The History of the Tears-McFarlane House & Community Center
The Tears-McFarlane House, a fashionable Denver mansion built at the turn of the 20th century, is prominently sited on the north edge of Cheesman Park in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. It was designed by the important Denver architectural firm of Varian and Sterner, a partnership that specialized in the Neoclassical and Colonial Revival style from the 1890’s through 1901. Architecturally, the 8700 square-foot house is among the best residential examples of the Colonial Revival Style in Colorado.
Stylistically, it is described typologically as a Classic Box in the Colonial Revival Style with an eclectic mixture of Neoclassical, Georgian and Adam influences (Field Guide to American Houses, McAlester) and “box” is a good description since the house has a nearly square floor plan and elevations. Some of the characteristics of the style that are exhibited by the house include the colonnaded portico, turned wood balustrades, Adamesque entry with the elliptical fanlight and sidelights, carved decorative garland panels and the flat arched brick window and door lintels with the carved urn detailing in stone. While the Tears-McFarlane house is historically significant primarily for its architecture, it is also significant for its association with the development and settlement of the Capitol Hill and Cheesman Park communities in Denver.
The Tears-McFarlane house was built for Daniel W. Tears. Considered the finest example of Sterner’s work, the historic structure was completed in 1899. Mr. Tears came from New York City where he worked with the New York Central Railroad. He moved to Denver for health reasons and began a private law business. The house was occupied by the Tears family until Mr. Tears’ death in 1922. The Tears’ were popular socialites in Denver, belonging to the Denver Country Club’s exclusive “Sacred 36” Club. Mrs. Tears stayed in the home until her death in 1937.
The property acquired its second owner when it was purchased by Denver socialite, Frederick McFarlane and renamed to the Tears-McFarlane house in 1937. Frederick’s first wife, Ida Kruse McFarlane, was the daughter of the mayor of Central City. Mr. McFarlane was the son of Peter McFarlane, a pioneer in mining machinery. Ida died in 1950 and Mr. McFarlane remarried the same year. The second Mrs. McFarlane, a professional actress and dancer named Lillian Cushing, taught dance lessons in the basement studio.
There are two items of interest inside the home. First, the tall, lavishly decorated mirror which stands in the hallway on the first floor was originally from the Windsor Hotel. Even more impressive is the stained glass window that dominates the landing on the main staircase between the first and second floors. Installed by Daniel Tears in 1898, “Stained Glass Window in Fall Colors” is attributed to Louis Comfort Tiffany and is designed in a fall leaf pattern in seven colors. Lillian gave the window to Justin W. Brierly, a long time friend and counsel for the McFarlane family, in 1972. Mr. Brierly donated the window to the City and County of Denver 1978 after the property had been purchased for use as the Community Center.
The Denver Post proclaimed the McFarlane dining room as “one of the loveliest in the city” in 1962, the same year that Mr. McFarlane died. Lillian stayed in the home until 1966. The house was owned by the McFarlane family until 1972 when it was sold to investors. The house served as an office building until 1977 when it was purchased by the City of Denver for use as the Capitol Hill Community Center.
The house is now operated by Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods, Inc. (CHUN), as a community center. CHUN donates rental space to non-profits and neighborhood organizations serving greater Capitol Hill, including Cheesman Park Advisory Group, Denver Urban Ministries and Warren Village. CHUN also utilizes the building for many civic activities and a multitude of community meetings that engage neighbors so that they may have a voice in shaping city policy around important neighborhood topics such as zoning, land use, transportation, historic preservation, public safety, housing and homelessness. The house is also available for rent for events such as weddings and family reunions. Additionally, several tenants have office space located in the Tears-McFarlane house.
Ernest P. Varian (1854-1927) and Frederick J. Sterner (1862-1931) both began their careers working for Frank Edbrooke in Denver. In 1885, Sterner and Varian formed a partnership (the firm continued until 1901) and quickly became one of Denver’s largest and most prominent architectural firms and designed many important Denver buildings including the Denver Athletic Club (1889), and the Pearce-McAllister Cottage (1899). They were skilled in a broad array of historic styles but in the 1890’s, turned most of their attention to Classical design and the variations of Colonial Revival and Neoclassical styles.
The property was the 29th historic designation bestowed by the City and County of Denver Landmark Preservation Commission in 1972. The home was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976. The Smithsonian site number assigned to the house is 5DV-180. Additionally, a facade easement on the house was donated to Historic Denver in 1974. The Tears-McFarlane house is an important architectural survivor from the 1900’s when the Capitol Hill and Cheesman Park neighborhoods were home to Denver’s most elegant addresses. Many were lost to demolition and redevelopment in the 1950’s and 1960’s, however, the Tears-McFarlane house remains an important architectural survivor and landmark.
Information is a compilation of information from Historical Structure Assessment of 2003 by Merrill Wilson, and from anonymous documents located in files belonging to the Center for the People of Capitol Hill. Date: November 30, 2004; updated November 2006.
Vision: Rezoning & Revitalization Plan
For 120 years, the Tears-McFarlane Property served as a private home, office space for elected leaders, provided critical public assistance services, housed nonprofits and small businesses, and even activated the community with myriad events like talent shows and concerts.
In October 2020, Denver City Council approved and adopted CHUN's Planned Unit Development (PUD) rezoning; the PUD was authored with members of the Denver Community Planning and Development (CPD) team. The PUD is a zoning based on G-MU-3 (General Urban Neighborhood Context) standards. PUD zone districts are a type of specialty zoning which allow the applicant to customize development standards to the specific needs of their property.
The PUD outlines all of the special standards and changes to the base G-MU-3 district, but some of the most significant for the Tears-McFarlane Property project, included:
The new dimensional standards and uses will allow for the annex building to be rebuilt into a functional café to serve Cheesman Park goers and nearby neighbors (Subarea B).
The standards contained in the 1290 Williams Street PUD do not replace any requirements of the Denver Landmark Design Review Process. The new annex building and any other changes to the property as a result of this rezoning are required to meet all of the additional requirements placed on the property by the Denver Landmark Preservation Office.
Finally, as a registered neighborhood organization (RNO) CHUN typically has a duty to respond to such applications as they are submitted to the City by others. In this instance, CHUN was able to leverage decades of public outreach experience and the unique knowledge of CHUN Board members to expand our outreach outside of traditional channels (and early on) for increased community involvement.
This rezoning effort represents the culmination of more than 3 years of due diligence with the City, public outreach focused on both neighboring property owners and the community at large, and discussion of both the history and the future of 1290 Williams Street.
We are excited to create something visionary for our community and our city's posterity.