Tivoli-Union Brewery: Abandoned, Explored, Restored

— by Hugh Graham

During the winter of 1978-1979, as a senior in high school, some friends and I would head downtown on Friday nights for the midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Odgen Theater. Coming down from the Evergreen and not knowing much about the city, we needed some way to amuse ourselves until 11 or so when we would line up on Colfax for the show. We weren’t much interested in 3.2 bars, and didn’t know where else to go, so we used our imagination and willingness to bend the law a bit to explore parts of the city that were much less crowded then than now.

Looking back on it, the late 1970s were a good time to be an urban explorer in Denver; urban renewal left lots of buildings empty and available. One of the biggest targets for exploring was the Tivoli Brewery. It was huge, dark, and very, very spooky. Although we only snuck in there a couple of times, it left a considerable impression on me; we’d park a few blocks away, squeeze through the fence and into the building (not a difficult thing to do), and then spend as much time as we could wandering through the cavernous spaces.

I remember the iron work, the incredible (and confusing) machinery, thousands on thousands of denver beer bottles, the massive copper vats. One very cold night we spied a plastic glove extending up from an icy vat (it was a glove, wasn’t it?), a vaguely disembodied hand, which led to some extra hoots and hollers in the echoey darkness. There was the turn halle, with its raised stage at one end, perfect for improvisational performances. But more than anything I remember the feeling of being dropped into a place frozen in time — as if the work had simply stopped one day, and everyone dropped what they were doing and walked out the door — we were space travelers on a long abandoned ship.

I didn’t know anything about the history of the Tivoli in those days, and as it turns out it was several years before a plan emerged for what to do with it (a plan that ended up changing more than a few times before the current incarnation as the Auraria Student Union and home to the Denver Film Society). Of course, now I realize that even as we were exploring our “alien landscape”, there were lots people working to secure a renovation plan while others documented and researched the history of this unique feature of the Denver landscape.

The following is a transcript of the “Historic American Engineering Record” conducted by the National Park Service in 1983; the text was transmitted by Dan Clement, and the photos are by William Edmund Barrett. This document was retrieved from “Built in America“, a project of the Library of Congress documenting American buildings and landscapes from 1933 to the present.

——

Tivoli-Union Brewery (Milwaukee Brewing Company)
Date: Circa 1890
Location: 1320-1348 Tenth St. Denver Colorado
Designed By: Unknown
Owned by: Originally: Milwaukee Brewing Company
1901: Merger forms Tivoli-Union Brewing Co,
1965: Carl and Joseph Occhiato
Presently: Associates for the Redevelopment of Tivoli
Significance: The Tivoli Brewing Company is one of the last gravity fed breweries in the United States.
Transmitted by: Dan Clement, 1983

The history of the Tivoli Brewing Company spans more than 100 years and encompasses the development of three different breweries. James Good crossed the prarie in 1859 with the first wagonload of hops for Denver’s initial brewery, the Rocky Mountain Brewing Company. In that same year Good became associated with the brewery’s owner, Mr. Charles Endlich.

Good, known to have been a master brewer in Europe, ran the brewery during the 1860’s. At that time, the brewery was located on the western shore of Cherry Creek in Aurarla, a rival community adjoining Denver. Sometime during the middle of the decade Endlich died and Good became sole owner of the facility. In 1870, he changed the name of the brewery to the Tivoli Brewing Company (named after the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen).

In 1879 another brewery in Aurarla started production. The Milwaukee Brewing Company located at 10th and Larimie was known not only for its beer but also for the construction in 1882 of Vorkwaert’s Turn Hall. The hall was used to stage club shows and operas and proved to be quite popular with the people of Auraria. In 1890 the company constructed a new four story brick structure with tower and basement. This structure survives today as the most visually distinctive building within the complex. A shallow three story connector between the turn hall and the new building was also constructed in 1890, most likely while the new tower building was still under construction.

By 1901, the Tivoli Brewing Company had merged with the Union Brewing Company, owned by William Burghardt (a friend of James Good) and it occupied the site of the Milwaukee Brewing Co. on 10th street. About this time it is believed that the buildings to the south and east of the tower building were constructed.

