Phil Goodstein will reveal the mysteries of the Lumber Baron Inn tonight
Is Lumber Baron Inn: Denver's Mystery Mansion, Denver historian Phil Goodstein's latest book, really about just one building? "Yes, it is," replies Goodstein. "Compared to a lot of my books" -- like the recently released Denver History Index, about where to find out more about the city's past and present -- "this is a minor work for me," he continues. "It only has 98 pages." Goodstein will be at the Tattered Cover on Colfax tonight, November 18, to talk about both books; Walter Keller, owner of the historic Lumber Baron Inn, will also be there to sign copies of Lumber Baron Inn.
Why write an entire book about such a specific piece of Denver history? "The interesting thing about the mansion," Goodstein explains, "is it's one building that encapsulates Denver."
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Themes like "opportunity, pretentious fortunes, sudden financial bankruptcy, slum properties, renovation and financial swindling" are all in the history of that one building, Goodstein notes. "One of the guys that owned the house was a Mark Twain miner," he says, using the "Mark Twain miner" term to describe "a hole in the ground owned by a liar." That characterizes the house's second owner, "this guy Hiram Fowler," because when Fowler "touted a mine, the price went up."
But Fowler wasn't the Lumber Baron Inn resident who "got the house by selling bogus mining claims," he notes.
The first owner, lumber baron John Mouat, "loses the fortune in 1893 when they demonetize silver and suddenly nobody wants to buy properties," Goodstein explains. "After Mouat loses it to the bank, the bank goes bankrupt, it becomes a school. Hiram Fowler gets in 1912...when he dies in 1940, his son gets it and Jim Fowler and wants nothing to do with swindling."
Goodstein describes Jim Fowler as a communist as well as the "real founder of the Denver urban gardens program." Fowler "carves the house into people's housing -- mostly a fleabag hotel," he says. "But some of his old comrades share the house and they're also organic farmers and he rents out most of the units to people needing low-cost lodging.
And there's plenty more to the story. To learn how murder and "more smoke-and-mirror financing" led to the Lumber Baron being acquired by Kelly and the building's "meta-historical function," stop by the Tattered Cover at 7:30 p.m. today.