A step into the Bauer House is a journey back in time.
Current owner Bobbi Black hopes the historic manor lives on this way.
The landmark mansion has become a distinguished and esteemed emblem of antiquity and culture in Southwest Colorado. Situated on Mancos’ Bauer Avenue, the 3,117-square-foot home dips beneath the shadow of the San Juan Mountains, with visible Mesa Verde National Park and its preserved cliff dwellings in the near western distance.
But Black, 86, is ready to bestow the keys upon a new owner.
The 131-year-old property was listed for sale this summer, after appearing on and off the market since 2013. It’s taken on many identities through the decades, debuting as a residence, then as a hospital, hotel, bed-and-breakfast, antique shop, museum and, simply, a social gathering space.
George Conrad Bauer, an immigrant from what was then Prussia, traveled to Del Norte, Colorado, before landing in Mancos, where he built many of the first buildings, donated land for schools and served as mayor.
He constructed the Bauer House between 1889 and 1890.
“He really was the chief citizen in that period of time, because he was involved in everything having to do with the development of the Mancos community,” said Linda Simmons, president of the Mancos Valley Historical Society.
Black also offered background about Bauer, having read a book by his great-grandson, Bill Bauer, and sifted through newspaper articles, and bank checks and logs to piece together his story.
When he moved West from Del Norte, he traveled by mule, Black said.
Bauer was a stonemason in Germany, and his buildings are in more than just Mancos, she said – they’re also in other Colorado towns such as Telluride and Lake City.
Black enjoys people.
She worked as a private hostess for the National Football League for 10 years, coordinating Super Bowl events for then-commissioner Pete Rozelle and his wife.
She sailed the air as a stewardess for United Airlines and for 14 years managed her own store in California – “Bobbi’s Doors and Decor“ – which helped embellish the renovated Bauer House.
“I experienced a lot of individuals in my lifetime,” she said.
She had always dreamed of running a bread-and-breakfast, though. But California was too expensive.
She moved to Mancos in January 1994.
“It was quite a change from the water to the mountains,” she said. “It was a wonderful, beautiful move.”
Diane Wildfang, a previous owner of the Leland House and Rochester Hotel in Durango, hailed from Manhattan Beach, California – just like Black.
Along with two other women, they went on a San Juan loop trip.
On the last leg of the road excursion, descending from Telluride about 5 a.m., Wildfang, driving, didn’t turn east to return to Durango.
She pulled into the parking lot next to the Bauer House.
“See that?” Wildfang asked Black. “It’s got your name written all over it.”
From that point, Black couldn’t stop thinking about the Bauer House.
“What hit me really was the architecture of that building, and all I did was look around from the outside, didn't go in,” Black said.
The previous owner told her the home was equipped with a new roof, plumbing and electrical.
But Black, whose adopted engineer father showed her the ropes of construction, could see that the roof was flapping, rust poured from water faucets, and there wasn’t any new electrical.
Her third offer on the house was accepted when she offered to pay in cash.
There was one problem: She didn’t have the money.
Four of her friends chipped in with loans, and the rest is history.
Black embarked on a year’s worth of renovations.
There were 16 layers of wallpaper in first floor dining room. Appliances were withering, cabinets were loose, piping was disconnected, and the porch was rotting. Those were just some of the issues Black addressed in her restoration, aided by a state historical grant. One installment, the fire escape stemming from the third floor, was considered a structural change, and restricted the Bauer House from the National Register of Historic Places, Black said.
At 12:20 a.m. one night during the renovations, Black was sleeping on a cot downstairs. There was a loud crash, and she went to quietly investigate.
“Oh no. George Bauer is the ghost in this house,” she said.
On that instance, a wall sink had fallen to the floor, but that didn’t stop Black and guests from speculating about the presence of spirits whenever there was an unusual noise.
In July 1994, she had her first guest – a football coach for the then-Oakland Raiders and the Los Angeles Rams.
In 2000, Black built the carriage house adjacent to the landmark building. The 1,200-square-foot guesthouse mimics the architecture of the Bauer House and is equipped with a garage, two bedrooms, a living space, kitchen and bathroom.
Black ran the bed-and-breakfast until 2009, when she injured her right ankle and could no longer navigate the stairs.
“So now I'm poor – only in dollars, not in spirit,” she laughed.
Black is never without work though. She is known by many for her immersion in the community, particularly Medicine Horse Center for assisted therapy. Black organized Mancos’ Hot Air Balloon festival from 2004 to 2016, and she’s still involved in philanthropy in Phoenix.
The porch and surrounding terrace were often buzzing with guests — for Fourth of July parties, weddings, anniversaries, and Easter egg hunts for children.
Black wants to stay involved in Mancos, and is hopeful that she’ll be able to stay with friends when visiting.
The Journal asked Black if reflecting on all of her life experiences made her emotional.
“No, it doesn't,” she said. “It makes me smile.”
She never had a dissatisfied bed-and-breakfast guest, she said.
“It's just unbelievable experiences, and I've got a lot of those people that are my friends to this day,” she said.
Striking brick, flecked with emerald-green trimmings, local sandstone, hand-hewn cornerstones and curved arches dancing above windows coalesce to form the Italianate Victorian design of the Bauer House.
Beyond the distinct exterior, the home is surprisingly well illuminated for a building whose roots lie in the nineteenth century.
Each door on the first floor features etched and beveled glass, and the oval slab of glass in the entryway door is original.
Light floods the plush arrays of space, which are outfitted with antiques and many of the home’s original fixtures.
For instance, in the kitchen, an original, heavy pine door with a wide glass panel swings between the commercially licensed kitchen and dining area – which were part of a later expansion.
Bauer designed that new wing to include a maid’s quarters branching from the dining room.
Original hardwood flooring also runs in the home, and bronzed vintage radiators sing of a century gone by.
A classic Kohler iron porcelain sink, which at one point was nearly impossible to extract from upstairs, now resides downstairs in a bathroom lined with book-themed wallpaper.
The first-floor bedroom is doused in shades of gold. Long, velvet mustard curtains drape from near-ceiling to floor. Upstairs, Black curated what she refers to as the “China room” decorated with shades of blue and porcelain ornaments, which is adjacent to the “Brass room,” named for its brass accents against pale pink walls. On the same floor is the “Wicker Room.” Every bedroom has a bathroom, and the second-floor bedrooms even have original standalone antique toilets for show.
Ascending the dwelling’s uppermost staircase, one arrives in the third-floor penthouse, converted into a living space around 1944, when Ansel Hall, a National Park Service pioneer and owner of Mesa Verde concessions, bought the property.
The “Cowboy Penthouse” feels reminiscent of a log cabin, with rich wood beams offering comfort among the contrast of the now snow-capped peaks soaring just beyond the window panes.
Black coyly displayed her sense of humor in some of the renovations of the house.
Next to the third-floor kitchenette, what was once a shower was modified into a closet. The original shower head proudly peeks out from the added storage shelves.
Rather remarkably, “there’s been long periods of ownership,” said Realtor Sara Staber.
Staber hasn’t taken the historic nature of the property lightly, educating herself on its origins and enveloping her shoes in protective coverings when visiting.
“You’ve got to love it to represent it,” she said.
The Bauer House will attract a unique customer, she said – one who perhaps balances a business interest with an desire for consumer cooperation.
Black has dedicated much thought to the future of the house.
“The only only thing I can say is it would break my heart if anybody said, ‘Oh, we're going to tear this down,’” she said.