Fellow Historian, Judy Stalnaker PhD, asked if I would share this article about her research on the house at 736 Pearl Street, Denver, Colorado. I was honored that she asked me to post her extensive research on the house.
You can Email Judy directly at: JudyStalnak1@msn.com
Foster-McCaulley-Symes-French Consulate House
by Judith Stalnaker
This house at 738 Pearl Street (now numbered 736) in Denver has many stories to tell—stories of men with immense wealth, of equally rich wives, of exclusive clubs, of high society, of historic namesake buildings, of Yale University, of renowned architects, of suicide, of the French government, and even of actress Jodie Foster. The house was designated a Denver Landmark in 1973, just the thirty-fourth so designated. Now there are over 340 Denver Landmarks. Its location immediately to the east of the Grant-Humphreys Mansion and the Governor’s Mansion add to the importance of the house. The McCaulley name was misspelled in the landmark application documents and has been misspelled until now as “McCauley.”
Construction. The building permit was issued on November 28, 1905 for a two-story brick residence plus basement with footprint 60’6” by 41’4”, making each floor 2500 sq. ft. The cost was listed as $16,000, many times the price of other houses who were issued building permits around that time.
Architects. The architects for the house were Frederick J. Sterner and George Williamson. Sterner and Williamson were outstanding architects of the day. They also designed the iconic Daniels and Fisher Tower and the original neo-classical first building of the Denver Museum of Natural History (now Denver Museum of Nature and Science). In fact the building permit (#2148) for the museum was issued the same day as the permit for 738 Pearl Street! Working alone, Sterner designed the Antlers Hotel and Glen Eyrie in Colorado Springs. Williamson working alone designed East High School and Smiley Middle School in Denver. The 1973 application for landmark status wrongly states that Frederick Sterner alone was the designer and that even that was “not verified.” The evidence that Sterner and Williamson were the joint architects is their names on the building permit.
Misters Foster, McCaulley, and Symes. The three men who are the namesakes of the house―Alexis Foster, Francis McCaulley, and J. Foster Symes―were all members of Denver high society and knew one another. Francis knew Alexis Foster prior to buying the house from him as Mr. and Mrs. Foster were among the twenty people that Francis hosted at a Denver Country Club luncheon in January, 1916. Francis also was the dinner host in May, 1922 of other future owners of 738 Pearl―Mr. and Mrs. J. Foster Symes. All were present at the October, 1914 wedding at 777 Logan Street attended by “Denver’s ultra-fashionable set” where J. Foster Symes gave away his sister, Katherine Symes, to be married.
Alexis Caldwell Foster (1867-1945). The man who commissioned the house to be built and was its first occupant was Alexis C. Foster. However, he did not actually own the house. Foster married well, as his affluent father-in-law, Lucius G. Fisher (1843-1916), was the owner of record. Foster’s wife, Alice Eddy Fisher Foster (1872-1973), grew up in Chicago where her father was a real estate investor and the owner of the Union Bag & Paper Company, one of the largest industries in the U.S. at the time. The 160 acres of land he owned near the 1892 World’s Columbian Exposition was then worth $1 million (28.2 million in 2019 dollars). Lucius Fisher commissioned the still-standing 20-story Fisher Building located in the Chicago Loop which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Designed by world’s fair architect Daniel H. Burnham, it was one of the tallest buildings in the world when completed in 1896. From 1900 to 1916 Lucius lived with his family at 40 E. Erie Street, Chicago in the huge Italianate mansion which is today a museum called Driehaus Museum or the Nickerson Mansion.
Alice Fisher and Alexis Foster married on October 28, 1897. The couple was living at 738 Pearl Street when Alice’s father died in 1916. Alice split the huge estate with her two sisters.
A banker, Alexis Foster was cashier with Daniels Bank, then by 1910 was vice president of the United States National Bank, and in the 1920s was president of Bankers Trust Co. of Denver. He was also a partner in an investment brokerage firm, a director of the Denver branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, and a member of many of Denver’s most prestigious clubs.
