The History of Belmar in Lakewood, Colorado
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Belmar in Lakewood, Colorado, is a thriving area many people shop and live near now, but it wasn’t always like that.
In fact, Belmar has received numerous accolades and awards for its development from a failing mall into a revitalized suburban “downtown.” The Urban Land Institute says that it “exemplifies the potential for transforming…suburbs into more diverse, compact, sustainable, pedestrian oriented and transit oriented communities.” Let’s learn a little more about Lakewood and how it all began.
A Little About Lakewood, Colorado
Lakewood, Colorado is a wonderful place to look when you are searching for homes for sale in Denver. Townhomes start around $250,000 and single family homes from $375,000 and up to the millions in Lakewood, Colorado. So, you can find a home a little closer to your budget if you need to. Similarly, your funds can go much further in Lakewood than they can in Denver. You can find yourself in a mansion in Lakewood, where you may have to compromise for a smaller home or even a town home in Denver. (PS, if you want to, you can browse for yourself right here.)
Lakewood, unlike older metropolis cities in the nation, is a close suburb to the main city of Denver. You can get to Lakewood from Denver, in no traffic, in about 15 minutes. On high traffic days, 30 – 45 minutes can be usual, yet in other parts of the city, it can take up to 2 hours to get across town. Lakewood is also situated next to the foothills, making it a breeze to get onto I-70 to get up to the mountains. Golden is also a hop, skip and a jump from Lakewood. It’s a great place for recreation and entertainment, as well as learning about our Colorado history.
Back to the History… What was Belmar Before?
Well, back in the day…. Not too far back, but about 1936, ground broke on a replica of Marie Antoinette’s Petite Trianon Palace in France. After a year of construction, May Bonfils, the heiress of the Denver Post founder’s fortune (long story there), was able to move into her estate, yes, Belmar, located in Lakewood, Colorado. Many of the area’s affluent would build large estates outside of the city as natural escapes (including the famous Unsinkable Margaret “Molly” Brown) who had her summer estate right down the way from May.
The estate was gorgeous. Belmar Mansion had 20 rooms, including a walnut-paneled dining room, art salon, small chapel, fountain, boat house, flock of peacocks, and a working farm boasting award-winning black angus cattle. May Bonfils also had a solarium, and many pieces of furniture owned by famous people of the past such as a bed slept in by Marie Antoinette, a crested chair of Queen Victoria, and a piano played by a piano played by Frédéric Chopin. The tree-lined drive was wrought with iron fencing and metal shields reading: Belmar.
Belmar Embodies the Spirit of Giving
This beautiful dream home of May Bonfils was her pride. She helped conserve wildlife in the area and was generous about sharing the land with various organizations, especially the Girl Scouts, one of her favorite organizations. She created the Clinic of Ophthalmology at the University of Colorado Medical Center, the library and auditorium of Loretto Heights College, the Bonfils Wing at the Denver Museum of Natural History, and the interior décor of the Catholic Chapel at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Belmar was originally located at the spot that is now 777 S. Wadsworth, in Lakewood. Now the home of the Ironclad Executive Office Park. Back then, there was no development aside from these estates, yet, as time went on, suburban sprawl began.
Perhaps it is sad that a glorious historical home was demolished to become a generic parking lot and office building. Yet, when May’s executor was approached about turning the home into a museum, he stated that museums were for the dead, homes were for the living.
Rather than allow May’s beautiful pride and joy to become a tourist attraction, he decided to donate the land to government and philanthropic organizations, beginning the grounds for the buildings that are there today, including the Belmar Library and City Hall.
Belmar in Modern Times
Ed Stanton, Mary’s second husband, long-time friend, caretaker, and trusted executor gave much of the estate to the Catholic Church and various charities that were favorites of May Bonfils Stanton. When some of the organizations were having trouble financially maintaining the properties, more of the land was leased to various entities. One of Stanton’s most notable and lasting impressions is his leasing of the area now known simply as “Belmar” but yet was once a shopping mall called Villa Italia. Is this why they have an Italian street fest every summer at Belmar? We’re not sure, but it could very well be a nod to the retail area’s predecessor.
The mall, Villa Italia, was a huge success at first. In fact, when it was built, it was one of the largest malls in the world. Built in 1965, malls were in their prime. In the early 1980’s, a second story was even added. Yet, by 2000, the mall, like many others across the country, were starting to fail. In 2002, Villa Italia was demolished to make way for a new, novel idea: a Downtown Lakewood.
Funny how they say, “And the rest was history!” when it was actually everything that came before, but hey, the rest was history (at least you probably know this part). It ended up being a huge success. It expanded the suburban offerings and added a residential cluster to the whole area. Property values increased and it added employment options for many Jefferson county residents.
Do you want to live in Lakewood? Browse real-time listings of homes for sale in Lakewood, Colorado by clicking here.
Resources & More Reading:
History Colorado, May Bonfils and Her Lost Belmar Mansion: A Lavish Lakewood Estate Housed a Wealth of Benevolence, October, 19, 2018. (Wonderful article PS!!! She would drive to the convenience store with a chauffeur in a Rolls Royce and buy her pup an ice cream cone according to legend!)
DeadMalls.com, Villa Italia, May, 27, 2002.
Continuum Partners, The Making of Belmar, The History of Belmar.
Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, Mary Bonfils Stanton.
Channel 9 News, “There used to be a mansion based off Marie Antoinette’s chateau where this mall is now”, September 8, 2017.