Situated in the heart of Highlands is a Western landmark in the form of an 1890s Victorian. This is not an uncommon sight in Highlands, a neighborhood once established as a town in 1875. Highlands was dubbed ‘the Garden City of the Plains’ with streets lined with upscale architecture, tree-lined boulevards and manicured gardens. This was a far cry from the dirty, rambunctious frontier town of Denver.
The high hopes for Highlands collapsed after the 1893 Silver Crash. With the town’s finances strained, a vote by citizens led to annex Highlands to Denver in 1896. Coincidently, this was the same year the Henry Lee House was built.
Henry Lee is the original owner and builder of this staple Victorian. Lee blazed the trail as a pioneer resident of Colorado, where he served as a state representative and senator, was the father of the Denver Park system, and, tragically, was the city’s first victim of an auto-pedestrian accident.
There’s a massive gap in the storyline from the 1900s to 2017 when the new owners, John Reilly and Rob Hahn, purchased the forgotten home from milehimodern. Reilly, the designer of Henry Lee House, has at least one theory on the home’s past identity.
“I wish I knew more about the history of the home, but I think it used to be a boarding house. During the remodel, we noticed old numbers in each room,” said Reilly with a subtle Southern drawl.
John Reilly grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, just two hours from Nashville, but has been established in Denver for decades. Like the house, he’s reinvented himself many times — once working in banking, then in telecom and engineering. He has been involved in development since 2003. Like Henry Lee, he’s a trailblazer in the flourishing Denver frontier.
Reilly purchased the house with his friend and business partner, Hahn, who is a longtime Highlands developer and co-founder of the popular collective eatery Avanti. At the time, 2653 West 32nd Avenue was listed by mhm brokers Peter Blank and Carmelo Paglialunga, Reilly’s husband, who encouraged Reilly and Hahn to check out the property on 32nd as it was full of potential.
“Our initial plan was to subdivide the parcel and construct a commercial building for a restaurant. Then do something to the house,” said Reilly, “but we couldn’t do that.”
Instead, Reilly found his muse in Nashville, near his old stomping grounds, at a place called Urban Cowboy. Urban Cowboy is a home away from home — a really cool, Instagram-able home — with the name succinctly describing the overall design. The mission is to provide vagabonds with innovative hospitality experience.
With this inspiration in mind, Reilly and Hahn purchased and restored Henry Lee House for over six months with Reilly leading the design vision. The result is a luxury group-lodging and events space with Victorian-era impacts, Wild West nuances and comfortable, contemporary touches. This isn’t another old bed and breakfast but a luxurious retreat with a balanced mix of Old West and new Denver that would make the original builder, Henry Lee, proud.
Especially because Reilly kept the architectural integrity of the home, preserving original design details. They stripped the entryway’s many layers of paint to reveal the vintage wallpaper that the walls have worn for centuries. Also here, hanging proudly, is a pop art portrait of Henry Lee. Sprawling throughout are beautifully crafted original hardwood floors. In the living room, you’ll find the chartreuse-hued tile fireplace that’s also authentic to the architecture.
Even with the changes, Reilly was intent on incorporating a sense of history and honor to the neighborhood. The natural wood lath throughout is reclaimed materials from a tear down nearby.
The evolution of Henry Lee House has allowed the home to become a timeless marvel, and yet again, the house is ready for a new identity. Reilly and Hahn will reshape the use of the space in 2020. Although we can’t do a full reveal (trust us, it’s cool), we can assure this — the changes will be an exciting addition that will make Highlands an even better place to live and eat.
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