REDSTONE — For years, April and Steve Carver would pass this riverside hamlet and admire the iconic Redstone Castle from afar. They had spent decades restoring the historic shine to the Hotel Denver in Glenwood Springs, but the castle seemed beyond their financial grasp.
“Then we watched it sell for $6 million and said nope, not in our reach,” Steve said. “Then we watched it sell for $4 million and said nope, still not there. And then we got a card in the mail that they were having an auction with a minimum bid of $2 million.”
The couple — certified public accountants by trade and historians by passion — won the Redstone Castle at that October 2016 auction, spending a little more than $2 million for the stately manor, which was built by a coal baron between 1899 and 1902.
It was a bargain, but the Carvers’ spendy journey was only beginning.
Tapping their 27 years of expertise amassed overhauling the Hotel Denver, the Carvers launched a sweeping renovation of Redstone Castle, spending well more than their purchase price to restore one of Colorado’s historic jewels.
Ask anyone who has dug into a century-old home, and a vast majority will express moments of regret. It’s one of the stages of a lengthy restoration. But it was worse for the Carvers, who tackled a property that had as many as 10 previous owners who made occasional upgrades. And because the federal government imposed conservation easements for part of the property. And because local land-use code forbade events that could help reimburse the investment in renovations.
“Yes, we’d do it again, but …”
Still, the Carvers have few regrets about reviving the castle. “Yes, we’d do it again, but there were times when I would have said no,” April said.
The Redstone Castle is one of Colorado’s most storied buildings. Coal-mining magnate John Osgood spent more than $2 million to build the 42-room, Tudor-style manor on 150 acres as a winter retreat. Osgood spent lavishly on the remote home, which overlooked a village he built to shelter his coal miners.
There’s silk wallpaper in the French-themed music room; green-dyed Spanish leather on the walls of the library, which was built to look like the inside of a train car; a Honduran, hand-rubbed mahogany table and Russian red-velvet on the walls in the dining room; and a diamond-dust mirror hanging above a fireplace.
Imported Italian marble — not the then-plebian Colorado Yule marble, oh, no, from the quarry down the road that Osgood also owned — surrounds each of the 14 fireplaces. Domed ceilings are lined with aluminum, which was more valuable than gold in 1900.
Every room is adorned with Tiffany & Co. light fixtures, sconces and chandeliers.
A hydropower plant on the Crystal River generated electricity for the castle at a time when not even New York City was wired for power. Osgood also built a reservoir, a kennel for his hunting dogs and a massive carriage house for horses, and he created a preserve for elk, deer and bighorn sheep.
The castle is a monument to the Gilded Age and, in its heyday, hosted such luminaries as John D. Rockefeller and Teddy Roosevelt. More-contemporary superstars flocked in as well, including Jimmy Buffett, who married at the castle in 1977 as the Eagles played in the yard.
The castle was owned by Ken Johnson, the owner of the Grand Junction Sentinel newspaper in the 1980s and ’90s. Johnson invested heavily in the property, converting it to a 16-room bed-and-breakfast with a commercial kitchen. Johnson kept the castle’s treasures intact and sold the property in the 1990s — several times, in fact, regaining ownership as buyers stumbled.
When the Carvers took over, they shouldered a burden that kept the castle’s sale price so low. (The castle is in Pitkin County, where $2 million can fetch a 1980 condo at Snowmass Village or shared ownership of a condo in Aspen.)
The property, thanks to the Redstone Historical Society, is one of the few in the country to have federal historic-conservation easements that span not just the exterior and acreage, but also the interior of the mansion.
Those easements are a jewel in the historical society’s crown. In 2003, the Internal Revenue Service seized the castle as it investigated a international Ponzi scheme run by Norman Schmidt, a Denver man who eventually was sentenced to 330 years in prison. As the agency and the Securities Exchange Commission sought to reimburse about 1,000 investors bilked out of around $50 million on the promise of 400 percent returns, the castle was set for auction. The historical society joined state and federal historical-conservation groups in persuading the IRS to impose easements to protect not just the castle’s exterior and 23 acres around it, but also many of the castle’s main rooms on the first floor.
Ralli Dimitrius was the high bidder in the 2005 auction, paying the IRS $4 million. Although the California businessman needed federal approval for just about any change to the property and for the sale of any furnishing, Dimitrius ran the castle as a bed-and-breakfast, investing very little. In 2015, his children put the castle on the market for $7.5 million.
