High Country: Step inside the Marijuana Mansion, Denver’s selfie sanctuary for stoners
After a cannabis-themed makeover, the historic home is open for tours and photoshoots
In the heart of downtown Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood and just one block from the Colorado State Capitol stands a stately sandstone manor that’s home to cannabis legalization history.
Once the headquarters of the Marijuana Policy Project, the Denver-founded non-profit now based in Washington D.C., it was inside this building that Amendment 64 was written. The momentous piece of legislation passed on the November 6, 2012 state ballot, legalizing the first adult-use cannabis market in the country. It was also where powerhouse cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg got its start, and among early industry pioneers, was coined the “Marijuana Mansion.”
In 2019, a “for sale” sign caught commercial real estate investor and interior designer Lisa Leder’s eye. With cannabis retailer Green Dragon already occupying the former carriage house building on the back edge of the property (it’s owned and operated independently), Leder “immediately fell in love” and “knew it would be the perfect place for a truly unique cannabis event space for Denver.”
Leder, who splits her time between the Mile High City and Boca Raton, Florida, closed on the building — built in 1889 and now on the National Register of Historic Properties — for $1,197,000, in the hopes of cementing the Marijuana Mansion for future public use. She infused $500,000 into a six-month renovation project of the home, which was originally built by architect John J. Huddart for Joseph Creswell and designed with Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival influences,
With the finishing touches completed in early 2020, the Marijuana Mansion had to cancel its planned March grand opening due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. But Leder quickly pivoted — taking a cue from the immersive art movement in the age of Instagram (aka “selfie museums”) like Meow Wolf (opening a much-hyped Denver location in the fall), Color Factory and the Museum of Ice Cream — and started operating the space for COVID-safe, private photo shoots.
During the two- or three-hour sessions ($500 and $750 respectively), visitors (up to 10 guests per booking) have the run of the house and are also able to consume cannabis throughout three floors and 11 themed rooms. Private parties are a tried-and-true loophole in the state’s complex consumption laws. Think: industry dinners, yoga classes and comedy nights, all of which the Marijuana Mansion will host as the pandemic comes to a close. Leder has also started booking the space for cannabis-friendly weddings and a gift shop stocked with luxury cannabis accessories is in the works.
The passage of the latest Denver City Council marijuana bill allows for an increased number of social marijuana consumption applications, and will permit indoor smoking and mobile lounges, previously restricted under the city’s cannabis hospitality program. However, the Marijuana Mansion is currently not eligible to apply because the property is less than 10 feet shy of the 1,000-foot distance requirement from any daycare, drug treatment center, park or other city-owned recreation venues; Leder has been trying to get the setback reduced, but the city is adamant against lessening it.
During the standard off-season trip down the hill to the big city, I stopped by to take a tour and recently caught up with Leder to learn more about her inspiration for what will certainly carry on the Marijuana Mansion’s highly historic legacy.
Katie Shapiro: What was your vision as you embarked on this project?
Lisa Leder: I hired a team to completely restore the mansion, transforming its interior into an eclectic and full-service, 4,200-square-foot venue that combines the elements of a museum, art exhibit and event space into an Instagrammable pot-themed playground. [Re-creating] the inside was a collaborative effort and I worked with several local female artists to bring my vision to life.
KS: Why was it important to feature all female artists?
LL: I feel that as a woman, I must continue to leave a mark on this industry and help define what is possible when women lead. I feel very fortunate to be a woman in the cannabis space, and it has presented me with the opportunity to work beside other highly talented women. We created a room with weed-adorned walls and neon signs, as well as psychedelic installations by Ellie Paisley, Ally Grime and Shannon Barber.
KS: I love that you retained an old-timey vibe.
LL: When designing each room, we wanted to evoke the feeling that you were stepping back in time to the turn of the century with themes such as the “Vintage Pot Parlor,” the “Ladies Boudoir” and the “Secret Poker Speakeasy.” We also wanted the venue to have unexpected surprises, so we combined the original charm of the mansion with trippy, new-age art installations.
KS: What were some of your favorite discoveries during the renovation?
LL: The Bundy Hot Closet — where the original dining room was located. This ornate metal cabinet with gilt finish was the 20th century equivalent of the microwave. Its heat source was the two radiators on either side of it. Dishes placed on its racks stayed warm until ready to be served. It still works today! The beautiful stained glass windows, wood staircases and fireplaces [are all] original. We also found a secret passageway in the basement that was sealed with concrete blocks and later found out there are hidden tunnels surrounding the State Capitol. We are only one block away, so perhaps this leads to this hidden tunnel system?
KS: I’ve heard that it’s haunted. Have you encountered any paranormal activity?
LL: The Marijuana Mansion has been a stop on the Dark Side of Denver Ghost Tours. There are many stories about its supernatural nature and that ghosts still live inside. Creepy green faces can occasionally be caught looking out of the windows. People who have worked in the building have experienced an eerie sense of being watched or followed by mysterious forces. And during the project we experienced the ghost first-hand…strange steps on the grand staircase and banging emanating from a locked closet.
KS: What’s your hope for the Marijuana Mansion’s future as a public consumption space?
LL: For now, it serves as a great vehicle for spreading the message that social consumption should be allowed. The people of Colorado and the state legalized recreational marijuana [nearly a decade ago] but have been given very limited options to consume socially. My vision is that it will still remain as a private event space, but I would also love to see it as a social consumption lounge welcoming locals and tourists alike.
Marijuana Mansion will celebrate its official grand opening June 23. A 30-minute self-guided tour is offered for $35 and private photoshoots start at $500 for two hours.
The Marijuana Mansion
1244 N. Grant St., Denver, CO 80203
1250 Grant St., Denver, CO 80203
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