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.


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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.

The Jonas Brothers (Real and Retro)

— by M Thornton

Buckfifty has become my biography, the story of Denver before I arrived, the story of Denver that I live, and the story that gives credence to the Denver of the future. Here’s one more tidbit, and I hope it connects me to you, to the place, to the community that is built on the stories, the gospel of its residents, because the stories are forever changing, thanks to the chroniclers and listeners.

The Jonas Brothers of Denver

Back in 1974, after a fleeting separation from a girlfriend in Chicago, the college girl I could have fun with, like hitchhiking downtown from college, before missing our post-college marriage, I moved back to Denver, and found a job near my apartment in Capitol Hill, at Jonas Brothers. I became a taxidermist apprentice, for six months, and told the students whom I teach now about that experience, and they all agreed that this was a story that would endure me to people everywhere — that’s probably because they have not dealt with wild animals in their lives, and neither had I. (I typically use this experience to shock high schoolers into imagining that at one time, in this far outpost of civilization, game trophies mattered.)

Jonas Brothers hired me because I responded to an ad in the paper, I passed a polygraph, and I was interested. The fur salon on the first floor of the building at 10th and Broadway featured a standing polar bear, one of the last to be legally hunted and stuffed. (This polar bear looked so much better than the shaggy ones I grew up seeing at the Denver Zoo.) It no longer could claw or kill, but the magnificence of this creature suggested a wild habitat, where people could nonetheless safely purchase real fur coats. This was my introduction to taxidermy.

Once I started working around these people who devoted their lives to capturing the animal instinct, the bizarre nature of this old world craft never bothered me. The professional taxidermists who worked on the upper floors sculpted trophies made to mimic the wild haunts of the animals whose hides arrived through the alley door. Crates were unloaded, with hides that needed stretching, and skulls that required stripping in cauldrons of chlorine.

I would unpack an elephant foot, and over days of spraying it with water and tamping sand into it with a compactor, the foot would eventually regain its posture. We would add a circular plywood form to the inside, and top off the foot with a padded seat. An elephant foot stool. We would place the skulls of antelopes into a gigantic vat of bleach, where the final remnants of life would be stripped away, issuing ivory skulls a month later, to which we added missing teeth before we mounted them on a wood plaque. I learned about mixing epoxy glue to cement the dentures in skulls. I searched for missing incisors from drawers of teeth, catalogued by animal. My days were interesting indeed.

The taxidermists that worked at Jonas Brothers were the best of a dying breed, as they worked to make animals look as wild as possible, in their natural habitats. But safaris were on their way out, as wild game faced extinction, and so these craftsmen toiled as artists, scarcely making a living wage, without doing side work.

Did you know that fish lose their color once out of water? Fish trophies are painted to enact the real catch. Once while I was there, a hippo or rhino — they are both big game — died in one of the American zoos, and these artisans joyfully welcomed a new cast of the animal, that would better reflect how the beast would stand in nature. They would clothe it in hides from the next big game hunter. The taxidermists that I knew only watched PBS programming, Wild Kingdom at that time, constantly studying animals in their habitats, to better capture the life-like motions for their real-life resurrections.

One time I brought my older sister through the gallery of animals to be shipped out. I thought that she would enjoy petting a tiger, but I’m not sure that she thought that I was anything but weird. I broke my ankle wrestling with a friend after a night of drinking, and another worker at Jonas fixed me up with a deer hide cover for my cast, that lasted the length of my working there. I didn’t see my future there, but those taxidermists impressed me no end for their love of animals, and their devotion to capturing beasts at their best.

I finally got a job on the Colorado and Southern railroad, as a gandy dancer on the track gang, yet another step back in time, another step back into a Denver that too often is ignored. The Jonas Brothers’ building still stands at 10th and Broadway, and members of the family still stuff game animals in Louisville, in a business that has been around since 1908. I suppose that “stuff” is not the proper word — maybe recreate and celebrate; and so we compose our legends of Denver.

B50 Note: According to this article published in People Magazine on April 19, 1976, Jonas Brothers was then “the largest taxidermy business in the world.” The article goes on to explain that once a year, at the “Hunter’s Dinner”, Jack Jonas would serve his guests a delicious and diverse menu, including a combination of gnu, elephant, warthog, hippopotamus, python, and other exotic delicacies.

The Last Great Coffeehouse?

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The Muddy’s idea began in 1975 as the brainchild of Joe DeRose. It started as a debating club for a few graduate students from Colorado University. They found a place in an old downtown hotel that was on the lower end of its declining years. It was a marriage of convenience—cheap rates, poor students. Too soon, urban renewal broke up this union, forcing the students to scurry about fifteen blocks up into north Denver, where they reopened.

The place quickly morphed into a bookstore that couldn’t support itself. In desperation they added coffee, then pastries and sandwiches and finally an old manual lever espresso machine. Although the birth canal had been strange, what emerged was a full-fledged Coffeehouse, “Muddy Waters of the Platte Inc.” It spent the next ten years surviving on a month-to-month lease, under the mainstream radar and against all odds.

It became a wildly successful “Bistro of the night,” open from seven in the evening until four in the morning, seven days a week. Along with the bookstore-coffeehouse, it added The Slightly off Center Theater, all in the same building. Now there was a place for Music, Plays, life-drawing classes and the piece de resistance, Muddy’s “Summers of Jazz Concerts.”

Muddy’s hosted all of the governors of Colorado and all of the Mayors of Denver from when it opened until it closed its doors in 1997. However, that was only a small part of Muddy’s patina, because it also caught the tail end of the “Beat” generation. Pontifical greats like Ken Kesey and Alan Ginsburg railed against man and machine in our confines.

Jack Micheline headed a list of great poets who spoke their lyrical prose on Muddy’s stage. Both the known and the unknown poet mixed pentameter and hexameter for all who would listen and then strode out the doors leaving their ambience behind.

What made Muddy’s worth writing about was not only who came and went, but also what happened to people while in its ethereal grasp. The real importance lay in its ability to expose people to each other by gently mixing together the grist of their characters, laying bare what was and wasn’t known about each other. It forced us to look at ourselves through the eyes of our contemporaries, some of whom had dared to live outside that damned mainstream box; showing us that social oxygen exists everywhere.

-excerpted from “Muddy’s Chronicles” by Bill Stevens

Author Bill Stevens will be signing copies of his new book, “Muddy’s Chronicles: Secrets of the last Great Coffeehouse” on Sunday, Dec 21 at 2 p.m at the Mercury Café. Admission is Free.

Mercury Café
2199 California Street, Denver

Sid King

I visited Sid King’s once around 1982 for a bachelor party. The best man was committed to showing the groom and groomsmen an exciting time. This included a death-defying, high speed drive over streets and curbs to Sid’s. According to the article, Sid was a “benevolent showman.” My recollection is a bit raunchier, with Sid directing the dancers on stage and describing their personal attributes to the audience. It wasn’t until I saw his obituary that I learned that Sid had transitioned from showman to shoeman. I immediately clipped this article out, partly for personal nostalgia and partly to remember this historic Denver locale and Sid.
– Matt Holman

Sid King Obituary, 8/27/2000
Sid King Obituary, 8/27/2000
Sid Kings, Marion and Colfax, Denver. Photo by Donna Altieri.
Sid Kings, Marion and Colfax, Denver. Photo by Donna Altieri.