 21, 1906, they served ice cream to 288 guests.

“It was not unusual for Henry and Mary to entertain 500 people in an evening,” Garth wrote.

A modest lifestyle

DU today has nearly 11,000 students and 600-plus faculty members. But when Buchtel took over as chancellor in 1899, it had 90 professors, 500 students and was in debt to the tune of $175,000 — about $4.4 million in 2006 dollars. As chancellor, he earned about $2,300 a year, $100 a month less than he made as a Methodist minister.

There was plenty of belt-tightening to go around. In those days, faculty members weren’t always paid on time and most kept chickens and livestock to make ends meet. Buchtel himself kept a cow on four lots he owned on the west side of Columbine Street across from his home. In 1922, he sold that property to his daughter for $1. In 2006, the land value of the lots totaled about $665,000.

Among Buchtel’s secrets for raising money was his gift of oratory, statewide popularity and moral authority as an ordained minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church. After leaving the governor’s office, Butchtel made a handsome living on the Chautauqua lecture circuit, earning $27,949 from 1907–17, which is about $281,000 in 2006 dollars.

“There seems little doubt that most of it found its way into the University treasury and that little was used for himself,” Garth wrote. “For he died a poor man and in debt.”

Read about criminal pardons during the Buchtel era.

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