Preservation easements did their job
Those conservation easements probably deterred a lot of buyers. And that was the intent.
“The Redstone Historical Society was able to convince the IRS that they had a responsibility to take the historic value of the property into consideration when they sold it in 2005,” said Darrell Munsell, a Redstone resident and former history professor who was president of the society at the time. “We knew that by putting a conservation easement on the property, that it would drive the price and the value of the property down. But we also saw something else. We saw the easement as discouraging some property owners who were not interested in historic preservation. The Carvers saw that as an advantage.”
Still, there was worry among Redstone’s historians and residents that the castle this time would sell to a deep-pocketed buyer who would occupy the property as a home, closing it to public access. For decades, the castle has been open for tours, offering visitors a chance to see, touch and feel history.
Since the Carvers opened the castle last fall, they have hosted hundreds of tours.
“Schoolchildren visiting the place get that historic feeling and appreciation of history that they can’t get from textbooks or other means. This is really a great service that the Carvers are providing,” Munsell said, calling the couple “the white-knight” buyers.
Debby Strom, also a member of the historical society, worked at the castle after it was seized by the IRS, and she managed the nearby Redstone Inn in the 1990s. Back then, when Johnson owned the castle, Redstone had about 30 businesses and six restaurants. Today, there are two restaurants and about six businesses in the sleepy village. With the castle restored and hosting guests, hope for an economic spark is growing in Redstone, Strom said.
“The Carvers are better than a dream come true,” she said. “If it were not for that grand building, Redstone would be a ghost town. We were so hoping for someone who could match Ken Johnson’s stewardship, but what we got was even better. I remember hearing from Ken’s attorney after he sold it the last time that Ken just didn’t have any more shirts to lose.”
The Carvers certainly appreciate the history of the castle, as evidenced by their painstaking restoration. When they took over, the place had three working bathrooms. They renovated 17 bathrooms in the 23,000-square-foot mansion to create 11 suites, 10 of which are available to guests. The Carvers applied for historic grants and secured both federal and state historic tax credits on rehabilitation costs as they touched every inch of the castle, including a repair to the water-damaged ceiling in the library that had to be completed with materials used in 1901.
“Those credits are absolutely critical. Just huge,” Steve said. “I hope legislators realize how important those tax credits are in preserving historical gems like this.”
The Carvers also want to establish a model that can keep the castle vibrant.
“Our goal is to make it self-sustaining so it doesn’t have to go through this process every 20, 30, 40 years,” April said.
The Carvers are exploring the castle’s role in the market, tinkering with seasonal overnight rates, which currently run about $300 in the winter. They are welcoming overnight guests, but they hope to rent the entire property for events such as weddings and anniversary celebrations.
The couple spent two years working with Pitkin County to allow larger gatherings, which required an amendment to the land-use code that allowed only a few big events a year. The Carvers attended at least a dozen public meetings with Crystal River Valley residents, county planners and commissioners, hammering out a plan that allows the two to host 60 events a year, 20 of which can include more than 100 guests.
“We spent a lot of time — a very expensive, arduous process — trying to figure out what exactly the county wanted, what we wanted and what the neighbors wanted,” Steve said.
“We asked for a lot, and they all gave us a lot,” April said. “Almost everyone up here wants what is best for the castle, and we had many supporters show up at every one of those meetings.”
The couple bought the Hotel Denver in 1991 and quickly launched a renovation of every room. They ripped out the carpets, formica and shiny brass, and restored the hotel’s historic splendor. That experience is what pushed them toward the Redstone Castle.
“I watched my wife take a pig’s ear and make it into a purse, you know. Take a look at the rooms at the Hotel Denver — she touched every room and turned them all into beautiful places, and we are the top boutique hotel in Glenwood. I just knew she would do something really nice, really special here,” Steve said during a tour of Redstone Castle. “And she did. It’s not outrageous and it respects the history. It’s authentic.”
More from The Colorado Sun
- Opinion: Let’s find ways to protect students without placing them at additional risk
- Opinion: Colorado lawmakers are gambling with measles
- Nicolais: Giellis campaign for Denver mayor goes from incompetent to shameful
- Krieger: Time for a change at Denver City Hall, Part 2
- Opinion: New energy laws are on the books. Let’s make them work for all Coloradans.