The Tivoli-Union Brewing Co. continued to operate (barring prohibition) under the ownership of Burghardt, Good and Good’s heirs until 1964. With the death of Mrs. LoRaine Good Kent Vichy (a daughter-in-law of James Good) the ownership of the brewery remained in litigation until the complex was sold to Carl and Joseph Occhiato in 1965. Four years later the brewery ceased operation. After being considered as a possible student center for the new three college Auraria Campus, the brewery is today undergoing renovation for a different purpose. The existing buildings are to be united under a skylight-greenhouse creating a mixture of shops and exhibit spaces that will serve commercial interests within the local economy.

People wishing to learn more about Denver’s early business history are referred to the following:

Letham J. Historical and Descriptive Review of Denver, Her Leading Business Houses and Enterprising Men, Denver 1893.

Smiley, Jerome C. History of Denver, The Times-Sun Publishing Co. Denver, 1901.

Brettell, Richard R. Historic Denver The Architects and The Architecture 1858-1893.

PHOTOGRAPHS

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Wm. Edmund Barrett, Photographer January 1970

  1. CO-1-1 Side view of brewery complex, smokestack looking toward Larimer Street.
  2. CO-1-2 Side view of brewery complex as seen from 10th and Larimer.
  3. CO-1-3 Ninth Street view of brewery showing rear of 1890 tower building and HI-EN Brau stone building, one of the oldest structures remaining.
  4. CO-1-4 Tower and upper front facade of tower building.
  5. CO-1-5 Side view of tower and upper facade.
  6. CO-1-6 Tivoli Beer wall sign, smokestack and adjacent building to tower: WEST DENVER TURN HALLE 1882.
  7. CO-1-7 Tower Building interior. First view of plant behind offices Equipment and double iron steps to 2nd floor. Beer parties were also held here.
  8. CO-1-8 Tower building. Large copper brewing kettle on second floor.
  9. CO-1-9 Tower building. Hot water tap floor shown. Mixing vat at center level. Juices mix and flow and left lower level. Copper kettles are down below view level. Looking toward front of building.
  10. CO-1-10 Copper taps below mixer and above copper kettles.
  11. CO-1-11 Mixing Vat.
  12. CO-1-12 From here grain goes to the top of the tower from rail cars down below. From here grain flows by gravity through different processes ending up as beer in the basement.
  13. CO-1-13 Top of tower. Grain proceeds from here through gravity fashion.
  14. CO-1-14 “Grinder: Seek Brs. Ltd. Dresden. Chas. Zeller Co. New York.” Second machine in grain procession from top of building. This is the floor beneath the top of the tower that the grain drops through.
  15. CO-1-15 Grinder
  16. CO-1-16 Hot water vat and detail…showing roof structure and rear
    of tower building.
  17. CO-1-17 Same floor.as hot water vats looking towards the front of the building. These have to do with grain from upper floor judging from ceiling to floor progression. Note nice iron work.
  18. CO-1-18 Inner back wall of 1890 building above hot water vats.
  19. CO-1-19 Taber pump in C02 plant.
  20. CO-1-20 Vilter Mfg. Company steam engine.
  21. CO-1-21 Same steam engine from other side.
  22. CO-1-22 Repair Shop. Note Schnitzelbanks in center front.
  23. CO-1-23 Beer Cooler. Copper tubing very obsolete.
  24. CO-1-24 Lab Room. Balance scales and other gear.

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16 Responses to “Tivoli-Union Brewery: Abandoned, Explored, Restored”

  1. Greg Younger Says:

    Well spun, young yarner. One of the coolest mini-adventures I’ve been part of; glad I was with you to do it! I only wish a) we’d had cameras with us, and b) we’d backed a truck up and hauled away a bunch of Denver Beer bottles from the cellar to eBay in 2009. Ah well.

    I remember the hand reaching up from the ice – nightmarish! (We didn’t dare touch it to see if there was a hand inside that glove…)

    I remember hearing someone/something else skittering away from our approach in the dark factory, a room or two away.

    Climbing to the highest point, getting out on the roof and surveying the city around us.

    Dropping into the huge vats and running around and around till centrifugal force allowed us to get sideways and run on the wall!

    Breaking a blown glass mercury switch to play with the puddles of mercury… oops, stupid kids.

    Thanks for posting. What fun!

  2. Denver Todd Says:

    Does anyone have any pictures of the Tivoli’s shopping center incarnation?

