Richthofen Castle (7020 E. Twelfth Avenue) was completed in 1886 for Baron Walter von Richthofen and is now one of Denver’s oldest and most celebrated buildings. Thought to be the design of Denver architect Alexander Cazin, it is a Romanesque Revival residence modeled after Castle Karpnicki near Breslau, Silesia. When it was built, the mock medieval fortress crowned the treeless east Denver skyline. Its clear view of the mountains inspired the name of the surrounding suburban town of Montclair, which Richthofen and associates platted in 1885.
The 38-room, 15,000-square-foot castle has 8 bedrooms, 7 bathrooms, 5 fireplaces, a bar, a drawing room, a library, servants’ quarters, a butler’s pantry, a billiards room, and a music parlor. The exterior walls are Castle Rock rhyolite (lava rock). A square, three-story tower rising from the roofline is emblazoned with the Richthofen coat of arms—two lions crowning a judge’s head, symbolizing Richthofen’s translation as “house of justice.” On the northwest corner is a two-foot-high red sandstone bust of Frederick Barbarossa, the medieval emperor who first unified the German states. A gatehouse with living quarters for servants originally included a large water-storage tank for the artesian well that provided the castle’s drinking water. The Montclair Lateral Ditch from the Highline Canal surrounded the castle. Richthofen called it his “moat.”
Completed in 1886 for an estimated $20,000 to $32,000, the castle became one of the first officially designated Denver landmarks in 1973 and is the cornerstone of the Montclair Historic District designated in 1975. The castle is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places (1975) and is protected by a facade easement with Historic Denver, Inc.
Baron Walter von Richthofen
Richthofen Castle has always been a private residence and a tribute to the prominent German clan of castle builder Walter Von Richthofen. He was a kinsman of the renowned geographer Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen, for whom Colorado’s Mount Richthofen was named. He was also related to Baron Manfred von Richthofen, the World War I flying ace celebrated as the “Red Baron.”
Walter von Richthofen was born in Kriesenitz, Silesia, in 1848. After enlisting in the Prussian army during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, he sailed for New York. In 1878 he arrived in Denver, which was thriving thanks to the state’s silver boom. He decided to settle in the Mile High City, where he bounced from one business scheme to the next. Eventually he decided to develop land east of Denver. In 1885 he and fellow investors founded the Montclair Town and Improvement Company and began selling land in the town, which was bounded roughly by today’s Quebec Street to Holly Street between Montview Boulevard and East Sixth Avenue.
After the Panic of 1893 froze such suburban developments, Richthofen reinvented Montclair as a health spa, the Colorado Carlsbad, which soon failed. The Molkerei (1888), two blocks west of the castle, is a remnant of the health spa days; it is now restored as the Montclair Civic Building. Denver annexed Montclair in 1902.
The Baron sold the estate in 1891 to fellow German entrepreneur John von Mueller (later Miller) for $104,000. Mueller defaulted after the 1893 crash, however, and Richthofen repossessed the castle. After his death in 1898, his wife sold it in 1903 to Edwin Beard Hendrie, owner of Hendrie and Bolthoff Manufacturing, for only $40,000. In 1910 Hendrie decided to change the “mass of colored glass and bad taste” of what he called the “German architectural monstrosity.” The family retained prominent Denver architects Maurice B. Biscoe and Henry Harwood Hewitt to redesign the Prussian castle. They used the same original Castle Rock rhyolite for a new west wing, which almost doubled the size of the castle. They also added stucco and a half-timbered second floor, and topped the roof with red tile.
Hendrie’s son-in-law, William West Grant, subsequently moved into the castle. In 1924 the Grants hired another leading Denver architect, Jules Jacques Benoit Benedict, to expand the castle again. Like Biscoe and Hewitt, he used Castle Rock rhyolite, stucco, and half timbering in a large, two-story south wing addition. In 1937 John Thams Jr., owner of the Elephant Corral downtown, bought the castle. He sold it in 1946 to Etienne Perenyi, a nobleman who fled Hungary after Soviet Russia seized his country. The Perenyis sold off nearly all of the grounds, and modern houses sprang up on all sides of the castle. In 1954 the Perenyis sold the gatehouse on Pontiac Street to James and Miriam Buchanan, who converted it to their residence.
Othniel J. Seiden bought the castle in 1971. He and his family lived there during the 1970s, and he wrote a booklet about it called Denver’s Richthofen Castle. Jerry and Esther Priddy owned the castle from 1984 to 2012. They acquired much of Richthofen’s original furniture for the castle, and they also decorated the yard with a two-thirds-size replica of the famous red triplane used by Richthofen’s relative in World War I.
In 2012 the castle was purchased for $3.49 million by Robert William “Jesse” Jesperson, founder and owner of Evergreen Caissons, which builds electrical transmission lines. Jesperson and his wife, Sylvia Atencio-Jesperson, also bought the gatehouse for another $1.05 million and reattached it to the site. They completed a massive, long-postponed restoration of the castle from the leaking roof down to the landscaping.