History of Cragmor

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs has unfolded its improbable and remarkable first thirty years on 420 acres housing a major part of Colorado Springs history, the Cragmor Sanitorium, a significant building in southern Colorado. In the first half of the twentieth century, Colorado Springs enjoyed a unique reputation world-wide in terms of institutional and residential health care and culture.

Beginning in 1890, a series of large and outstanding sanitoriums were built on the outskirts of Colorado Springs. These health facilities were generously staffed and administered by eminent physicians. Glockner (now Penrose Hospital) was established in 1890 and developed into the largest Catholic sanitorium in the country. Bellevue Sanitorium (now Saint Francis Hospital) was begun in 1900, designed to be the world's largest Protestant tuberculosis center. Nordrach Ranch (near the present site of Nation al College) was founded in 1901, and enjoyed the distinction of being Colorado's first open-air sanitorium and the second such institution in the United States. Cragmor Sanitorium, today the campus of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, was officially opened in 1905, under the world-famous physician Edwin Solly, and thereafter became the most luxurious palace for well-to-do consumptives in the United States.

Solly selected one of the most important and versatile architects working in Southern Colorado, Thomas MacLaren. MacLaren (1863-1928 ), acknowledged master of architecture, designed over a dozen residential structures , City Hall, the Municipal Auditori um, the Burns Theater (demolished), and churches and schools in Colorado Springs. Among MacLaren's most famous structures are the Claremont (a residence for C.A. Baldwin, modeled after the Grand Trianon from sketches MacLaren made at Versailles) and several sections of the opulent Broadmoor Hotel. At one time the Colorado Springs area boasted the active operation of seventeen hospitals and sanitoriums. But none of these facilities featured the elegant architecture and majestic setting of the Cragmor Sanitorium. MacLaren and Solly were to team up for other sanitorium designs outside of Colorado Springs, reflecting the mountain living, homeopathic philosophy among them are Sunnyrest and the Modern Woodmen of America. The sanitorium building echoed the aesthetics of the founders merging with Spanish-Moorish influence. This architecture embodies the heritage of the builders of Colorado Springs and the understated beauty of the Hispanic culture.

For Dr. Solly's inimitable Sun Palace at Cragmor, MacLaren was charged with the task of situating all of the rooms for invalids on the sides of the building that faced the sun. Likewise, the dining rooms, designed to occupy the whole of the first and second floors of the southeast wing, were so arranged that three sides could be opened to the outside. The dominant entertainment hall, which filled two floors of the southwest wing, was designed to serve the same function. Throughout the grounds were shelters, arbors, and benches to, as Solly explained, "...encourage patients in every way to lead, by day and by night, the outdoor life."

The main building ( Main Hall) was in generally U-shaped, with wings projecting at a sixty-degree angle to equalize sunlight exposure time to the rooms and form an effective shelter from easterly and westerly winds. An attractive garden faced the south, enclosed by three sides of the edifice. Entry to the building was on the north side, beneath an elegant porte cochere. The first floor was occupied by reception rooms, a billiard room, lounge, library, and the entertainment hall and dining room complex.

In 1903 the preliminary estimated cost of the foremost health resort in the world hovered between $300,000 and $350,000 . By the time MacLaren completed his plans, the higher estimate had nearly doubled. Solly delayed construction until he had secured nearly $100,000. Solly and MacLaren decided to build only as much as available funds could pay for. As additional charitable contributions were received, wings would then be added to the edifice. MacLaren made significant revisions to his original plans. He consolidated the dining rooms into one space, converted the entertainment hall into a modest assembly room, and diminished the recreation area into a single large room that he called the "covered porch". The porch would overlook sunken gardens covering 30,000 square feet, open out over a terrace to the south, and be enclosed by two cloisters. The revised Main Hall still retained a powerful and regal presence on the bluffs.

The extraordinary growth of Colorado Springs, home of thirty-five millionaires in its thirty-third year provoked debate between Solly, the local citizenry and the city council on community growth and the quality of life. Solly was successful in inspiring a groundswell of community support to pressure the city council to adopt regulations on air quality, furnaces, coal usage, and smoke and dust control. Underlying his community activism was his vision that the construction of Cragmor on its original legendary scale would reduce health risks and improve community well-being..

As the winter of 1903 closed in, no building contract had been awarded. Costs continued to escalate, Solly proposed more reductions in the design to MacLaren. Early in 1904 Solly lamented, "we will be left with nothing but a breeze sweeping through an empty frame.".

