Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Phipps Mansion’s doors to swing open April 18

The Phipps Conference Center, a historic former mansion owned by the University of Denver since 1964, is opening its doors for public view on April 18.

The gesture is in tandem with more than 80 other architecturally rich Denver properties participating in Doors Open Denver, an annual event that celebrates the city’s built heritage. Doors Open Denver allows visitors a peek into properties not always open or easily accessed.

The theme of this year’s free event is “Denver Redux,” which focuses on properties repurposed for a “second life.” In the case of the Phipps Mansion, the 54-room Georgian-style brick residence in the Belcaro neighborhood north of DU was converted into the Lawrence C. Phipps Memorial Conference Center after being donated to DU.

In recent decades, the 33,123-square-foot conference center has witnessed everything from gatherings of world leaders and Christmas parties to wedding ceremonies in the estate’s lavish gardens, designed by renowned landscape architect Annette Hoyt Flanders.

Originally, the property was the home of Lawrence Phipps, a wealthy Carnegie Steel Co. vice president who represented Colorado in the U.S. Senate as a Republican from 1919 to 1931.

Phipps and his wife, Margaret Rogers, daughter of a former Denver mayor, built the sumptuous house at 3400 Belcaro Drive in 1933. They called the house Belcaro, which is loose Italian for “dear one,” and constructed it at a cost of $310,000. In today’s dollars that’s about $5.1 million, but in the 1930s it was a well-appreciated expenditure in the Great Depression.

“The mansion contains Flemish tapestries and a Colonial pine dining room shipped to England in the 1750s, used for 170 years” then shipped back to the United States, according to the Doors Open Denver Web site. Other highlights are the Austrian oak-paneled living room with two Steinway pianos and “a billiards room with Jacobean paneling made in England around 1615.”

Among the most intriguing aspects is the glass-and-tile vaulted tennis pavilion which housed the first indoor tennis court west of the Mississippi before the playing surface was covered with flooring.

Margaret Rogers-Phipps, an avid benefactor of the sport, brought many of the world’s best players to Colorado — including grand slam winner Don Budge and Jack Kramer — to compete and instruct top Colorado juniors. A skilled player in her own right, Margaret Phipps won the state women’s doubles championship three times and in 2000 was inducted into the Colorado Tennis Hall of Fame.

Although Doors Open Denver is a two-day event, admission to the Phipps mansion is limited to 10 a.m.–4 p.m. April 18.

Visit for a list of participating sites and the days and hours each is open. The site also provides information on themed self-guided tours or walking tours supervised by expert guides. Tours are free but many require pre-registration and tickets obtainable from the Doors Open Denver headquarters, which is at Union Station in downtown Denver.

Among the scores of sites participating in the Doors Open Denver event are the Byers-Evans House, built by the first publisher of the Rocky Mountain News; the 378-foot-tall Daniels and Fisher Tower in downtown Denver; the governor’s residence at the Boettcher Mansion; the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, which is home to works by famed DU artist and educator Vance Kirkland; and the 121-year-old Castle Marne Bed and Breakfast at 1572 Race St., owned by DU alumni Jim (BSBA ’57) and Diane (BA ’57) Peiker.

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