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At the corner of 16th and Race on Denver’s Capitol Hill, this famous old mansion is celebrating its 125th year, lovingly restored to its original splendor. The rusticated lava stone house was built in 1889, amidst the greatest construction boom in Denver’s history. The architect was William Lang, the most eclectic architect of the time and creator of the Unsinkable Molly Brown House.
The architectural style is Richardsonian Romanesque with Queen Anne overtones. Lang designed over 300 homes in Denver, but fewer than 100 are left standing today. Financially ruined by the Silver Panic of 1893, the illustrious architect died tragically, a penniless pauper, in 1897.
The exterior construction is rusticated native lava stone, known as Castle Rock Rhyolite quarried in Castle Rock, Colorado. Composed mainly of quartz, mica, and feldspar, it sparkles and glitters. The walls are 22 inches thick. The exterior is lavished with elaborate displays of carved stonework. You will notice the eclectic massing and detailing, the heavily rusticated stonework juxtaposed with the refined, delicate elements of glass and fenestration. The entry Foyer woodwork and Parlour Fireplace mantle are especially noteworthy, and the first floor ceilings and frieze are unique. Known over the years as the Raymond House or The Marne, the landmark structure has patiently endured years of treatment “varying from weepyeyed love to flinty entrepreneurial stewardship” (Rocky Mountain News, 11 January 1976).
Notice the carved details around the door and window. This photo shows “Rustication,” an architectural term for a “type of decorative masonry achieved by cutting back the edges of stones to a plane surface while leaving the central portion of the face either rough or projecting markedly. Rustication provides a rich and bold surface for exterior masonry walls.” *Encyclopedia Britannia.
Inside the Castle Marne is more elaborate detail. This Green Man found in the hand carved fireplace mantle in the Castle’s Victorian Parlor. “The Green Man motif has many variations. Found in many cultures around the world, the Green Man is often related to natural vegetative deities springing up in different cultures throughout the ages. Primarily it is interpreted as a symbol of rebirth, or “renaissance,” representing the cycle of growth each spring. Some speculate that the mythology of the Green Man developed independently in the traditions of separate ancient cultures and evolved into the wide variety of examples found throughout history.” Wikipedia
The Peacock Window is a true work of art. Designed for the house in 1889 by Denver artist M. Watkins, it is a stunning example of the Impressionist Movement in stained glass. The window is 6 ft. in diameter and represents a Peacock with his feathers fully extended. Can you see him?
Wilbur S. Raymond commissioned the house to be built for $40,000 on land valued at $15,000. It was the “show home” for his Wyman Addition real estate development. In an article about the mansion on January 1, 1890, the Denver Republican noted, “The fact that men are able to build and maintain such houses and the further fact that they possess the taste for these elegant domestic surroundings, proves to the world that Denver has reached the social age in which refinement, culture and love of the beautiful stamp the character of the people.” Raymond and his family lived in the house for less than a year. He lost the house to creditors in 1891, but continued on into the investment business in Denver until 1898.
Colonel James H. Platt, president of Denver Paper Mills Company, purchased the mansion in 1892. Colonel Platt served with distinction in the Civil War, U.S. Representative from Virginia for four terms, and served in President Grant’s cabinet. While in Washington, along with Jerome Chaffee, Barney Ford, and others, he worked tirelessly for Colorado’s statehood. In the late 1870s, he moved to New York City, where he was in business with John D. Rockefeller, selling out in 1887, and moving to Denver.
In 1890, he began to build one of the finest paper mills in the world, along the South Platte River near the present Ruby Hill Park. It officially opened on August 23, 1891, to great local fanfare. Cost was estimated at $570,000. When completed, it was the largest building in Colorado. As a real estate promoter, he gave his name to Platt Park and the South Denver Platt Park neighborhood. He died while on a fishing trip at Green Lake near Georgetown on June 13, 1894. His widow sold the Marne the same year to John Mason.
The third owner of the Marne was John T. Mason. Born in Lincolnshire, England, he emigrated to Houston, Texas, where he founded a chain of dry goods stores. Mason Park in Houston is named for him. Selling his business in the 1880s, he became a world renowned lepidopterist (moth and butterfly collector), and a founder and first curator of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Mason displayed many of his world famous collection of over 400,000 butterflies and moths in the Ballroom on the third floor of the Marne. He donated his collection to the museum in 1918, and was displayed in Mason Hall (torn down in 1986). We are lucky to display a small part of his personal collection today in the Butterfly Parlor on the third floor, and in the John T. Mason Suite.
Mason is included among the city’s benefactors whose names are permanently recorded in the marble wall of the Greek Theater in Denver’s Civic Center. His wife, Dora Porter Mason, was the daughter of Denver pioneer Henry Porter, the benefactor of Porter Hospital.
While once Denver’s finest residential neighborhood, times began to change. The wealthy and influential citizens began moving to newer neighborhoods. Capitol Hill settled into a mixed use, residential, multi-family, commercial use area that we still see today. Many mansions were torn down, others became rooming houses and apartments. In 1918, Mrs. Adele (Edwin) Van Cise purchased the Marne. She converted the house into a 8-room apartment house and lived here until her death in 1937. The Carrara marble plant stand in the Foyer was a wedding present to Adele. Her husband, who died in 1914, was a prominent attorney and head of the Denver Public Utilities Commission.
Mrs. Van Cise and her son, Philip, named the mansion “The Marne.” It is believed that he fought in the “Battle of the Marne” in World War I. Philip Van Cise was attorney for the Rocky Mountain News during the famous Denver Post/Fred Bonfils scandal and trial. As Denver District Attorney in the early 1920s, Philp mounted a war against gambling, prostitution, and organized crime, and was instrumental in the fight against the Ku Klux Klan.
Lyle A. Holland bought the Marne in 1938 and lived here until his death in 1972. Holland was associated with Gus’s Wholesale Bakery and subsequently conducted his real estate business from the Marne. After Holland’s death, there were many futile attempts by speculators to develop the property.
The Marne became known by all as the “big empty stone house with the beautiful window.” Louise and Richard Dice had a vision; they took possession of the house in 1974, attempting unsuccessfully to convert the building into a mixed use development of first and second floor offices and third floor residences with the Carriage House as an annex. Their vision fell victim to a sagging economy and real estate depression. From 1979 through 1982, the building served as a processing center for parolees from state penal institutions.
The Marne stood unoccupied and neglected until 1988. The owners of the vacant building turned off the gas to save money but neglected to turn off the water. Serious water damage ensued. Vagrants got into the building, stole virtually everything that wasn’t nailed down and seriously vandalized the building.
The Peiker family purchased the derelict structure in 1988. One year later after an extensive restoration and renovation, the Castle Marne Bed and Breakfast opened its doors for business on the 100th anniversary of the construction of the house. Each year we celebrate these two anniversaries on August 1 with a neighborhood party.
The photo below is of most of the family and then Denver Mayor, John Hickenlooper. Today he is His Honor, The Governor of the State of Colorado.