Not since the TV mini-series “Centennial” was filmed in the late ’70s has the Highlands Ranch Mansion seen so much activity. The Highlands …
The Highlands Ranch Metro District, which acquired the mansion in May 2010 from Shea Homes, began renovations in December of that year, and for the past 18 months has had an average of about 15 people working 40 hours per week to restore the community’s most storied property.
“What was fortunate was that the building was in pretty good shape for as old as it is,” said Terry Nolan, Metro District general manager. “The people that lived here after all had pretty substantial backgrounds. Some of them were part of Phillips Petroleum, Carnegie Steel, the railroads; they had the money so when they did add-ons they did it in a quality manner.”
The one constant with the mansion through the years it was occupied was change. Since the first bricks were laid in 1891 and the word “Rotherwood” was engraved on the side by original owner Samuel A. Long, each owner to follow put his own twist on the style of the building through a unique form of expansion.
“They added wings, added rooms, and they took things down and put things back,” said Jeff Case, public works director for the district and project manager on the renovation project. “The challenge was to figure out with all the different types and styles of construction what we would be able to do and what we could do to accommodate the modern conveniences that we would need in a building like this — heating, cooling, electrical — without compromising the intent of the various owners as they went through the property.”
Case said in all the research during the renovation, they uncovered just one set of blueprints, and the mansion was never built to follow them.
“The blueprints came from right around the time of the stock market crash,” he said. “I think it was a kind of grand plan from Frank Kistler and then the market crashed and they just never followed through with it.”
Kistler, who called the property the “Diamond K Ranch” while he owned it between 1926 and 1937, left his mark all over the building, however, and one can still see a pattern of diamonds and Ks in the sandstone fireplace in the living room.
Part of the Metro District’s own grand plan was to keep individual touches such as those from all the different owners in place. Some of the original lighting and curtain rods are still in place throughout the building, as well as the rounded bathroom doors upstairs. Oil stains from lamps were left as well for authenticity.
“A lot of the times with historic renovations an agency will try to pick a particular period such as the 1920s or the ’30s and ’40s, but we didn’t do that exactly,” Case said. “We tried to pick up the elements of the particular building because it was added on to so many times. It wasn’t like it was an 1891 building.”
Keeping with the tradition of adding on to the building, the Metro District also did its own addition, constructing a 5,000 square-foot Carriage House Pavilion to bring the total square footage of the building to 27,000 square feet.
The pavilion connects the house to what used to be a garage and encompasses the original stone wall that existed as a separation area between the house and the garage. Plans for the pavilion are to use it for receptions, meetings and events.
Total renovation, restoration and construction costs on the mansion came to $6 million. The entire amount was covered as part of a $10 million gift from Shea Homes to the Metro District when the property was conveyed in 2010. The other $4 million is being used to create an endowment to fund a portion of the base operations.
“We owe a lot of gratitude to Shea for work that they have done, planning this master community and executing it and also conveying this property to us,” said Rick Owens, chairman of the Metro District board of directors. “This is going to be a place for our community to gather, to learn about our heritage, to learn about the Front Range and all of Douglas County.”