Construction finally began in the late Spring of 1904. The Cragmor Sanatorium opened its doors to patients on June 20, 1905. Seven of Solly's private patients were among the original twenty-four consumptives admitted to Cragmor. As Cragmor approached its final stages of construction, Solly became ill with chronic neurasthenic collapse. The result of chronic fatigue aggravated by the arduous labor of Cragmor's birth. MacLaren wrote to Elizabeth Solly upon his last visit to his physician and friend that it was as if Edwin has already died with the completion of Cragmor. He continued: " When that lifelong mission of his was over, his tired old frame just withered away.".

Upon his death Solly was memorialized as a world class physician who had brought the Colorado Springs community to global acclaim for its outstanding health facility. Ironically, the world forgot Solly as Cragmor became even more established under the direction of new leaders in health care : Gerald B. Webb, Alexius M. Forster, Otto Einstein, and George T. Dwire. Today there is no marker or public recognition of Edwin Solly's proclamation of the beauty of Colorado Springs and his accomplishment of bringing the community to world attention with the construction of Cragmor Sanitorium. The preservation of Main Hall is possibly the most important testimony to the achievements of a visionary physician. Edwin Solly was able to articulate, through Thomas MacLaren's architecture, a belief that beauty and creativity are charitable neighbors of the healing arts, and that an environment that encourages people to participate in their own healing will be a benevolent witness to a community.

The first two decades of Cragmor Sanitorium were occupied by strong medical leadership and modest financial success. Patients came to the sanitorium from the Main Line of Philadelphia, Boston, New York and the arts. An article by MacLaren published in the American Architect and Building News brought the innovative design of Cragmor to journalists and health practitioners throughout the country. In 1909, Colorado Springs was chosen as the site of the National Tuberculosis Exhibit from Washington, D.C.. Thousands of people attended the conference and had their first view of Cragmor and Pikes Peak. Cragmor became the health mecca for artists , writers, and corporate tycoons who found not only their health but a new home in Colorado Springs.

Broadway performers of the early 1900's such as Laura la Tille, Constance Pulitzer (Joseph Pulitzer's daughter) , Murielane Pancost (concert soprano), and Jeanette MacCoil, ( well-known New York musician) spent time and regained their health at Cragmor. Throughout the Pikes Peak region, artists, actors, and musicians pursued the cure. Russell Cheney, renowned painter, resided in Colorado Springs ' Cragmor for two years. Madame Snjinski (dancing partner of Pavlova), Felix Doubleday (publishing family), and Vincent Youman (composer of musical comedy scores such as Flying Down To Rio) convalesced at Cragmor. The writers, artists and cafe society patients of the Cragmor became the cultural foundation for the city of Colorado Springs. The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Pioneer Museum, Colorado College's Tutt Library and private collections, house the works of these individuals whose ideas continue to inspire students and provoke animated discussions.. The cafe society patients endowed plans to build schools, museums, arts, music and writing programs which continue to be a part of contemporary Colorado Springs cultural life.

The 1930's stock market crash brought financial disaster to many of the Cragmor Sanitorium's exclusive clientele. One formerly prosperous patient was forcibly removed from Cragmor and was transferred to Brady's hospital for psychiatric care. The dark presence of the Great Depression initiated the final chapter of Cragmor's aristocratic past. The facility was adapted to serve the health needs of less affluent patients. Lawsuits and contract liabilities increased the threat of foreclosure proceedings against Cragmor Sanitorium. Former patient Robert Rhea summoned all of the defendants, organized a bankholder's protective committee, satisfied creditors with his own savings, and assisted in the reorganization of Cragmor as a nonprofit, nonsectarian body called the Cragmor Foundation.

Alexius M. Forster, at the age of twenty-nine, took charge of Cragmor in 1910. Alexius Forster's death in 1954 found Cragmor at a loss for medical and financial leadership. The last decade of the sanitorium's homeopathic life was to become tied to the Bureau of Indian Affairs as Navaho Indians were flown in to Cragmor. This was one of the first public health programs launched by the newly formed U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW).

