It could have been a complete disaster. Luckily, Jane and Phil Watkins, the proprietors of Watkins Stained Glass in Englewood, had stepped out for a quick bite. The Ford Expedition sped along South Broadway, driving erratically. And fast. Suddenly, the elderly driver took a sharp right turn, cutting across two lanes of traffic, directly into the building.
When the SUV plowed through the storefront at 45 mph that August afternoon, centuries of antiques, 20,000 square feet of historic glass, 150 years of local legacy, and the last stewards of eight generations of artisans could have been smashed to bits. Instead, it was a miracle. The car was stopped by a concrete pylon. A few feet farther, and the building would have collapsed.
“They brought two ambulances: one for the driver and one for the people inside because they figured …” Jane said, unable to finish the horrific thought. “Everything that was damaged was replaceable, and everything that was a treasure was spared.” Perhaps years of working in houses of worship had earned them a few divine favors.
In Colorado, the Watkins name is synonymous with stained glass. Their legacy is evident on such famous Denver landmarks as the Brown Palace Hotel and the Molly Brown House Museum.
Though the Watkins history dates to window-makers in 18th-century England, the story of the family in Colorado begins with Charles “Clarence” Watkins, who arrived in Denver in 1868. He found immediate work in the boomtown, but his first 20 years of output are lost to floods, fires, bulldozers and a lack of records. But plenty of his creations survive in Denver, including the breathtaking skylight in the Brown Palace Hotel (1892), stunners at mansions like the Molly Brown House Museum (1889), and bedecked Trinity United Methodist Church (1888). Over the years, his great-grandson has repaired or restored all of them.
The oldest documented Watkins-made windows are those at Trinity, the Gothic jewel perched on the edge of downtown Denver. The church holds more than just Clarence’s history: “I know that my grandfather made some of them, my dad made some of them, and I made some of them,” Phil said.
When Clarence died in 1910, his son, Frank, took the mantle and expanded to projects throughout the state. Following Frank’s death, his son, Phil Watkins Sr., took over, eventually moving the shop from Denver to suburban Englewood in 1957. It was around that time his son, Phil Watkins Jr., the shop’s current caretaker, started sweeping the floors.
Though the line of succession seems obvious now, the Watkins men have accepted their craft only after attempting different paths. Frank spent time in several states before returning to Colorado at the start of the 20th century. Phil Watkins Sr. returned from World War II and tried his hand at crop dusting in Southern Colorado. Phil Watkins Jr. thought about becoming a pilot himself, before focusing on studying fine art.
For the rest of the story see the March/April issue of Colorado Life.
In a special arrangement, the Watkins family will open their Englewood studio for two Colorado Life subscriber tours on Friday, March 15: 1-3 p.m. and 3-5 p.m. The tour is free, but space is limited to 10 people per tour. Reserve your spot by calling Colorado Life offices at 1-970-480-0148 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.