It's not easy maintaining a circa 1889 landmark, a fourteen-room mansion built by architect William Lang that was once home to Margaret Tobin Brown. What's today known as the Molly Brown House Museum is undergoing a $1 million restoration, which includes the restoration of the large, historic stained-glass windows in the entry staircase.
The windows were removed...carefully...on January 8, and restored by Colorado artists Phil and Jane Watkins. After their painstaking work, the windows were reinstalled...equally carefully...on Monday, March 12.
The stone structure at 1340 Pennsylvania Street was originally the home of Isaac and Mary Large; Margaret and J.J. Tobin, who'd made their fortune in Leadville, moved to Denver and into the house in 1894. The Victorian home in posh Capitol Hill was very modern for its time, with electric lights, an indoor bathroom, hot and cold running water and a telephone. Margaret Brown, too, was ahead of her time, active in the women’s suffrage movement, labor-reform efforts and the Modern Art Movement. But she's best known as Molly Brown, heroine of the Titanic...even if she never went by "Molly."
Nor was her home as grand as the one depicted in The Unsinkable Molly Brown, the 1964 film starring Debbie Reynolds.
By the time that movie was released, the house that Margaret Brown had called home had fallen into disrepair. In the late ’60s, a group of preservation-minded Denver citizens joined efforts to rescue the house. The group incorporated in 1970 as Historic Denver Inc. and began major restoration efforts in order to return the home’s interior and exterior to its early-twentieth-century grandeur.
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The current restoration project is the largest at the house since the 1970s, and the Watkins Stained Glass Studio that did the work on the windows has a long history, too. The Watkins family got its start in stained glass in England in the 1700s; they opened their first studio in Denver in 1868.
Phil Watkins Jr., who's been the owner since 1985, is currently looking for a qualified apprentice to study the craft of stained-glass restoration so that his work can continue after he and Jane retire.
Although the restoration project is still under way, the Molly Brown House Museum remains open for visits. Find out more at mollybrown.org.