Penrose History in Times of Crisis
by Megan Sanders
While 2020 has been a challenging year, we know it is neither the first nor the last difficult time facing those in our community. Throughout their lifetimes, El Pomar Foundation’s co-founders Spencer and Julie Penrose responded to a variety of crises personally, as well as through the Broadmoor Hotel and El Pomar Foundation. Below is a brief history of the Penroses’ responses to the Great Depression and the World Wars, as told by El Pomar Foundation Curator of Historic Properties and Archives, Sarah Woods.
Julie Penrose, often considered the driving force of the Penrose’s philanthropic efforts, had a long history of serving others, especially in times of need. When World War I broke out in Europe, Julie sent aid to Belgian organizations supporting children orphaned by the war and kept the Belgian soldiers supplied with cigarettes. Although Julie had traveled extensively throughout Europe, she had ties to Belgium through her daughter Gladys, who was enrolled in a private school in Brussels in 1906. Julie regularly visited Gladys for many years prior to the war. In 1914, the same year the war began, Gladys married a count in Belgium, entering her into the ranks of the Belgian nobility class.
Throughout the war, Gladys, her husband, and their new child Pauline were kept under house arrest while the country was occupied. After World War I, Julie constructed the Pauline Chapel in Colorado Springs as an act of spiritual gratitude for her family’s safekeeping, and to offer a place of spiritual respite for the people of the Broadmoor neighborhood and guests of the Broadmoor Hotel.
After the war, the Broadmoor Art Academy, which Julie and Spencer helped create (and now known as the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College), supported the reintegration of veterans by teaching them the skills they needed to find work as illustrators after the war.
During the Great Depression, Spencer Penrose helped finance the Fountain Valley School, which was created in 1929. His contributions were critical, because beginning a new private school during the depression was costly and not profitable. The school would not have survived without his financial support. This is a rare example of his personal philanthropy, as Spencer believed creating business and jobs was the most effective way for him to serve his community, especially in a time of economic crisis. Similarly, starting in 1934, Spencer employed workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) – a program of the Great Depression that was designed to provide men with work opportunities when finding work was difficult – to assist in the construction of the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun.
During World War II, the Broadmoor Hotel made its sporting facilities available free of charge to military service members and their families. During the period when Japanese Americans were cruelly imprisoned in internment camps in Colorado and elsewhere across the country by the U.S. government, Julie Penrose – appalled by the government’s policies – hired interred Japanese Americans to work at the Hotel. Many of these new employees remained at the hotel after the internment camps were disbanded.
Julie and Spencer Penrose’s efforts throughout the 20th century demonstrate how they each shared a deep commitment to enhance, encourage, and promote the well-being of those around them. El Pomar seeks to continue this great legacy of community support through its grant making, particularly in times of crisis.