  3. Mary Lou Egan Says:

    Wow, is that cool! I’ve heard from lots of folks who scrambled around in that wonderful place. Does anyone remember the SOB’s – the Save Our Brewery movement begun in about 1974? A grass-roots organization that worked to raise public awareness of this gem. Great photos.

  4. Victoria Says:

    The one thing I do remember about the Tivoli were the comments from my mom and dad. First of all, that Tivoli made the worst beer in the world. I heard this echoed among others of their generation.

    Also, my mother recalled that when she was 5 or 6 (that would be about 1932) her aunts and uncles would hold dances in the hall at the Tivoli.

  5. Dain Says:

    I’ve been enthralled with the history of the Tivoli since I was 15 (I’m now 31). I’ve been collecting Tivoli memorabilia for all those years and love every piece of it. I have old Tivoli beer cans, bottles, lighted advertising signs, beer serving trays, Tivoli bottle openers. If you know of anyone who may have some of these items I might be able to buy, I would love to do so.
    I did a bit of snooping around there back in 1998. No where near as cool as what you saw since its now been renovated since the late 70’s like you said. But It was fun.

  6. Bill Marvel Says:

    Ah, Victoria,
    It was my mother’s favorite beer, and coming from a Polish family from Globeville she knew her beers. (My grandmother supplied the neighborhood during Prohibition.)
    Maybe it was better beer in the 1940s, when when I remember her drinking it.

  7. Tracy Shelton Says:

    I just recently went antiqueing with my mother in Morrison. In this little shop, I found a bottle opener, Tivoli-Union Company, Denver, CO. Thanks for publishing your website, it was very informative. I met an interesting lady about a week ago telling me to always find the history of items that I pick up. I’m so glad I did!

  8. Andrew Says:

    I just came acrossed 3 old tivoli beer crates that i was gonna sell. I also have a bottle opener if your interested please let me know.
    Andrew

  9. Panchito Says:

    In 1986, I visited Denver as a college student. My memories of it always include a walk to the Tivoli Brewery, which at the time was a shopping mall. Place was fairly empty, but it was historic and grand. The entire field in front of the brewery was covered with college students playing volleyball. Sunny-cool- August day … what I would do to go back in time.

  10. Kerry Wilkins Says:

    Wow, I still have memories of the glory days of that old brewery. My father worked there for many years, and I can still remember going to work with him. My oldest brother worked there as well. We have some home movies of the operation of the brewery, from malt and barley, to the final product being bottled. I was about 5 years old then. One of my favorite memories had to do with helping out in the tap room, where they would enjoy the pleasures of their toils, as I was having fun behind the bar washing glasses. I can remember Kibby Gart (Owner and founder of Gart Brothers) being among the crowd.

    I loved to watch the machinery run, listen to all the noise, watch my dad as he maintained the machinery and equipment. I can still feel the frozen pipes, full of frost, on what I believe were compressors. I really miss that place.

    I have home movies of the brewing process taken just before the brewery was shut down. I think I’ll watch them again…..

  11. kent deckert Says:

    just found an old copper tankard style beer mug with the label tivoli brewing company with crown,would like to know how old it is.

  12. Linny Mulleady Says:

    Hi,

    I found a old bottle opener in my Mom’s things and was wondering how old it might be?
    It says tivoli beer on the side…

    Linny

  13. TK Says:

    I have been writing a book with a scene that takes place at an abandoned brewery loosely based on the Tivoli. These photos were great in helping me to visualize the inside and outside as was. Thanks!

  14. Susan Says:

    In my grandmother’s cellar, I found a salt and pepper shaker set of Tivoli Beer Bottles, with the Tivoli Union Co. name on them….I’m guessing they’re from the 30’s, with other memorabilia we’ve found. Was going to take them to the antique shop I work at, but couldn’t bear to part with them, and they are now in our bar/snooker room.

  15. loretta nullins Says:

    Just yesterday i was cleaning out my silverware drawer and i came across an old bottle opener. It reads TIVOLI BEER on one side, on the other side it reads DENVER, COLO. IF INTERESTED PLEASE EMAIL ME. ALSO IS IT WORTH ANYTHING? thanks, sincerely, loretta

  16. Judie Says:

    I have an old poem that is entitled “A Toast to the Bartender” It was printed by the Tivoli brewing company. Haven’t been able to find anything about how it came about anywhere. It is really awesome and by the looks of the frame it’s been around for a very long time. Does anyone know anything about this?

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