Originally built in 1880 as the co-educational Brinker Collegiate Institute, the Navarre building has been home to many establishments since its construction. Throughout the late 19th century and most of the 20th century, the building accommodated a hotel, renowned for its illicit activity, and multiple restaurants. There was once a tunnel that connected the Navarre to the esteemed Brown Palace Hotel across the street: well-to-do members of the community would stop by the Brown and secretly make their way over to the Navarre building to indulge in the activities it offered. Today, the Navarre functions as the American Museum of Western Art – Anschutz Collection, in which visitors can view many great works of art.
In 1880, the Brinker
Collegiate Institute, a private institution, was designed and built by
architect F.E. Edbrooke. The Institute was founded by Joseph and Elizabeth
Brinker as one of the first co-educational colleges that offered anywhere from
primary education to collegiate level academics. The local newspapers praised
the new building as “an architectural as well as educational ornament to the
City.” The first floor of the
building held the President’s office, along with classrooms, the dining room,
and a kitchen. The second floor housed parlors, music rooms, the kindergarten
department, and a chapel that was able to seat up to 300 people. On the third
and fourth floors were the dormitories for students.
In 1886, the school closed after Joseph Brinker’s
death. The building reopened in 1889 as the Richelieu Hotel. However, operators
C.W. Hunsicker and Robert Stockton were well known as gamblers and quickly
turned the establishment away from its original purpose. The building was later
lost in a card game to gamblers F.D. Chase and Vaso Chucovich, who renamed it the
“Navarre” after Henry of Navarre, King of France, who was well known for his
fun-loving lifestyle. The upper floors were rented to “ladies of the night” and
an underground tunnel was created between the Navarre and the respectable Brown
Palace Hotel across the street. Esteemed members of the community could appear
to go into the Brown Palace, while secretly spending their time in the Navarre.
The tunnel has since imploded, but its entrance is visible in the current
Mayor Robert Speer attempted to reform the Navarre in
1904, but illicit activity continued to occur until the 1920’s. In the 1940’s Johnny
Ott reopened the building as a dining establishment and restored it to its
original Victorian roots; he refurbished the bars and booths and restored
paintings. Peanuts Hucko, a jazz clarinetist, reopened the restaurant again in
the 1960’s and transformed it into a premiere jazz club in Denver.
In 1997 the Anschutz Corporation took control of the
building and refurbished it once again. They transformed it into the American
Museum of Western Art – Anschutz Collection and added offices for two foundations, both
of which continue to occupy the space today.