Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Richthofen Castle, Denver, CO

Richtofen Castle is a large estate that was finished in 1887 by the Baron Walter von Richtofen. The building is located in the Montclair/Monaco Hill district of Denver, CO.

This building tends to get described as "the Red Baron's castle". There is some slight confusion on this point. The Red Baron, Manfred von Richtofen, was a German pilot during World War I and is credited as being the greatest flying ace of that period. He had nearly 80 confirmed air combat victories before he was shot down and killed in 1918. Baron Walter von Richtofen, the man who was responsible for the construction of the Richtofen Castle in Denver, was Manfred's uncle.

Walter von Richtofen had moved to Colorado in the late 19th century in order to pursue and develop his business interests. His initial action once he had settled in Denver was to purchase 320 acres of land east of downtown Denver. His vision was to develop this new neighborhood into a center for health and wellness. Naming the area Montclair, the "beautiful suburban town of Denver", he built a home for himself and his wife and modeled it after the ancestral von Richtofen home in Germany. The building is absolutely one of a kind and there are no other homes in Denver like this. It really is a castle, with large stone walls surrounding the property, and immense wrought iron gates. According to Sotheby's International, the castle is approximately 14,000 square feet, with 35 rooms, including a replica WWI-era German pub (the "Red Baron Bar"), library, billiard room, and eight bedrooms.

In order to continue developing the health and wellness aspects of the neighborhood, von Richtofen built the Molkerei in 1898, a tuberculosis sanitarium that had some interesting beliefs about the healing benefits of fresh milk and the smell of cattle (No, really. The cattle stayed in the basement and the patients stayed upstairs, breathing in the healing barnyard odors). Within a decade the Molkerei was turned into an insane asylum before being made into the Montclair community center.

The building itself is actually really hard to see. The entire estate is surrounded by large stone walls, there is a lot of barbed wire, No Trespassing and Beware of Dog signs, big gates, and so on. The other factor is that the Baron's wife, Louise, didn't like the flat Colorado plains that surrounded the home. In order to make the area more comfortable for her, the Baron planted dozens of large trees and shrubs on the land surrounding the house. Now, one hundred years later, those same trees make for a very effective privacy screen.

Richtofen Castle is also notable in Denver history as being the site of one of the city's most sensational murders, that of Charles Patterson by his wife, Gertrude. Charles was shot in the back by his wife who claimed self defense after he had beaten her. The testimony offered in court was that Charles had knocked Gertrude to the floor when she, in self defense, pulled a handgun from her purse. Realizing that he was now very effectively outgunned Charles turned to flee the scene, but was unable to get out of the room before Gertrude had fired four times, missing twice, but killing Charles with two bullets in the back. The jury, all men from Denver, came back with a unanimous not guilty verdict following Gertrude's description of the events and she was acquitted of all charges.

Getting There By Bike...

The Montclair District is really fun to ride around. It's a very nice part of Denver and there are a lot historic homes in the area. I rode up Oneida Street, which had a great bike lane. The house is near Monaco and 12th, but you should stay off of Monaco if you're not in a car. Montclair is east of downtown Denver and you can get there very easily by taking 12th Street straight east. The house is located on the corner of 12th and Pontiac.

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