Fugly Fight Over Historic Bosler House: Rains, Fines, Denver Foreclosure Action

While most of the fugly discussions in northwest Denver focus on new construction, one particularly ugly fight is getting old. It’s over the Bosler House, a circa 1875 mansion that was designated a Denver landmark, one of only 332 in the city, back in 1984. But three years later, the building at 3209 West Fairview Place, right off Federal Boulevard at West 32nd Avenue, was purchased by Keith Painter — and what’s happened since then hasn’t been pretty. 

In late 2010, after trying to fix up the house, Painter asked the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission to allow him to demolish the building, pleading economic hardship. The commission refused. (A year before, that same commission agreed to delist a historic building on my block, which was ultimately wiped off the map — and its replacement just sold for more than $3 million.) By then, the house had been left open to the elements through a hole in the roof for more than a year. And for the past four years, it’s continued to collect snow and rain — while Painter, who was ordered to repair the hole by the city, has been collecting fines of $999 per day since May 8, 2013. Fines he ignored, just as he ignored complaints from the neighbors.

And ignoring them couldn’t have been easy, since Painter, too, lives right by the disintegrating structure. “There’s really nothing the neighbors can do, other than be loud,” says Marjorie Alexander, who’s done her best to be just that, and helped make the Bosler House part of the discussion in the recent District 1 Denver City Council race.

This building is something to shout about. “The Bosler House is one of the first and finest of the stately homes to be built in North Denver,” Historic Denver reports, even though north Denver at the time was actually a separate town. “The house was constructed in 1875, the same year as the incorporation of the Town of Highlands, which originally governed this portion of Denver. It was built in the Italianate style at the West end of the current configuration of Highland Park by one of the Town’s Founders, Ambrose Bosler. It is significant not only for its longevity, but also for its prominent site, its design, and its association with three significant figures from Denver’s past.”

After Bosler, the house was owned by William H. Yankee, a Civil War veteran and a prominent miner and mine owner in Colorado; the third owner of significance was Dr. John H. Tilden, “who used the home as a part of a larger complex which incorporated the neighboring early twentieth century Colonial Revival Buildings as part of a Sanitarium,” according to Historic Denver. “Dr. Tilden’s School for Teaching Health was a national model for a medical philosophy where patients cared primarily for themselves using dietary and hygienic methods.”

But Dr. Tilden’s home is no model today. Even as Highland turned into one of Denver’s hottest real-estate markets and some of the sanitarium buildings were renovated into desirable units, the Bosler House continued to decay.

Finally, last month, after the accumulation of city-imposed fines passed the house’s assessed value of just under $500,000, Denver filed to foreclose on the property “in an effort to ensure the rehabilitation and preservation of the historic building,” according to the Denver Department of Community Planning & Development. “Attempts to work with the owner to bring the property into compliance with city maintenance and historic preservation requirements have not been successful, and the property has amassed $560,000 in liens.”

Since then, the court has appointed a receiver, who is taking some basic steps to care for the property while a historic structure assessment is scheduled. History Colorado had already approved covering the cost of that assessment with a $7,600 grant from its preservation fund — and Painter signed that application last August — but the city says it had trouble getting Painter to agree to a time when the assessment crew could tour the building. (Painter disputes that, but does not want to talk about his situation on the record.) Now the receiver, who's met with Painter, is working to schedule that visit to the Bosler House — without Bosler, who's banned from the place. According to Planning, “The assessment will help the city and any future owner make informed decisions regarding future restoration."

If restoration is still possible at this point. And the rest is history.