University Park—a south Denver neighborhood founded in 1886 with the vision of becoming a “bucolic enclave” for educators and others affiliated with the University of Denver, one where residents were required to develop their lots according to a “tasty and artistic plan”—is the site of the Central City Opera’s 43rd L’Esprit de Noël Holiday Home Tour.
Five homes that feature an interesting mix of architectural styles will be open for this self-guided walking tour on Nov. 22 and 23. Each residence will be decorated for the winter holidays by some of the region’s most creative floral and special-occasion designers. They include Flower Power, Birdsall & Co., The Lark, Dwell Antiques, all located in Denver, and Boulder-based Swanky Bastard Florals & Events.
This is the first time that L’Esprit de Noël has been held in University Park, and event chairs Lauren Horsman and Abby Mercado agree that is a key reason why the neighborhood was selected. “L’Esprit is such a community event,” Mercado notes, attracting upwards of 2,000 guests every year. “For that reason we like to maintain a diversity of neighborhoods; that is, not revisit the same places time and again.”
“We stayed away from University Park because the elementary school PTSA held a home tour there for many years,” explains Denise Sanderson, a past chair of the fundraiser and adviser to the 2019 committee. But when that tour was put on hiatus, Central City was quick to jump in.
The L’Esprit planners are excited to shine a spotlight on the historical connection between University Park and the University of Denver and, in turn, DU’s connection to the Central City Opera.
“University Park, which is also known as Observatory Park, was developed because of its proximity to the University of Denver and DU has a long history connecting it to the Central City Opera,” Sanderson adds.
It begins with Anne Evans, daughter of DU’s founder, John Evans. John Evans, who in 1862 was appointed governor of Colorado Territory by President Abraham Lincoln, also founded Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. His daughter established the Central City Opera House Association with Ida Kruse McFarlane in 1931; a year later they started the opera’s Flower Girl presentation, a tradition that continues today. Former DU Chancellors Dan Ritchie and Rebecca Chopp are members of the Central City Opera board, as is former provost Gregg Kvistad.
Horsman and Mercado are working to incorporate DU into this year’s tour. “Possibly we can include an historical building that is still owned by the university. It could be a place where tour-goers can stop for coffee, enjoy a holiday-esque surprise or do boutique shopping.”
The homes secured thus far “speak to a new generation of young families,” and include a Denver Square built in 1906 that has the original leaded glass windows at the front entry. Another of the homes is owned by a former Central City Opera trustee and contains antiques that she purchased at the Spalding Antiques Show, a sale that benefited the Central City Opera from 2000 until its final installment in 2010.
Fitzroy Place, also known as the Warren-Iliff Mansion, also will be a stop on the tour. Built in 1893 for Elizabeth Iliff, widow of John Wesley Iliff, a wealthy cattle baron and philanthropist who had a key role in establishing the Iliff School of Theology at DU, the two-and-one-half-story red stone structure with 13 rooms and a raised basement is located at 2160 S. Cook St., not far from another neighborhood landmark, the Chamberlin Observatory. Today the mansion is home to Accelerated Schools.
Horsman, a human relations executive for an insurance brokerage, and Mercado, a venture capital investor, are back for a second time as L’Esprit chairs, having headed the fundraising effort in 2018 after being recruited by Nora Heitmann, a DU alum, fellow member of the Junior League of Denver and past chair of the opera company’s annual Theatre of Dreams Gala.
Horsman and Mercado also look forward to a repeat of the high energy vibe of the 2018 patron party.
It was held at Shaver-Ramsey rug gallery, which Horsman describes as “A fantastic venue, where people were chilling on stacks of rugs or enjoying food from Maria Empanada at high-top tables. Guests could make wreaths from flowers supplied by Birdsall & Co., and refresh themselves with beverages provided by Total Wine and Anheuser-Busch. We also had a panel discussion with a group of interior designers and music by a local DJ.
Some of our older guests were skeptical at first, but they ended up having a blast. It really was a fun night.”
What: 43rd L’Esprit de Noël Holiday Home Tour
Dates: Nov. 22 and 23
Location: Denver’s University Park neighborhood
Price: $28 if purchased at centralcityopera.org/lesprit; $30 at the door or at select King Soopers. A separately ticketed patron party on Nov. 21 also includes admission to the tour.
Of Note: No strollers and no photography inside the homes
Proceeds: Money raised goes toward the preservation and maintenance of the 1878 Central City Opera House and the historic properties owned by the Central City Opera House Association, and the education and community engagement programs that reach 80,000 people annually.
Some of Joanne Davidson’s favorite holiday decor tips were gleaned from tours of L’Esprit de Noël homes in years past.
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