Alexis C. Foster was instrumental in financing the construction of Denver’s twelve-story A.C. Foster Building (now called University Building). Still standing at 16th Street and Champa, its unique architecture and design by noted architects Fisher & Fisher have caused it to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1909-1911, it was one of the first built after Denver modified an ordinance that had limited building height to nine stories.
Mr. Foster sold the Pearl-Street house to Francis D. McCaulley on August 29, 1919 and had an even grander house built in Cherry Hills Village for his family. It was designed by Fisher & Fisher, the same architects as the A.C. Foster Building. It is now known as the Foster-Buell estate or Temple Buell mansion (after a prominent architect who was the second owner) and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Around 1928 Alexis and Alice moved to toney Westchester County, New York. In New York he was, until his death, an executive of the Calvin Bullock Banking Firm at 1 Wall Street, NYC. Remarkably, the namesake of the branches of this firm was his next door neighbor on Pearl Street in Denver. Mr. Foster is the great-grandfather of actress Jodie Foster (her father being Lucius Fisher Foster III).
Francis Dunlevy McCaulley (1870-1926). The next owner of the house was Francis D. McCaulley, an 1890 Yale University graduate often called by the nickname Frank. He was a manager and broker with E.F. Hutton & Company and Otis & Company, among others. Already successful in business and well-heeled, in January 1917 at age 46 he married Laura Rogers McAuley (one “c” and one “l”), a woman with two sons. She lived only nine months after the marriage. Her estate, shared by her husband and sons, was worth $185,000 (4.6 million in 2019 dollars) and mostly consisted of stocks, most certainly brokered by her husband. Shortly after his wife’s death, McCaulley adopted his wife’s two sons―Vance, age 11, and Sayres, age 9, whom he renamed Francis D. McCaulley Jr. The birth-father of the boys, Henry S. McAuley, was a 1901 graduate of Yale University.Francis Dunlevy McCaulley
Frank was called a clubman for the many clubs he belonged to including the Denver Country Club, Denver Club, and University Club. In fact, Denver city directories show him residing at the Denver Club and the University Club at different times. He was definitely a member of the social elite. He was at least a part-time member of Denver’s Sacred Thirty-Six, the era’s snobbiest set, because he appears in a photo sitting next to Crawford Hill at one of the group’s functions.
Dying in March, 1926 aboard a ship on a world tour, McCaulley’s will left an estate worth $1,050,000 (15.1 million in 2019 dollars) in trust for his two sons, Vance, a student at Yale, age 17, and Francis Jr., attending a boarding school in Switzerland, age 15. The house at 738 Pearl was also willed to them.
Vance McCaulley (1906-1935). The 1973 application for designation as a Denver Landmark incorrectly states, “738 Pearl was sold to Vance McCauley[sic].” So the McCaulley name associated with the house was incorrectly assumed to be Vance McCaulley. Vance’s adoptive father was much more prominent than Vance (and Vance was a minor when his father bought the house), so primarily the house should be associated with Francis D. McCaulley and only in a small way associated with Vance McCaulley.
Vance McCaulley, a 1928 Yale University graduate, was a banker and broker. Sixteen days after the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, he married the wealthy Constance Prosser, daughter of Seward Prosser, Chairman of the Board of Bankers Trust Co. of New York City. McCaulley at age 28 was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in September, 1935 in his New York apartment at 444 East 57th Street. Vance’s widow went on to marry one of the eight richest men in the United States, Richard K. Mellon! When Mellon died, she married an English baron.
Transition. Vance and his brother, Frank McCaulley Jr., who was in the Yale University Class of 1930, lived in the house only a short time, because they were away at school much of the time. They spent the summer of 1927 in Europe rather than returning home to Denver. They had rented the house to Jesse Welborn, President of Colorado Fuel and Iron, and his wife for 1927. The settlement of the will officially transferred the property to the two sons on October 5, 1927. In May of 1928, just after Vance graduated from Yale, their aunt, Mrs. Harry B. Combs, Francis Sr.’s sister, of New York City came to Denver to take charge of the Pearl Street house for that summer. Each young man transferred half of his share to Sidney W. Sinsheimer on Aug. 29, 1929 and then the remaining half to him on Aug. 12, 1931. Sinsheimer was a sugar magnate, having resigned as vice-president of the Holly Sugar Corporation in 1928. It is quite possible that the house was subdivided into one apartment on the first floor and one apartment on the second floor during the time of partial ownership. The 1929 Denver Householders’ Directory shows both Vance McCaulley and S.W. Sinsheimer (and wife Gabriel) living there.
