Rocky Mountain News
April 2008

A Storied Past
Jan Metzler heard a quiet comment in 2002 as she gardened at her Washington Park bungalow. It came from her elderly neighbor and friend Will George Neahr.

"I've left you a little something, and you'll know what to do with it."

When Neahr, who was childless, died at age 82, Metzler discovered that the "little something" was his 1,620-square-foot home on Race Street.

The 1-1/2-story cottage home couldn't be more of a Colorado native: It was built in 1894 from rhyolite from Castle—Rock, sandstone from Manitou Springs and flagstone from Lyons.  A remodel/addition with a stunning conservatory-style family room designed by Denver architect Virginia DuBrucq has led to several awards for architect and homeowner, including a

community preservation award from Historic Denver. The remodel/addition expanded the square footage to 2,450, elevated the house to landmark status and announced its presence on the historical-home scene.

While Metzler isn't living in the home her neighbor willed her now, she's planning to live there one day, as she loves the home and wants to honor the memory of her friend.

Neahr had been an engineer/ supervisor at Public Service of Colorado and a professor of Spanish at the University of Denver.

"I used to help him with his gardening and shopping, and I often took him to visit his friends, who were also my close neighbors, so I had spent a great deal of time in his house," Metzler said. "It was a museum; there were seven layers of wallpaper and several antique clocks, which he loved and restored."  It took her some time to get over the shock of the gift, she says. "Eventually, I realized that it had happened for a reason and I decided to embrace it. My mantra became, 'What does the house want?' I knew I'd figure it out."

Research at the Central Library in Denver yielded noteworthy records. Metzler discovered that the house was an early remnant of the Myrtle Hill subdivision in Arapahoe County.  "I found out that the original owner was Charles M. Clayton, a stonecutter who built it for himself," she says.

"His next residence was behind a bar on Larimer Street during the time of the Silver Crash. I fell in love with the history; the house became a story."  Metzler started to renovate the interior of the house but stopped to reassess.  "Something didn't feel right,

and I decided instead to go after a historic designation from the Landmark Preservation Commission. I wanted to honor the Neahr family, who bought the house in 1919, and to preserve the historic structure."  Her search for an architect led her a block away, to DuBrucq's studio.

"There is a rigid set of rules in the landmark process, and if you know these rules it sets you free," DuBrucq says. "I find it challenging to work on projects with this type of constraint; it puts a project into a whole new arena of design."

To get the process going, DuBrucq referred her client to Denver historical-preservation consultant Lisa Purdy. "Lisa added to my research, wrote the application for the historic designation and saw it through the process," Metzler says. It took three months and proved to be a seamless process.

The Landmark Preservation Commission and City Ordinance now recognizes the house as the Historic Neahr Residence at 1017 S. Race St.  The presence of the Neahr family lingers in the house, both inside its rooms and outside in the gardens and the

flagstone spaces designed by Metzler.  "Mrs. Neahr, Will's mother, was a member of the Washington Park Garden Club and won prizes for her roses," Metzler says. "We dug up her rosebushes and then transplanted them back into the yard after construction."

Many of the subcontractors had never worked on a house as old as the Neahr home, and they left little presents in the house, she says.  "While I was on vacation, the contractor, Cress Carter, wrapped the duct in the wine room - formerly the furnace room - in copper as a gift. This all keeps Will alive for me."