Belmar, Loretto, and Colorado’s Womens’ History


We love finding connections between our projects and we recently uncovered an interesting one. We are wrapping up design work on Phase 2 of the Belmar Caretaker’s Residence as well as a small exhibit space renovation at the Lakewood Heritage Center. Both projects are located on the Belmar Property, once owned by Mary Madeline “May” Bonfils Stanton. Belmar is a mash-up of Mary’s Mother’s name: Belle and her own, thus Belmar. May Bonfils Stanton lived from 1883 – 1962 and was the daughter of Frederick Bonfils, founder of the Denver Post. 


Mary Madeline “May” Bonfils Stanton. Photo Courtesy of Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

The caretaker’s residence is the last building on the Belmar estate in its original location. The oldest part of the structure was a kit house, meaning it was ordered from a catalog, brought to Colorado by rail car and erected using instructions and numbered components. (And you thought that IKEA dresser was difficult!)

Our design includes a viewing window in the ceiling where visitors will be able to look up into the attic and see the kit stamps on the ceiling joists. The first phase of the project involved stabilizing the structure and rehabilitating the exterior finishes. This phase includes adapting the interior for a new exhibit space, conference room and a research library. The building will have a new accessible entrance and restroom.


The Lakewood Heritage Center site is a collection of buildings from the area that were moved to the property in order to tell the story of Lakewood’s history. The exhibit space we are helping with is a small project supporting the exhibit design firm of Quatrefoil that will revamp the Heritage Center’s main welcome area. We are excited for construction in the spring, when we can share photos of these two projects as they get underway (be sure to follow us on Instagram).


The latest connection was found with one of our most recent projects, a historic assessment of the buildings on the Loretto Heights Campus. The new owner has been working with the City of Denver and the local community to develop a plan for the future of the 70+ acre site. That master plan will give consideration to the existing historic buildings. Our evaluation is taking a look at each building’s condition and rehabilitation needs. The most iconic building on the Loretto Heights campus is the Administration Building, constructed from 1890-1891 and designed by Frank E. Edbrooke. In 1911 the Chapel addition, also designed by Edbrooke, was completed on North end of the Administration Building. Frank’s nephew Harry Edbrooke designed Pancratia Hall in 1930 (Check out our connections to the Edbrookes here).


Loretto Heights College sprouted from St. Mary’s Academy, which was originally located on the site of the Convention Center. Loretto Heights was an all-girls college up until the 1970s. We were recently regaled with the deep and wonderful history by a former-student-turned-history-expert.


During her presentation, we realized Mother Pancratia, who founded the College was born Mary Louise Bonfils, the cousin of Frederick Bonfils. Research is still underway as to how large a part Frederick played in the overall development of the Loretto Heights Campus. However, May Bonfils was instrumental in the Campus’ second phase of development in the 1960s.

May Bonfils and her younger sister, Helen, took ownership of the Denver Post after their father. May had a sordid past, for that time period anyway, in that she eloped at 21 with a non-Catholic salesman. As retribution their parents left the majority of the Bonfils estate to May’s sister, Helen, and despite a multi-year legal battle, the only result was the sisters cut off all relations. May lived a semi-reclusive lifestyle on her 750 acre Belmar estate in Lakewood. She invested her wealth into buildings, including her mansion, which was an exact replica of Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon chateau in Versailles (Read more about it here).

At Loretto Heights, May endowed the Library that was constructed on the campus in 1961 and the Theater Building that was completed in 1962. These largely intact Mid-Century Modern buildings are real gems. They were designed by the firm of Musik and Musik and May’s portrait sits off the main lobby of the Theater. Unfortunately May died in 1962, so it is unknown if she ever saw the completion of the theater. However, her husband established the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation to continue her legacy of support for the arts. We love that we are working to preserve the last piece of her estate at Belmar and also have a connection to her philanthropic work on the Loretto Heights Campus!  


Beyond the individual buildings themselves, the Loretto Heights Campus offers a unique piece of Colorado history. Mother Pancratia was born in St. Louis in 1852. She was born into a Protestant family but received her education from the Sisters of Loretto. She joined the order at the age of 14 and later was assigned to teach in Denver. She arrived via stage coach at the age of 17, only about a decade after Denver became a City. 


Mother Pancratia Bonfils. Photo Courtesy of Loretto Heights College Archives, Regis University Archives


With our roots mostly in mining and Wild West-like activities, it is easy to imagine the type of Colorado she experienced upon her arrival. However, Mother Pancratia seems to have had one goal in mind: educating women. Loretto Heights College became an accredited college in 1918, pre-dating the 19th Amendment – which gave women the right to vote – by two years. They had an annual enrollment of around 800 and their programs included nursing, teaching, and fine arts degrees. It is always meaningful to realize that people like Mother Pancratia laid some of the groundwork for us and we find a lot to be thankful for as we walk around the campus for those that came before us!









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