John Foster Symes (1878-1951). A 1900 Yale University and 1903 Columbia University law school graduate, Symes was a United States District Judge and one of Colorado’s most distinguished jurists. He was the youngest U.S. District Judge in the nation when he was appointed in 1922 by President Harding. His father, George G. (who served four years as a Congressman from Colorado), held the same distinction when appointed to the same position in Montana by President Grant in 1869.
Judge Symes married Cynthia Eddington in 1915. In WWI he saw heavy combat in France, rising to the rank of major. The couple divorced in 1928. He remarried to Florence J. Wade in 1931. Judge Symes bought 738 Pearl Street on August 15, 1934, previously having lived at 755 and 777 Logan Street.
An expert on corporate finance, J. Foster Symes presided over the bankruptcy reorganization of both the Rio Grande Railroad and the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. He was nationally recognized as an authority on patent law. Interestingly, Judge Symes was the one who handed out the sentences to two of the 1933 kidnappers of Charles Boettcher II, wealthy heir to the Boettcher fortune.
Denver’s eight-story Symes Building was financed by George G. Symes, but was managed by his son from its completion in 1906. It is located on 16th Street directly across Champa Street from the A.C. Foster Building. The elder Symes residence was originally at this site. The Symes Building was the first steel frame building in Denver, the first with a Chicago style design, and the tallest in the city when it was built. It was designed by New York architects Joseph and Richard H. Hunt, known for designing mansions for the wealthy. The home for many years to Woolworth’s five-and-dime store, the Symes Building is in use today as an office building with retail shops on the ground floor.
J. Foster Symes was socially prominent and a member of more than a dozen clubs and societies including the Denver Club, Denver Country Club, Mile High Club, Mayflower Society, and the University Clubs of Denver and New York. Federal Judge Symes retired after a 27-year court career in September, 1949. He owned 738 Pearl Street at the time of his death in 1951, but he died while on vacation in California. He is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.
French Consulate. Throughout the history of Denver, the consulates of foreign governments mostly have been located in commercial buildings. Exceptions are the British Consulate in the 1960s in the 5200 block of E. Sixth Avenue Parkway and the Italian, Mexican, and French Consulates that were once in Capitol Hill mansions. The house at 738 Pearl Street was purchased by the French government in 1958 to become the Consulate of France. The 1921 aerial photo shows the Foster-McCaulley-Symes-French Consulate House at the top and the Grant-Humphreys Mansion at the bottom across Pearl Street.
The first consul to serve at 738 Pearl Street was Claude Batault. He was followed by Victor Gares in August, 1962. In October, 1964 Denver citizens had the opportunity to visit the house through a tour offered by the United Nations Association of the U.S.A. The Denver Post had a photograph of Consul Gares in the large wine cellar and the newspaper reported, “An elegant welcome awaits visitors at the home of French consul Victor Gares and his American wife Nancy. They live in a spacious house at 738 Pearl St. They chose many of the living room pieces themselves in Paris. Some of the furniture belongs to the French government, but several of the most delightful objects are the Gares’ own.”
Robert Luc took over as French Consul in February, 1967. He only served two years. As part of the country’s economy drive, France closed its Denver consulate in 1969. That was the same year that Italy closed its consulate on Capitol Hill in a house on the southwest corner of 9th Avenue and Pennsylvania Street that was built for Ella Mullen Weckbaugh, daughter of John K. Mullen.
Another opportunity to see the inside of the Foster-McCaulley-Symes-French Consulate House was the tour conducted by Historic Denver, Inc. in May, 1975. Also, the public was allowed to view the house when the Junior Symphony Guild enlisted the help of local designers and turned the House into its 1998 Designer Showhouse.
© October 2019. Judith Stalnaker, Ph.D., is a retired civil engineering professor who is interested in Denver and Colorado history. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.