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Celebrating 80 Years - The First Lady of Opera, 1940, Central City Opera House

Tags: #Celebrating80Years Penrose Legacy

1940, Central City 3 (Mark Kiryluk).jpg
Opera House Interior (by Mark Kiryluk)

#Celebrating80Years: 2017 marked 80 years of working with Colorado’s nonprofits as they seek to strengthen their communities. Throughout 2018, we will be looking back on this history of the outstanding organizations and people the Trustees have had the opportunity to support. On the blog you will find a history of the Foundation’s grant making and a representative organization from every year since our founding in 1937.

While much of El Pomar’s giving was shaped by the vision, life and legacy of Spencer Penrose, the influence of his wife, Julie Villiers Lewis Penrose, cannot be understated. Mrs. Penrose directed the Foundation for 16 years following Spencer’s passing, and her philanthropic passion, devout Catholicism, and interest in arts and culture all helped shape the direction of the Foundation’s grant making.


El Pomar in 1940:

After Spencer Penrose’s death in 1939, Julie Penrose continued to direct El Pomar’s giving. The Foundation provided large grants to organizations like the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Glockner Hospital, the Fountain Valley School, Colorado College, and others. Small grants were also provided to organizations the Foundation had not yet given to, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars Foundation and the Lytle School. The Foundation also provided its first grant to the Central City Opera House, one of Julie Penrose’s personal passions.


Grantee Spotlight:

Central City Opera House

Opera House exterior (by Mark Kiryluk)

Originally built in 1878, the Central City Opera House was developed through a fundraising drive by the town’s Welsh and Cornish miners, who sought to make manifest the town’s reputation as “the richest square mile on earth.” Unfortunately, when the mines dried up and the town began to empty, the opera house fell into disrepair. 

In 1932, Ida Kruse McFarlane, Edna Chappell, and Anne Evans (daughter of territorial governor John Evans) led an effort to restore the building. The “social elite” of Denver and Colorado Springs rallied to the cause and the Opera House was able to reopen that summer with a presentation of Camille. Since then, the House has hosted performances annually and has the distinction of being the nation’s fifth-oldest opera company.

El Pomar became connected to the Central City Opera House through Julie Penrose. A lover of the arts, Julie regularly attended the Colorado Springs Symphony and served as a Trustee for the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. By the 1930s, the Colorado Springs Opera House had been converted into a movie theater, which likely contributed to Julie’s enthusiasm when she was approached by Anne Evans about the restoration project in Central City. Julie sat on and chaired the Opera House’s board for many years, and made significant contributions toward construction of dressing rooms, restorations and renovations, including $15,000 for cushions for the hard wooden chairs. She also purchased a summer home in Central City so that she could entertain guests during the summer performance season. On multiple occasions she persuaded opera president Frank H. Ricketson Jr. to choose her favorite works or cast her favorite performers, leading him to designate her “The First Lady of Opera west of the Mississippi River.”

Since Julie’s death in 1956, the Foundation has continued her tradition of support for the Central City Opera House Association. To date, over $1.9 million has been granted to the organization, largely in the form of general operating funds. 

Images courtesy of Central City Opera House Association

Spotlight by Corey Baron