A Historic Denver Bungalow Survives Fire & Neglect to be Lovingly Restored — House Call
Location: Montclair — Denver, Colorado
The basics: 5 years, owned | 2,000 square feet
Jay’s 110 year old bungalow has quite the history. Once a modest house amongst flashier homes, it has weathered different misfortunes and poor design choices to land in Jay’s hands. Jay and his partner are investing time, love and labor into restoring the home to its former glory.
Tell us a little (or a lot) about your home and the people who live there: Over four miles east of the golden dome of Colorado’s State Capitol, our residence was built out on the prairie, in the developing streetcar suburb of Montclair. Montclair, which had recently been acquired by the City and County of Denver, had been developed by Baron Walter Von Richthofen (uncle of the Red Baron from WWI), in the 1880s. It was supposed to be an enclave for the upper classes, a resort town filled with health spas, hotels, and casinos. Unfortunately, the baron’s efforts didn’t come to fruition. Instead of luxurious tree lawns and lush landscaping, due to a lack of proper irrigation, the area was nearly absent of any trees and included dirt fields and sagebrush. Even the construction of his own fortress-like residence out on this desolate locale, wasn’t enough to draw the wealthy masses that he had hoped. Though the city of Montclair ferociously fought the acquisition by Denver, it was only then that the area became properly irrigated and beautified.
After the Silver Panic of 1893, the cheap land and easy access afforded by the Colfax Avenue Railway Company, allowed middle class families to move to the suburbs. Hoping to capitalize on this speculation, a master brick mason, named William Gore, bought a parcel of land near the streetcar line. The residence was quite modest compared to the large mansions dotted throughout the sparsely developed neighborhood. At 25′ by 40′ in size (1,300 square feet of living space on the main floor), and at a cost of $2,200 ($55,550 in 2016 dollars), however, the house would have been considered quite palatial to an average middle class family. It was thoroughly modern, including: 2 large bedrooms, a parlor with a fireplace, leaded and stained glass windows, spacious dining room, oak built-ins, kitchen, a sleeping porch, indoor plumbing, electricity, and a radiant heating system. There was even a quaint carriage house (only 12′ by 20′) located behind the home.
Once the home was complete, Gore sold the property to his next door neighbors, John & Helen Burlien, in September of 1911. Through much of its existence, Quebec House was lovingly cared for and remained in the Burlien family for over 85 years. In the mid-1990s, the property was sold outside the family, where subsequent owners neglected it and allowed it to fall into severe disrepair. The home even survived a major fire in December of 2003, which caused half of the rear wall to collapse and destroyed the entire roof. After the fire, several renovation attempts ended in foreclosure. It was in February of 2012, when my partner Nate and I purchased the home. Since then, we’ve been tirelessly working to restore it to it’s former glory.
Currently living in Quebec House are my partner Nate, our two dogs (Emma & Tanner), our renter Mike, his dog Athena, and myself. Nate, Mike, and I are in our early 30s and are young professionals. I’m originally from North Dakota and Nate was born and raised in Golden, CO. Neither of us would have thought we’d end up in an older home, but after walking through this place the first time, we knew we had to live here. Though the home was move-in ready, it just didn’t feel like an old bungalow. The previously developers had “modernized” everything, removing any trace of it’s original woodwork, built-ins, stained glass windows, and original charm.
So, over the last five years, we’ve been renovating this historic home ourselves and in our spare time. I draw everything out and Nate (who is a skilled carpenter, electrician, and plumber), makes everything come to life. Needless to say, it’s taken a while to complete. There’s something to be said for living in a space that has existed for a couple lifetimes before you came along. To aid in our renovation efforts, we’ve spent countless hours researching early bungalow interiors, as well as hundreds of old residential photos from the Denver Public Library. I’ve even reached out to descendants of the Burlien family, for descriptions of what the home originally looked like. Now, we can’t even imagine ever living in a newer home.
What is your favorite room and why? It’s hard to pick just one room… but, I’d have to say my most favorite would be the parlor. It’s the only room in the house with any original items from before the fire in 2003. We incorporated the remnants of the brick fireplace (the sides), and the original mantel mirror, into our renovation plans. It was the first room we renovated, so it really set the tone for the rest of the house. The two-tone gray colors are very calming, especially after a long day at work. I also love the stained glass windows we recently installed (using notes and descriptions of what the originals looked like – provided by the grandson of the original owners).
What’s the last thing you bought (or found!) for your home? After searching for five years, I finally found an antique door that is identical to the one that was original to the home when it was built. It’s an oak veneer door, with a large oval window (with beveled glass). I found it on eBay and had it shipped from Ohio. Interestingly enough, it’s exactly as old as my home. I’m currently in the process of stripping and refinishing it myself.
Which fictional character would be most at home in your place? When I think of this home and its history (especially having been built in a wealthy suburban enclave), I think of Nick Carraway, in The Great Gatsby. He lived in a modest old bungalow, set among mansions of the newly rich. Carraway was educated, sophisticated, and understated – not needing a flashy place to call home. My section of the neighborhood looks considerably different than it did in 1906, however, as many of the large old mansions along Colfax have since been torn down. Though I’m sure Carraway would find a lot of interesting things to write about – living next to America’s “longest and wickedest street”.
Jay’s words of wisdom: Your home should be a reflection of who you are as a person and what interests you. For example, I like history, antiques and travel. I want to be surrounded by things that comfort and inspire me. I also picked colors that have a calming effect, so I can easily relax, no matter which room I’m in. I’d also say to take your time when picking furniture and décor. It’s okay to wait for items you really love, rather than settling for things you’re eventually going to replace. There’s no substitute for time when trying to create a space that feels like a home.
• Interested in sharing your home with Apartment Therapy? Contact the editors through our House Tour & House Call Submission Form.