Francis Fontonia doesn’t speak much English, but there are two things that she’ll tell visitors who don’t speak Greek.
First, that she’s been living in her Denver home for the past 55 years. Second, that she’ll only sell her two duplexes for a million dollars each.
Never mind that nearby houses have sold for around $500,000 each recently, $579,000 at the highest. These two houses have a feature that no other houses in the neighborhood, maybe even in Denver, have — an expansive rose garden in towering concrete planters and at least one bathtub, all painted the same tomato-red as the house.
Family acquaintance Jimmy Treantos says the roses are her gift of appreciation to the city. Roses, just because she happened to admire their beauty.
The gardens have “pretty much always been here,” since he met her in the late 1950s. They did start off smaller though. Her garden enhancements over the years have given her a sense of pride, a sense of achievement and “a sense of prosperity in America,” Treantos says.
But Fontonia is prepared to leave Denver and her gardens behind to go back to Greece, Treantos says. The city has changed, he says, with more traffic and more people.
If the properties sell, renter Felixx Welliver will need to find a new place to live. He’s been living here contentedly for a few years now. It’s his “most colorful living situation” ever.
“You can’t live here with the same expectations. I’ve done a lot of repairs myself,” Welliver says. “But it’s also almost like a family situation. I know what she’s saying with her tone of voice, her body language.”
I’d like to think that’s true. When the camera comes out, Fontonia seems delighted to show off her home. She produces gardening ribbons and waves them around.
If she leaves, Denver would certainly lose a personality. Treantos hopes that they would at least keep her gardens.
“As a memory to her,” he says. “I’d hope they would continue to (treasure) her memory.”