The first Indian patients arrived at Cragmor in 1952 with the signing of a government contract between the Cragmor Foundation and HEW. The institution would be guaranteed a permanent base of financial support. In return , Cragmor would provide for the medical needs of hundreds of tuberculous Navajos. George Dwire, Managing Director, oversaw the decade of fiscal recovery for the institution. The El Pomar Foundation donated television sets to Cragmor. Dwire created a dynamic program which not only provided for the health needs of the Navajo people but also expanded to include educational and occupational therapy . One of the most important American Indians to befriend the Cragmor Sanitorium was a woman named Annie Wauneka. In 1951 she was elected as the only woman on the Navajo Tribal Council. Shortly thereafter she became chairperson for the Committee on Health and Welfare for the Navajo nation. A favorite photographic subject of Laura Gilpin, she visited every hospital in the West serving American Indians. She helped the patients understand the necessity of convalescence, produced an educational film on tuberculosis, and served as an interpreter for physicians whenever one was needed. Wauneka would visit Cragmor at least twice a year. She earned the respect of physicians and educators as well as the love of her people. As the health crisis of the Navajo people subsided so did the Federal funding for Cragmor. By April of 1962, remaining patients were being transferred to other facilities. June 15, 1964, commemorated the funding and legislation signed by Governor John Love allowing the University of Colorado to assume custody of Cragmor.

The imposing elegance of Main Hall has become the tangible reference for members of the CU Colorado Springs community and visitors to the campus. Spanish Mission Revival influences the architectural line of the Main Hall (Cragmor Sanitorium). Frontier priests brought the baroque forms of Spain and executed them with whatever materials and labor were at hand. The New Spanish Colonial style was strongly influenced by Indian building techniques and retained a primitive surface with the elegant Spanish influence. The early structures utilized massive, unadorned adobe walls with timbers supported on decorative brackets. In Texas, California and the Southwest the Hispanic artisans elaborated on the early rugged interpretation of this style.

Period revival buildings such as Main Hall became popular in the first third of the 20th Century. While the structure shows an allegiance to the Spanish Colonial design heritage, the architect's style combined with the site orientation and the unique functional requirements of a sanitorium merge to create a unique architectural work. MacLaren used stones quarried from the surrounding site for the exterior walls of the first floor. The use of these native materials not only anchors the building to the ground, but gives the impression of the Main Hall erupting from the rugged landscape. The artful use of stucco on the upper floors playfully transitions the building from earth and stone, to sky.

Edwin Solly strongly guided the artistic direction that MacLaren pursued in developing the evolving design of Cragmor. Edwin Solly's prescription of natural ventilation and copious sunlight were a major programming element in the design of the building. MacLaren skillfully planned the layout of the bedrooms to take full advantage of cross ventilation, sunlight, and views. The well balanced placement of the fenestration and the building's mass give it a formal and stately presence. The secularization of mission architectural design enabled MacLaren to showcase Dr. Solly's open-air, mountain lifestyle in the spectacular placement of open air sleeping porches on the main facade that echo the belfry towers of the Spanish Colonial period. Reiterating the cultural legacy of the building are the traditional rounded hacienda entry ways with windows focusing the eye on arresting and inspiring views.

The cultural heritage of the area is witnessed not only architecturally and in diverse ecological phenomena but also in the significant prehistoric archeological components observable throughout the University acreage. The daily discarded artifacts of Cragmor Sanitorium life - medicine bottles, crumbling foundations, and broken dishes are intertwined with artifacts from the prehistory of the region. Objects such as 10,000 year old Clovis points are found in the same earth as early twentieth century "Dr. Sawyers" medicine bottles. The University is committed to the recording and preserving of these unique archeological sites as they further define the unusual and revealing history of Cragmor and the surrounding land. The standards of the archeological survey will adhere to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Archaeology and Historic Preservation. The site surveys will utilize OAHP site forms, and the completed documents will be made available to the Colorado Historical Society.

As the community approaches the end of this century it must preserve its final unprotected historic legacy. This legacy is within the acres occupied by the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. The advent of dramatic campus growth, new academic buildings, child care facilities and residential housing underscore the importance of protecting the fragile vestiges of an era whose achievements may be forgotten. The CU- Colorado Springs campus houses several potential historic buildings, archeological sites, possible bridal paths, natural springs, plant life, and eco-systems which may require study. The quality of life issues raised by Dr. Solly at the turn of the century continue to arise as migrations of people and industry impact a location known for its environmental beauty, geologic marvels, and healthy lifestyle. The time to preserve some of the historic value of the Cragmor acreage is alarmingly brief. The master plan for the campus is currently being updated with the intent of continuing the expansion of the University. The first work of this endeavor is to begin with a study of the signature campus building, Main Hall, formerly the Cragmor Sanitarium, by a qualified team to begin the assessment of the campus and this historic structure .