Many of us catch glimpses of it from the street, but few have had the chance to enter its gates. Built in 1887 by Baron Walter von Richthofen, the uncle of the famous World War I flying ace, the Red Baron, the Richthofen Castle is a marvel.
Modeled on the Richthofen family castle in Germany, the turreted building is sheathed in rhyolite, a special type of lava rock quarried,
appropriately enough, from Castle Rock. The 14,600-square-foot castle includes 35 rooms on an acre of city land in Montclair, and it has a storied history.
Baron Walter von Richthofen came to Denver from Prussia in the 1870s, seeking fortune in the American West. He purchased 320 acres of land east of Denver, with plans for a personal residence, an upscale health and recreational resort, and a suburban neighborhood.
The original name of the castle was “Louisburgh” in honor of the Baron’s second wife, Louise.1 Louise moved into the castle in 1888, after the Baron had transformed the surrounding native prairie into landscaped gardens to please her. The couple only lived there for a few years, however, before embarking on global travels.
After the Baron’s death in 1898, the castle eventually passed to a local manufacturing magnate named Edwin B. Hendrie, who significantly redesigned the castle. Hendrie’s architect, Maurice Biscoe, added a west wing and softened the Prussian façade with Tudor elements, also installing red tile roofing over the crenellated parapets and towers.1 In 1924, a south wing was added by Hendrie, designed by Jules Jacques Benois Benedict.
There have been nearly a dozen owners of the castle since the structure was built by Richthofen and Hendrie, all of whom left their mark in various ways.2
The mid-20th century owners, the Perenyis, changed the property significantly when they sold off most of the grounds and the gate house that had been a part of it.
The property became a national historic landmark during the tenure of the Seidens in the 1970s, ensuring that the façade will remain unchanged through future generations.
From 1984 to 2012, the Priddys, a family in the antique auction business, owned the castle and restored some of the Baron’s original furniture to the property, as well as adding other furnishings appropriate to the period. They also installed a WWI-themed “Red Baron” bar in the basement, which still exists today.
The current owners, Robert Jesperson and Sylvia Atencio-Jesperson, purchased the castle in 2012 and reannexed the gatehouse around the same time.
Impact on Montclair Neighborhood
Richthofen greatly influenced the development of Montclair. He had envisioned establishing a health resort, and the “Molkerie,” which is now the Montclair Civic Building, was part of that effort.
The Molkerie (German for “milk house”) originally housed a herd of special European cows whose milk and “vapors” were thought to be healing. It drew tuberculosis patients who had flocked to Denver’s pure air for treatment. From the upper decks of the milk house, patients would hopefully drink the milk and inhale the aroma of the cows.3
Rumor has it that an underground tunnel once connected the castle to the Molkerie. Former resident Kurt Seiden recalls that the entrance was past the furnace room in the basement and that it extended at least to the end of the castle grounds, but says it has long been walled off.
Another of Richthofen’s goals was to establish the neighborhood of Montclair. Richthofen and his business partner, Matthias P. Cochrane, planned to create an upscale suburban neighborhood. His original purchase spanned from Colfax far south, perhaps to Hampden, said Kurt Seiden, but the neighborhood as we know it now runs from Colfax south to 6th Ave. and from Holly east to Quebec.
Homeowners who purchased plots in the Montclair development were required to build homes three stories high on lots that were twice the usual size of Denver city lots.1 Many of these large stately homes, visible in Montclair today, were built before further subdivision occurred. Sometime after Montclair was annexed to Denver around 1902, these restrictions changed, leading to the mix of sizes and styles of homes found in the historic neighborhood today.
Modern Life at the Castle
In addition to its architectural and historical significance, Richthofen Castle has been home to many families over the years.
“It was a scary place for me because I was young, but overall it was just a great place to grow up,” said Kurt Seiden, who lived in the castle in the 1970s, from about third grade until 11th grade. He remembers the castle as an incredible playground and says he learned to rock climb on its outside walls. “Everybody I knew hung out at my house,” said Seiden. “We had been known to have hide-and-seek games that lasted eight or nine hours.”
Halloweens were particularly memorable, especially for the unsuspecting trick-or-treaters who came to the castle. Seiden and his friends would build a scarecrow-like body, he recounted. “We would go up into the attic, onto the roof, into the tower, hang it out the tower window and let it drop,” while screaming through the intercom, Seiden recalled.
The most recent owners, Robert Jesperson and Sylvia Atencio-Jesperson, began their journey at the castle in 2012. The longtime Colorado residents had experience with historic properties, having lovingly restored a home at 7th and Clarkson, so the opportunity to purchase such a unique property was appealing. “I really have liked the houses that we’ve restored, and I just wanted to do more of that,” said Atencio-Jesperson.
When the Jespersons bought the property, there was extensive water damage throughout the house, so re-roofing, repairing the ceilings, and rebuilding many walls were necessary. They also dealt with other practical matters, like replacing the boiler and installing air conditioning.
The grounds are their current project, reconstructing the historic fountain in a new location and installing landscaping that is “a little more formal, more elegant,” said Atencio-Jesperson, as befits the property.
There are many fun parts to their restoration, too, especially the many discoveries they make in the process. After removing three false ceilings from what had been the master bathroom the Jespersons found a staircase remnant that leads to the tower, suggesting the Baron himself intended to use the iconic tower. They also enjoy hosting parties and events for organizations like The Denver Waldorf School. And now that the structural issues have been handled, Atencio-Jesperson says, “I would like to get into more of the decorative part. Get rid of the last remnants of the 1980s,” which were installed during a renovation by the Junior Guild of the Denver Symphony for a benefit event.
It is truly a labor of love for the couple, and Atencio-Jesperson says, “I never ever expect it to be done.”
The Jespersons continue the tradition of enjoying Halloween at the extraordinary property, but with their own twist. Every year, on the Saturday before Halloween, friends and family organize a themed party at the castle grounds for the community. Past events have included “Richthofen Asylum for the Criminally Insane” and “Richthofen Garden of Fantastical Creatures.” Though they would not reveal the theme for this year’s party, mark your calendars for it promises to be quite a bash.
- Noel, Thomas J. and Hansen, William J., Historic Denver, Inc.
- Richthofen Castle owners: 1887-1891 – Richthofen; 1989 -1893 – Mueller (aka Miller); 1893-1903 – Richthofen; 1903-1937 – Hendrie; 1937-1946 – Thams; 1946-1947 – Hunt (but didn’t live there); 1947-1970 – Perenyi; 1970-1972 – Purcell; 1972-1980? – Seiden; 1980?-1984 – unknown; 1984-2012 – Priddy; 2012 – present – Jespersons.
- Seiden, O.J., Denver’s Richthofen Castle. Denver: Stonehenge Books, 1980.