Low point for Arveson Shrine site
The unique saga of the Rose Arveson Shrine took a sad turn Jan. 28 when several dead animals were found inside the house on the property at 3540 W. Pikes Peak Ave. and the man living there was transported to a hospital.
Responding to a neighborhood complaint, local officials had to break into the house - deciding it was necessary because of a “bad odor from the house and lots of flies,” reported Colorado Springs Police Department Commander Pat Rigdon.
The house has since been condemned by Colorado Springs Code Enforcement, although the shrine itself remains open and free to the public - as it has been since it was built in 1963 by Dorothy and Pauline Arveson, after the death of their mother, Rose Arveson Simmons, who they believed was a saint.
Over the years, countless numbers of people have visited the shrine, leaving behind handwritten prayers, appeals or messages, many of which remain. A tabloid in the 1980s quoted people claiming the site had produced miracles in their lives. A letter of support was even sent by Ronald Reagan when he was president.
Both daughters have since passed away, Dorothy most recently in March 2011, according to City Code Enforcement Officer Ken Lewis.
The man who was living in the house is William Schwartz, 69, who police believe to be the brother of Dorothy and Pauline. Lewis said Schwartz had a wound on his foot that was badly swollen. When he is well again, he won't be able to return to the house, but may go into a housing situation where he can receive “protective help,” Lewis said.
The Humane Society is investigating for evidence of animal cruelty, according to Gretchen Pressley of the nonprofit agency. A decision on charges, if any, will be made by the District Attorney's Office, she said.
Because of the investigation, she said she could not reveal the number of dead animals, but Lewis estimated “three or four.”
Two cats were found alive and are being kept at the shelter, Pressley said.
Lewis said that his office has been getting calls about the property for more than 10 years, regarding issues such as weeds or brush growing into the street. And in recent years people had started complaining about a smell coming from the property. But efforts by Code Enforcement officers to be allowed into the house were repeatedly rebuffed by Schwartz, even when Dorothy was still alive. “He never let my officers in,” Lewis said. “We were trying to decide if we had reasonable cause. This time, we decided to go in. Officers removed the air conditioner and crawled in the window.”
A neighbor, Randa Bell, said she and her husband Ben have lived in their house two doors away from the shrine for seven years. The Arveson property's smell (the Bells called it “the stench”) has been a consistent irritant, even forcing them to go indoors at times.
But she did describe a positive encounter with William Schwartz. Once, when she and her husband were trying to find property markers (needed by surveyors to vacate the alley behind them), Schwartz recalled from memory that one was under the roots of a tree on the Arveson property. “He let us chisel away at those roots to get at it,” Randa said.
Multiple online sources tell the story of the shrine, how Dorothy and Pauline insisted that roses laid on their mother's tomb had come back to life. This inspired them to build the shrine, dedicate most of the property's 12,000 square feet to it and even seek sainthood for Rose through the Catholic Church. A story is also told in a 1996 Denver West Word article that rose petals were stored on site and distributed free to people to help with their healing.
The name, “Saint Rose Arveson Shrine” appears on the metal archway over the entrance to the property.
A wide pathway leads into the property. Other than the house and a few Christian statues, the area is in a natural state, although the vegetation has become overgrown. A sign with an aging paintcoat advises visitors that they are “welcome at all times” and that “electronic alarm systems tell us your presence and location.” But no such systems are evident now.
The shrine, as well as the statues, indicate neglect. The shrine is centered around a large painting on wood of what is probably Rose Arveson. The faded likeness stands behind plexiglass, above a gathering of faux flowers and ivy.
Also in the shrine area is a partially broken plastic box with an unsealed lid holding dozens of sheets of paper that people have written on. “One simply says: “Rick - AIDs - Please pray for a peaceful and comfortable passing.” Another asks for prayerful help in keeping someone from “the kids he is hanging with.” Some entries have dates, including ones as long ago as 1992.
In the past, according to a photo on a blog, a double plaque had been on display, titled “Our Mother,” which gave a loving memoriam to the shrine's namesake. The metal rectangles were not seen in visits this week, but empty spaces with outlines where the plaques may have been are visible at the base of a statue of Jesus Christ.
Here is the initial part of the plaque wording: “Rose Ella Scott Arveson Simmons, November 8, 1897-August 18, 1963. So sweet like a rose she was - kind and innocent as the petals, graceful as the stems. The love and joy she gave to others were like the shimmering leaves, sparkling in the sunlight. Her love for God - beyond words or comprehension.”
Westside Pioneer article