Melville and Osie Coolbaugh

Melville and Osie Coolbaugh sit in front of the living room fireplace in Coolbaugh House on Christmas Day, 1949. (Credit: Golden History Museum)

The Colorado School of Mines Alumni Association (CSMAA) completed its move to the brand new Starzer Welcome Center in mid-October (2015), ending its five-year residency in the historic Coolbaugh House. The rambling old bungalow at 1700 Maple Street—with its byzantine layout and low, slanting ceilings—had its drawbacks as an office space. But what it lacked in professional polish, the Coolbaugh House more than made up for in charm.

“It was like coming home to go to work,” says Ruth Jones, CSMAA’s senior associate director of programs. “Some of us had fireplaces in our offices, and we could walk around in slippers.” “It would have been a fun place to play hide-and-seek as a kid,” adds Danelle Herra, communications manager at CSMAA. “When we started getting organized to move out, I discovered places I didn’t even know existed.”

It sometimes took a generous share of creativity to make the structure’s residential layout work as an office space. “We had people crammed in everywhere, from the attic to the basement,” says Jones. The house’s irregular corners forced staffers to wedge filing cabinets and supply shelves into unlikely places, making maximum use of every nook and cranny. But despite its quirks, the Coolbaugh House was an apt headquarters for the Alumni Association.
“It was a good fit for the size of our staff, and it was a sentimental spot for so many alumni. They remember it from their student days,” says Jones.

The house typifies the Arts and Crafts architectural style that gained popularity in the United States during the early 20th century. Defined by elegant lines, precise construction, and fine materials, Arts and Crafts bungalows replaced Victorians as the middle-class housing of choice.

Built in 1922 by former Mines president Melville F. Coolbaugh (1925-46), the house has a long tradition as Mines’ unofficial “welcome center.” Its broad, congenial porch has been a popular gathering spot for many decades. Over the years, the picturesque bungalow hosted faculty gatherings, class reunions, awards ceremonies, and other social functions. It even served as student housing for a time.

“An alumnus came by recently who had lived in the house,” says Angie Yearous ’91, CSMAA’s membership specialist. “He and about six other guys had rented it once. He came in and looked around, and when he saw the kitchen his face lit up and he said, ‘We baked so many cakes in this kitchen.’”

Melville Coolbaugh initially came to Mines in 1917 as head of the chemistry department, but his stay ended prematurely when the U.S. Army called him away the following year to help design munitions for the nation’s World War I forces. He returned to Colorado’s Front Range in 1919 and served in a series of corporate executive jobs, while building the house in 1920-21 to accommodate his growing family, which eventually numbered four children.

Coolbaugh took over the Mines presidency in 1925, during a difficult period in the university’s history that coincided with a postwar slump in the mining industry. Over the next two decades, he pulled the university out of a financial downturn, increased enrollment, and restored Mines to a position of national prominence. After shepherding the school through the Great Depression and World War II, Coolbaugh stepped down as Mines president in 1946 to serve on an advisory committee to President Harry S. Truman.

After his retirement, Coolbaugh maintained an office on campus and remained a prominent, well-liked figure. With his own children grown, he and his wife, Osie—known affectionately to students as “Mama Coolbaugh”—began renting their spare bedrooms to Mines students.

President Coolbaugh “was a man of infinite humor and wisdom,” writes Ian Mackay ’53, who moved into the Coolbaugh House in the late 1940s while pursuing his graduate degree. “He expected the best from those he loved the most, and this included the students of the Colorado School of Mines. Only someone who had the luxury of living under their roof could truly appreciate their warmth and humor.”

After Melville Coolbaugh’s death in 1950, Osie Coolbaugh remodeled the home and added two more bedrooms to accommodate more lodgers. She eventually moved to a smaller house nearby, but students continued living in her former residence for many years.

CSMAA staff

The CSMAA staff gathers on the porch of Coolbaugh House just before moving to the Starzer Welcome Center. From left to right: Laurie Schmidt, Sandra Kohl, Emily Gonzales ’08, Ashley Spurgeon, Ruth Jones, Jo Marie Reeves, Angie Yearous ’91, Danelle Herra.

When Osie died in 1969, her children retained ownership of the home but offered the use of it to the newly organized University Club. More than 100 individuals (most of them faculty) and 20 Mines departments purchased memberships in the new organization. Some of the funds were used to restore the Coolbaugh House to its original Arts and Crafts splendor, with period furnishings and decor. In 1985, Coolbaugh House was designated a City of Golden Historic Landmark.

Although Mines students no longer lived under the Coolbaugh House roof, they still sought out the home’s embrace. Student clubs and organizations routinely booked the space for meetings and events, while the porch remained a popular after-hours hangout—a respite from roommates and homework.

By the time the Alumni Association relocated to Coolbaugh House in 2010, multiple generations of Mines students had formed personal attachments with the old house. That made it a perfect setting for CSMAA’s annual events, such as Homecoming Weekend.

Visiting alumni would assemble on the beloved porch and spread out across the house’s airy southern lawn for alumni weekend barbecues. “People just really enjoyed stopping by,” says Jones. “They’d drop in, pick up their packets for the weekend, and just linger and look around.”

The new Starzer Welcome Center offers charms of its own, and CSMAA staff look forward to showing off their new digs to alumni. “We’re thrilled to be here,” says CSMAA interim director Emily Gonzales ’08. “It’s really going to serve our alumni well, and it’s a great fit for us.”

Still, as they walk down Maple Street on their way to various campus meetings, CSMAA staff say they always look fondly at the Coolbaugh House.