By Greta Hanson Maurer and Laura Lee Amman
There is a remarkable three-story pagoda-style home– one of six vintage octagonal homes in the state of Colorado–that has perched above Central Avenue since the 1890’s. Known locally as ‘The Mikado”, the summer home was built in the ‘Japanese’ section of Townsend’s Beulah Springs subdivision, which was platted in 1887. The dramatic home was planned by Molly Martin, an ‘attractive and vivacious’ woman, wife of Jack Martin, a Pueblo ‘live wire’ and realtor. The home was built by local craftsman, David Boggs.
The lot itself (larger than the neighboring lots) is also labeled ‘Mikado’ on the original plat. Finding inspiration from the wildly popular opera Mikado that opened in London’s Savoy Theater in 1885, lots in this section were named after characters of the two-act comedic play by Gilbert & Sullivan (i.e., Koko, Pooh-Bah, Nanki Poo, Yum-Yum and Pitti-Sing) who satirized British politics and policies disguised in a Japanese setting.
An excerpt from a 1946 Pueblo Chieftain article provides more insight, “Being fond of company, Mrs. Martin planned the cottage so the maximum number of guests could be accommodated at night. Since the trip to Beulah in those days required eight hours, visitors always stayed over one night, at least.”.
The impressive three-story home stood out in stark contrast to the neighboring cabins. Through the years, it was said to have been painted green, deep red, and burgundy, today it is a poppy red with white lattice framing the main porch on the second level, and the third floor balcony.
“The house was built around a central arrangement to which partitions folded away in the daytime could be attached when they were pulled out from the wall at night. These were curtain effects and the beds, themselves, were also built into the walls and drawn out at night. Thus Mrs. Martin could have enough guests at any one time to provide a lively card game, and the first card party–the first heard of the area–was sensational.”
F.L. Hughlitt, a Beulah Pioneer, attended Mrs. Martin’s original card party “Mrs. Martin’s summer home and and her card parties were always a source of keen interest.”
In 1924, The Mikado was purchased by John L. Smith who continued to summer in Beulah, finding some of their visits published in the ‘Beulah Notes’ section of the Pueblo Chieftain. In 1934, Mr. and Mrs. Claude Smith took over the property.
In 1957 Rod Myers (who now resides in his ancestral home of Goldfield, NV) was just out of the army and beginning his high school teaching career in Pueblo. He recalls stumbling across the curious home after enjoying a drive to Beulah. “It was the spookiest place I ever saw. It was gray and weathered, weeds everywhere, and some of the windows were even knocked out. I vividly recall seeing bats fly in and out of the place, but I was fascinated!” As he investigated the home, he saw old furniture, a piano, and remembers thinking ‘what a place!’. He inquired with a neighbor, eventually purchasing the property for $2,000! A young attorney by the name of Charles Pierce (who would become a Colorado State Court of Appeals Judge) helped him with the contract/abstract.
Myers lovingly restored the home from top to bottom. The first floor included a kitchen, living room, and a bedroom; the second floor had a bedroom, the large open room with closet at center, which he turned into a bar; and the third floor ‘Poker Room’, originally only accessed by a a long walkway angled up the backside of the home. (See front page photo.)
With the help of Chuck Conway (whom Rod mentored as a teen), Art Traeber, and Adrian Gonzales, Rod lifted the home in order to dig new footers for greater stability. They would successfully drop the home back in place when most neighbors thought the whole process would see the home falling to pieces.
The Mikado enjoyed additional enhancements during Myers 30 year tenure, including the addition of two bathrooms, adding enclosed stairs to the second level, a large living room with fireplace on the lower level, the roof serving as a large deck.
Over the years, many expressed a keen interest in studying various aspects of the home.–experts of Japanese temples confirm the two 8-sided rooms were authentically built, as measurements of each wall translated into ideal Kanso (Japanese equivalent of feng shui, or creating harmony in the surrounding environment). A visiting Roman Catholic priest told Rod ‘I feel like this house was blessed before.’ Myers would experience the benevolent nature of The Mikado upon returning one snowy night to the third floor, where he slept, he slipped and fell 20 feet, dropping in a fresh pile of snow without a scratch.
At times Art Traeber was hired to help haul water from the creek in metal jerry cans for .75 cents an hour. He said that was good money back then, and easier money than the $1.25 he made bucking hay!
There was a menagerie of animals who called The Mikado home at that time, too. Pens of goats, geese, chickens, turkeys, peacocks, birds, cats, dogs, and even a Capuchin monkey called Duffy. When Caren (Graham) Ermel made plans to go to college, her mother insisted the pet monkey be re-homed, and Rod obliged; however, the feisty pet mostly had eyes for Chuck.
Constructed for entertaining, the Mikado played host to a new generation of visitors with Myers leading the Pueblo County Republican party. Senators, Governors, legislators, and even President Nixon’s daughters Julie and Tricia were guests. Having purchased neighboring lots and even nearby Mt. Nebo, visitors enjoyed wandering the hillside, and enjoying Beulah’s mountain air.
Rod sold the property in 1989, and the place went through eight different owners (people and banks), eventually the property fell into disrepair again.
Retired from running large printing presses for the University of Texas, Randy LaCount had just sold a home in New Mexico in 2014, and was visiting his brother in Brighton who encouraged him to look for properties in Colorado. He saw the home for sale online, and immediately fell in love with the home. He immediately made plans to see the home for himself, and ended up with the winning bid for the foreclosed property, ultimately outbidding a neighbor who planned to raze it.
Randy decisively states he is not a carpenter; however, when he was a boy, he would work summers as his dad’s ‘gopher’. A foreman for building large subdivisions in California, Randy learned a little about everything going after supplies and tools.
The Mikado’s first project under Randy’s direction was shoring up the complicated roof. Sections were covered in a rotting blue tarp, and wood was deteriorating. At one location he found 10 distinct layers of shingles!
Despite falling through the roof 5-6 times, falling off a ladder, and wall caving in on him, LaCount has never once been seriously injured while making repairs to the home.
With an eye for preserving the original architecture, while making the home more practical, LaCount recognizes the multi-faceted project as a labor of love. “It’s a fun house, I have had people stop on the street and just stare at it.”
Armed with a vision, patience, focus and artistry, LaCount is getting to a long list of projects lined up for the home a little each day, doing 90% of the work himself. To name just a few, he has replaced beams, shored up walls, drywalled, finished trim work, updated cabinets, popped the top off a back room to accommodate curving stairs to the third floor, added a roof to the existing deck, and mitigated the surrounding property for improved drainage, and appearance.
Built to impress, The Mikado has stood the test of time, by inspiring deep devotion. A credit to the original vision, this beloved Beulah landmark is fortified to carry on for another hundred years!