Cripple Creek in danger of losing its sinful past
The Colorado Springs Gazette
Cripple Creek, CO Colorado
CRIPPLE CREEK, Colorado – Treasures that graced Pearl DeVere’s house in Cripple Creek’s red light district in the 1890s made it the most elegant dwelling on Meyers Avenue.
Persian rugs. Handcarved European furniture. A Knabe piano. A Turkish cigarette dispenser. A Tiffany lamp.
They created an exotic atmosphere where only the richest men were admitted, and they paid gold-plated prices: $50 per visit or $250 for the whole night.
Amazingly, those and a houseful of other items survived the brothel years, which ended in 1915, as well as its subsequent use for more than 40 years as a boarding house and private home.
In 1958, the house opened as a museum. But in the early 1990s, it was sold to casino interests because private owners couldn’t afford the taxes after the advent of gambling pushed property values sky high.
Now, DeVere’s treasures – on display in the renamed Old Homestead House Museum – are at risk of being moved from Colorado or sold off piecemeal.
They belong to the defunct Wild Horse Casino next door, which has put a $40,000 price tag on them, museum supporter Charlotte Bumgarner said.
“Some people say, ‘Why can’t you buy other furniture,'” she said. “I say, ‘It wouldn’t be the same.'”
Bumgarner and former house owner and tour guide Lodie Hern know the house backward and forward.
They describe an era during which Cripple Creek boasted a population of 40,000, when crowds of miners came to the red light district on Meyers Avenue to patronize the 350 women working there.
Artifacts speak to the business of the day, and night. A small, narrow chair hand-carved in northern Italy was used by the women, who straddled it as the maid pulled their corsets tight.
Framed on the wall are monthly licenses required of the women, $16 each, and the madam, $40, signed by City Clerk Ralph E. Carr after a medical exam declared them healthy.
A vintage gambling table sits in the entertainment room, where the walls bear hand-painted oatmeal-based wallpaper ordered from France at $134 a roll. It came with its own French paper hanger, Hern noted.
The upstairs bedrooms boast a tigerwood mirror from South Africa, a cut velvet bedspread from Iran, even large framed portraits of some of the residents.
It was nothing like the cheap one-room cribs down the street with only a bed draped with oil cloth because customers didn’t even remove their boots.
DeVere’s place was different. “It was the most elegant,” Hern said.
Museum supporters want to secure the items for posterity. Volunteers give tours to 30 to 50 people a day during tourist season, but the $5 admission isn’t enough to amass $40,000 by the July 1 deadline.
The building itself isn’t at issue, because it’s owned by the Double Eagle Casino, which wants to preserve the museum, Hern and Bumgarner said.
To raise money, backers are holding an auction June 20.
Wild Horse officials didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.
On the Net:
The Cripple Creek District Museum: http://www.cripple-creek.org
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