Magazine Feature / People

Alums help overnighters travel back in time

Jim and Diane Peiker

Jim and Diane Peiker turned a run-down mansion in Denver’s City Park West neighborhood into the Castle Marne Bed and Breakfast. Photo By: Wayne Armstrong.

Just as the castles of yore protected their inhabitants from enemies, Castle Marne protects its guests from the hectic, technology-tweaked pace of modern life. There are no cell phones ringing here, no televisions blaring, no computer cursors blinking, begging you to type about what’s on your mind. 

There’s a grandfather clock softly chiming the hours, aging photos and knickknacks inviting your unhurried perusal, thick walls blocking out the noise of the traffic outside, and a jigsaw puzzle in the sunlit tower where guests can while away an afternoon matching colors and shapes — no high-speed connection or electrical outlet needed.

“We wanted to take the house back to the way it was and really create a storied experience for folks who come to stay,” says Jim Peiker (BSBA ’57), who bought the dilapidated 1889 building in Denver’s City Park West neighborhood in 1988 and spent five months turning it into a bed and breakfast focused on the way things used to be.

Peiker and his wife, Diane (BA ’57), run the B&B with their daughter, Melissa, son-in-law, Louie, and three grandchildren, ages 11, 14 and 15. Jim and Diane live in a carriage house right behind the castle; Melissa, Louie and the grandkids live six blocks away.

“Everybody cooks, everybody cleans, everybody does all of the jobs,” Peiker says. “It’s a three-generation family business.”

The inn has stayed in the DU family as well: The Peikers regularly host DU-related visitors, from job candidates to prospective students to parents and grandparents of current students. In addition to their overnight guests the family also hosts weddings, birthday parties and tea parties in its historic mansion.

It was in another American recession that the Peikers first hatched the dream of owning their own bed and breakfast.

“My daughter and I were both out of work — this was ’87, ’88 — quite literally we were standing in the unemployment line,” Peiker says. “We looked at each other and said, ‘There’s got to be something better than this.’”

They looked into restaurants, bars and copy centers, but they kept coming back to the bed-and-breakfast concept. And once they discovered the Castle Marne — which they glimpsed from across the street while checking out another B&B that was for sale — they were hooked. It took six months to pull the financing together and almost as long to renovate the place, but the Peikers imbued the castle with an old-timey charm that keeps visitors coming back. As one reviewer on wrote, “My wife and I have been escaping to the Castle Marne for nine years now. Each time, we come away refreshed and looking forward to our next escape. When you walk through the door, you are transported to a magical time in Colorado history.”

That’s no accident — Jim spent years researching the history of the place, tracing its ownership back to prominent owners such as Col. James Platt, the namesake of Platt Park, and John Mason, founder of the Colorado Museum of Natural History (now the Denver Museum of Nature and Science).

But for Jim Peiker, the real magic of the Castle Marne is the community it creates. Strangers around a breakfast table often become friends, he says, and the couple has seen many of the same faces coming back to stay, year after year. Recently two women from a heli-skiing company in Calgary came to Denver to shop for outdoor gear and struck up a friendship with the Peikers’ 11-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth.

“The next morning at breakfast, one of the women said, ‘I’m doing a slide presentation at this sporting goods store on my four ascensions of Mount Everest. I wonder if Lizzy’s class at school would be interested in this,’” Peiker says. “[She said] ‘I could take time at the end of the trip and I can go out and make the presentation at her school,’ which she did — and it was wonderful. It’s these sorts of things that happen here. The connections.”

The store at which the women were shopping for gear? It was Outdoor Divas, co-owned by Alysia Kline (MS finance ’04, MBA ’04).

“I joke about the whole concept of six degrees of separation; around here we only have about three,” Peiker says. “It’s fascinating the way that everything fits together.”

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