Constructed in 1864, the Tivoli Brewery in Denver was the first brewery built in Colorado and the second in the nation. Over the course of its complex history, the brewery changed hands multiple times until it was abandoned in 1969. The Tivoli building became part of the Auraria Higher Education Center (AHEC) in the 1970s, when an urban renewal project transformed the former neighborhood of Auraria into a tri-institutional college campus. The building reopened as a bar and retail center in 1982, and in 1994 it became the official student union of the Auraria campus. Today, the Tivoli is not only part of the historic fabric of the campus but serves an integral role in the student experience.
First Brewery in Colorado
Although the structure that is now the Tivoli was not opened until 1864, the brewery’s roots go back to the arrival of John Good, an immigrant who came to Denver during the 1858–59 gold rush. Good partnered with another immigrant, Frederick Salomon, who founded the Rocky Mountain Brewery, which would later become one of the Tivoli company’s greatest competitors. Good soon sold his share of the Rocky Mountain Brewery to Salomon and founded Denver’s Good Bank.
In 1864 German immigrant Moritz Sigi opened the Colorado Brewery on Tenth Street in the Auraria neighborhood. This marked the start of what later became the Tivoli building. The building was designed by architect Frederick C. Eberley and featured Bavarian-style architecture—a unique combination of Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, and Rococo influences—making it a one-of-a-kind structure in the United States. Along with the brewery, Sigi constructed the first artesian well in Colorado within the brewery to supply water for brewing. Sigi’s brewery was known for a specialized “Buck Beer,” a style of beer unique to Colorado that was a hybrid lager similar to a Bock. During the 1870s, Sigi began to expand the building, with construction of a structure to be called “Sigi’s Hall” underway.
Tragedy struck on March 22, 1874, when a carriage that Sigi was driving overturned after he lost control of his horses. Falling at the corner of Wazee and Nineteenth Streets, he fractured the base of his skull. Despite the efforts of several doctors, Sigi died shortly after 9 am on the morning of March 23.
After Sigi’s death, the Colorado Brewery was taken over by Max Melsheimer, who renamed it the Milwaukee Brewery in 1879. Melsheimer ran the brewery successfully for several years, focusing on expanding the building’s infrastructure. He borrowed $250,000 from John Good to install new copper brewing kettles and a grain tower in 1880. Two years later, he further expanded the building by constructing the Turn Halle Opera House. While the new structures increased the company’s brewing capacity, Melsheimer was unable to earn enough revenue to repay his loan from Good. In 1900 Good foreclosed on Melsheimer’s loan and assumed control of the Milwaukee Brewery. He renamed the company Tivoli, after the famous Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark. In 1901 Good partnered with William Burkhardt’s Union Brewery to form the Tivoli-Union Company.
Tivoli During Prohibition
When prohibition began in Colorado in 1916, most of the state’s breweries closed. Zang’s Brewery (formerly the Rocky Mountain Brewery), which had been the Tivoli-Union’s greatest competition, was never able to recover from prohibition and eventually closed. The Tivoli-Union continued to brew legal, low-alcohol cereal beers, which sustained the company through the repeal of prohibition in 1933. As one of the only remaining breweries in Colorado at that point, the Tivoli-Union enjoyed high demand for its products. By the 1950s, the brewery was one of the largest in the country. It produced around 150,000 barrels per year and sold its products in almost every state west of the Mississippi River.
When John Good died in 1918, ownership of the brewery passed to Good’s children and his business partner, William Burghardt. The brewery remained in the Good family until 1965, when Loraine Good, the final heir, died. After some brief legal turmoil, the brewery was sold to Carl and Joseph Occhiato, owners of the Pueblo Pepsi-Cola Bottling Plant. The Occhiato brothers decided to rebrand Tivoli-Union products as “Denver beer.”
In June 1965, shortly after the Occhiato brothers took ownership of the brewery, business was halted by a disastrous flood of the South Platte River. The brewery was inundated with nine feet of water and sustained more than $135,000 in damages. When the Tivoli reopened after the flood, problems only continued. The flood contaminated the artesian well used for brewing, and customers noted that the Tivoli’s beers didn’t taste the same. Production was cut significantly, and in 1968 employees went on a six-week strike to protest reduced wages as well as a significant reduction in staff. Production capacity at the Tivoli never fully recovered as financial problems plagued the company after the flood. The brewery closed its doors on April 25, 1969.
AHEC and Urban Renewal
The Tivoli-Union building stood abandoned for years after closing its doors. However, in 1973 the building itself was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. That same year, the building was purchased by the Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA) for potential use in the Auraria Higher Education Center (AHEC) project. The Auraria Board of Directors worked with the Associates for Redevelopment of the Tivoli, a group of preservationists developing proposals to rehabilitate the Tivoli, to come up with a new use for the building that would benefit students. They hoped to turn the building into a business complex by restoring the Tivoli’s post-Victorian look and installing businesses such as a daycare center, bike shop, bank, barbershop, post office, dry cleaner, dentist, doctor, lawyer, drugstore, and student-oriented travel agency. There would also be an effort to preserve the old brewing equipment. The kettles and machinery would be cleaned, polished, and protected in glass display cases. The proposed project would charge rental fees from vendors, which could be used to reduce student costs.
Plans for developing the Tivoli business center moved forward, but there were some problems along the way. In 1976 DURA and AHEC went to court over accusations made by AHEC that DURA had failed to maintain the Tivoli building. AHEC inspectors reported that no efforts had been made to keep the doors closed, leaving the interior of the building covered in bird droppings. Other complaints included significant water damage, trash, and droppings from the guard dog that had never been cleaned. All this damage would increase renovation costs above the proposed $2 million. The project halted, and the building remained in disrepair.
In 1980 the campus leased the Tivoli building to the Trizec Corporation of Calgary, Canada, which began a $27 million project to redevelop the Tivoli into an urban shopping center. Trizec hired HOK, the same Kansas City–based architectural firm that later designed Coors Field, to revamp and expand the brewery for commercial use. By 1982 the building housed several restaurants, a bar, retail stores, and even an AMC movie theater.
New Student Union
In 1991 Auraria students voted to use their fees to buy the Tivoli back from Trizec and redevelop it into a student union for the campus. Following a Colorado Historical Society Gaming Fund assessment, AHEC began a $28 million rehabilitation of the building. The project sought to restore the Tivoli’s historic spaces and artifacts; the copper brewing kettles were preserved in glass cases. The building reopened in October 1994 as AHEC’s new student union, shared by students from the University of Colorado–Denver, Metropolitan State University, and Community College of Denver. It retained the Boiler Room Bar and AMC theater that were part of the Trizec redevelopment, but many interior spaces were reconverted from stores into spaces that could serve students, including a student travel agency, bookstore, and student newspaper offices.
The building is now home to meeting rooms, student-group offices, a food court, businesses, and event spaces. In 2012 Corey Marshall acquired the Tivoli and several other beer brands, and he decided to revive the Tivoli Brewing Company. Today Tivoli Brewing operates there, continuing the building’s legacy as a brewery while serving as an education center for students in beer-industry programs at the campus. As the student union, the building has become the heart of the Auraria campus, a place for students to congregate and reflect on how the building’s past has become intertwined with the campus’s future.