Without El Pomar, Springs would be a different city

Illustration by Sean Tourangeau

Illustration by Sean Tourangeau

What would Colorado Springs look like without El Pomar Foundation?

Cross Walsenburg with Monument, and that would be us. Without El Pomar and the Penrose family, much that we take for granted in today’s vibrant city wouldn’t exist.

Colorado College, the Space Foundation, Fine Arts Center, World Arena, Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, Pikes Peak Center for the Performing Arts, the YMCA, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo — color them gone.

El Pomar has been there for us since nearly the very beginning — in 1975. Without them, Peak Vista would not have been able to expand the way it has. They’ve given grants for new buildings, for renovations, for new programs. They helped us move into larger buildings as early as the 1970s.”

— B.J. Scott, executive director of the Peak Vista Foundation

Originally capitalized in 1937 with $12 million from the estate of Broadmoor founder Spencer Penrose and a subsequent $9 million from the estate of Julie Penrose in 1956, El Pomar is among the largest and oldest private foundations in in the Mountain West. And while its $450 million in assets pales in comparison to regional behemoths such as the Anschutz Foundation ($2.3 billion) or the Daniels Fund ($1.3 billion), El Pomar punches way above its weight — especially in Colorado Springs.

Support from El Pomar gives projects instant legitimacy with other potential donors, particularly Denver-based foundations such as Daniels, Anschutz and the Gates Foundation. Such leverage increases El Pomar’s clout and helps open the pocketbooks of individual local donors who want to be sure that their money is well spent.

When I think about El Pomar, I think about their leadership – not only the leadership they show when it comes to giving at the zoo, but all the work that Bill Hybl does nationally and internationally. The Zoo and El Pomar have the same father. Mr. (Spencer) Penrose loved Colorado and loved the animals in his care. Each time we get a gift from El Pomar, Penrose’s legacy continues. El Pomar’s gifts set the tempo for our success as a zoo that is supported and run by the people of Colorado Springs – just as Mr. Penrose envisioned it when he donated the Zoo to the people in 1938.”

— Bob Chastain, president of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

The foundation’s first charitable donation was a $2,000 grant in 1937 to the then-newly built Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, constructed on the site of the Penroses’ former mansion at 30 W. Dale St. The couple had given the building to the Fine Arts Center’s predecessor, the Broadmoor Art Academy, and had joined other local philanthropists in funding John Gaw Meem’s modernist masterpiece.

Colorado College and the entire state of Colorado are extraordinarily fortunate to have this institution as a partner and friend. Their giving has always been to support the core mission of the college. Three buildings on campus bear names that honor El Pomar’s legacy: Tutt Library, Tutt Science Center and the newly expanded El Pomar Fitness Center. It is difficult to imagine that CC would be in the strong position it is today without El Pomar Foundation.

— Jill Tiefenthaler, Colorado College president

Since that first $2,000 gift, El Pomar has made more than 10,000 grants. The largest single grant was $30.3 million to support the construction of the $59.8 million Colorado Springs World Arena in the mid-1990s. During recent decades, grants from El Pomar have helped give birth to the Pikes Peak Center, the El Pomar Sports Center at Colorado College, the 2006 David Tryba-designed addition to the Fine Arts Center, and many other facilities in Colorado Springs.

Today, El Pomar gives away approximately $20 million annually. According to the foundation’s website, the trustees still “look to the Penroses for guidance.”

The Space Foundation certainly wouldn’t exist in the way it does today without the tremendous and enduring support of El Pomar Foundation. El Pomar has supported the Space Foundation at critical junctures throughout our history. Most recently, El Pomar played a major, leading role in putting together the total financial and community support package that resulted in the establishment of our permanent World Headquarters, and our Discovery Center — the city’s first and only science center museum.”

— Elliot Pulham, CEO of the Space Foundation

What would Spencer and Julie Penrose want? Among other things, they wanted Penrose Hospital to thrive.

“There’s a letter at the Penrose House from Julie Penrose to the board,” said Chris Valentine, spokesperson for the hospital system. “And it says that she wanted to make sure the hospital was taken care of through the years. We were one of her pet projects.”

But the couple also inspired other guidelines:

• Identify, encourage, and support outstanding leaders of all ages;

• Promote innovation to effect positive change;

• Respond strategically and quickly to Colorado’s changing needs;

• Create multiple impacts for every dollar spent;

• Provide additional resources when grant dollars alone are not the solution.

On these pages, the Business Journal takes a look at some of El Pomar’s major capital grants, and how the organization has strongly influenced the city’s direction and its growth throughout the years. Amy Gillentine contributed to this story.

5 Responses to Without El Pomar, Springs would be a different city

  1. What a generous influence El Pomar’s grants have been. Opportunities and dreams come true that way.

    Karen McLain
    October 22, 2013 at 8:19 pm

  2. Colorado Springs has certainly been made into a better place by the generosity of the El Pomar foundation. I don’t think our city will see new philanthropists on this level in the future.

    The CC campus actually has FOUR buildings with names that honor the El Pomar legacy — the Tutt Alumni House, a beautiful building on the NE corner of Cascade and Uintah, wasn’t mentioned.

    Cassiopeia
    October 23, 2013 at 3:23 pm

  3. Well writ, John. We enjoy many things because of El Pomar.

    Sean O'Meallie
    October 23, 2013 at 8:48 pm

  4. Nice article. Remember though that we also have El Pomar to ‘thank’ for some of their major missteps, such as when they granted many millions to attract Focus on the Family to town. We’ve been paying for that mistake through lost technology jobs and the failure to attract tech companies here ever since!

    Phil
    October 24, 2013 at 6:28 pm

  5. Phil, You help to prove that “there’s one in every crowd”.

    Michael Collins
    October 30, 2013 at 2:26 pm