The Exceptional History of the
EXPLORE THE HISTORY OF
THE RICHTHOFEN CASTLE
THE EARLY YEARS
First completed in 1886, the Richthofen Castle was originally built for Baron Walter von Richthofen, a Prussian entrepreneur who moved to Denver in the 1870s to seek his fortune in the American West. Researchers believe that it was designed by Denver architect Alexander Cazin and that the structure’s Romanesque Revival style was inspired by castles of the Baron’s youth, including Prince Wilhelm’s Castle Karpnicki, a medieval fortress in what is now Wroclaw, Poland.
Why build a German-style family castle in the United States?Because Baron von Richthofen didn’t just want a private residence — he needed a show-stopping sales pitch.
A MAN OF MIXED FORTUNE
The Baron von Richthofen was a man of means and sophistication — European royalty with an adventurous streak that served him...sometimes.
When he arrived in Denver, the baron made some initial, lucrative investments in silver mines. That fortune (along with family money) gave him the opportunity to invest in other enterprises, but he made some bad bets and had even worse luck. He supported a streetcar network that fizzled, advocated for investing in cattle ranching right before blizzards wrecked the industry, and built a local beer garden that went under after only three years.
When the baron began to develop 320 acres of prairie land east of Denver in 1885, he was ready to go all-in on his new city suburb. He and his investors named the area “Montclair” in admiration of the area's beautiful, clear views of the mountains around the city, but Baron von Richthofen felt that he needed more than a nice name to entice buyers to visit his new development.
He decided to build a private residence that would double as a chic promotional tool; a home that would be considered uniquely interesting even among American mansions of the day. Building a castle as a show home, he believed, would help convince people that his new neighborhood would be, as he put it, "a fount of health and prosperity...a model community with enlightened planning and sophisticated architecture.”
In short, a place where Denverites could live like kings and queens.
A HAND-CARVED HOME
Baron von Richthofen had the castle built out of hand-carved rhyolite (lava rock) that was quarried from nearby Castle Rock. He made sure that the castle had stunning architectural details, including battlements, a turret, and a three-story tower that he decorated with the Richthofen family coat of arms. He also commissioned a two-foot-high red sandstone sculpture of Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor, otherwise known as Frederick Barbarossa, the first Germanic king, to decorate the Northwest corner of the home.
Despite the grand house, his wife, Louisa, had qualms about living so far into the country. To please her, he transplanted trees and created a lush garden, built a greenhouse, stables, and a racetrack, and stocked the area with deer, antelope, and bears for hunting. Finally, he dug a moat around the property and later, a dairy and tuberculosis treatment facility called The Molkery (now the Montclair Civic Building). Rumor has it that there was once a 300-foot tunnel that connected the castle to the Molkery. We’re still looking for evidence of that, though.
THE BARON'S LAST DAYS
Unfortunately for the baron, even a big, new fortress couldn’t keep his bad luck at bay. In 1891, he and his wife sold the castle to real estate entrepreneur John von Mueller, but for only two short years. By 1893, the silver market collapsed, and plunging America into a years-long economic depression that led von Mueller to default on his purchase. Although the crash had also ground construction on his Montclair development to a halt, Baron von Richthofen repossessed the castle and tried to revitalize his vision. Ever hopeful, the baron began to promote the area as a health and recreational resort, but he wasn't able to realize those plans before he died of appendicitis in 1898.
OLD CASTLE, NEW CENTURY
Since the beginning of the 20th century, the Richthofen Castle has been owned by a series of families that have each left a mark on the property in their unique way.
The castle was sold to Edwin Beard Hendrie, the owner of a mining equipment manufacturing company that claimed it was the largest in the world. Hendrie was not a fan of the castle’s mock medieval fortress aesthetic and hired Denver architects Maurice Bisleow Biscoe and Henry Harwood Hewitt to add a new west wing to the building and to re-imagine its exterior as a Tudor-inspired structure. The renovations included finishing interiors in the dining room and stairway, building two new sunrooms, covering the towers and parapets with tile roofing.
Hendrie’s son-in-law, William West Grant moved into the castle and lived there with his family. Fourteen years later, in 1924, they hired famed architect Jules Jacques Benoit Benedict to add a large, two-story south wing addition in the same Tudor style that Biscoe and Hewitt had used. One year into Grant’s residence at the Castle, a famous murder took place that some believe still haunts the castle to this day.
The Richthofen castle was sold to John Thams Jr., the owner of the Elephant Corral.
The home sold to Etienne Perenyi, a Hungarian nobleman who had fled to the United States to escape Soviet Russia, and his wife, Katherine Morrell Perenyi, the descendent of a Leadville pioneer.
Together, they entertained Hungarian royalty at the castle through the mid-20th century, but they also sold most of the land associated with the castle. By 1954, real estate developers had surrounded the castle with a new, mid-century neighborhood of homes. Even the historic gatehouse was sold off to another family.
Gerry and Esther Priddy, two real estate auctioneers, bought the castle, and lived in it for nearly thirty years.
As long time admirers of the castle, the Priddys spent more than ten years preparing to own the property before they ever moved in; by the time they purchased the castle, they had already collected many pieces of original furniture, era-appropriate fixtures, and other items related to the history of the home. As owners, they installed, among other things, a Red Baron-themed bar in the basement of the castle to honor Baron Walter von Richthofen’s nephew, WWI-era German fighter pilot, Manfred von Richthofen, otherwise known as “The Red Baron.”
DAILY LIFE IN A HAND BUILT CASTLE
More than one hundred and thirty years later, the Richthofen castle is still adding new chapters to its story.
In 2012, we purchased the castle as our primary family home, as well as items from the Priddy family that are believed to have belonged to the Baron von Richthofen, including a beautiful and historic dining table, sideboard, and a grand piano with a serial number that dates back to the year the castle was completed.
Our journey to revitalize this historic building had begun.
Since the first day we drove by the Richthofen Castle, we’ve been in love with its living history, mystery, and magic. Our goal has always been to do what we have to do to stabilize the house and update it for modern living without sacrificing any of the original details that make the house so iconic. We’ve worked hard to source the right materials for the renovation.
We used the same rocks (from the same quarry!) in our kitchen renovation that Baron von Richthofen used in the castle’s foundation. We’ve repaired water-damaged walls and ceilings with real plaster and carefully restored the original fireplaces and chimneys wherever/whenever we find them — even the one in the middle of our kitchen.