Who Stole Denver Burglar Alarm?

Stew Jackson let one of Denver's oldest family-owned businesses slip away, but his bands play on.

And Jackson's bands kept playing. Once he backed Mel Torme and sold the singer a car alarm. He played behind Sammy Davis Jr. for three nights at the Auditorium Theater. During rehearsals, the band and Sammy got so wrapped up in a televised heavyweight fight that they came on stage forty minutes late and almost got thrown off.

"Sammy said, 'Don't worry about it.' When you come to see Sammy Davis, you come to see Sammy Davis," Jackson says. Davis was a beautiful guy, says Jackson. Jackson loves telling stories about the beautiful guys he's known.

Like Denver boxer Ron Lyle, a beautiful guy he met while playing a gig at the state pen. Lyle was serving time there for pushing a guy to his death off a bridge. That was before the boxer got his life together and fought Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight championship in 1975.

And Jackson first met Tony Bennett in 1964 in New York. "I played with him many, many times," Jackson says. Twelve years ago, Jackson says, he ran into Bennett on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. The singer had two women on his arm and asked Jackson if he could "take these ladies off my hands."

Jackson himself has been married twice and has six children. He lives in a large home in Bow Mar. In addition to DBA, he once owned the British Double Decker bus company, and he owns a string of restaurants along East 17th Avenue, Denver's so-called restaurant row. A longtime customer of Cliff Young's namesake restaurant, Jackson partnered with Young in 1993, then took over sole ownership two years later. He also purchased the restaurant next door; formerly a swank nightclub called Ruby's, it's now the elegant Vino Vino. This past April, Jackson shrank Cliff Young's to a small ten-table room and opened up Dante Bichette's Sports Grill and Roadhouse in the main part of the restaurant. Though Bichette's name is on it, the Colorado Rockies slugger does not have an ownership interest in the restaurant but receives a "percentage of various revenues," according to Jackson.

Besides restaurants, Jackson also acquired the licensing rights to the name and repertoire of the Woody Herman Orchestra in 1991. (Herman, a clarinetist and alto saxophonist, led several famous big bands during the Thirties, Forties and Fifties. By the end of the Sixties, his manager had gambled away the band's income-tax money. Herman sold his home and continued playing with new versions of his group until his death in 1987.) Jackson now handles the administrative end and, on occasion, sits in with the orchestra.

In the 1980s, though he still played plenty of casual gigs around town, Jackson's high-profile shows began to taper off. Some say Denver Burglar Alarm's edge was slipping as well.

DBA still ruled the local market and had offices in Colorado Springs and clientele from Cheyenne to La Junta. But according to Stan Schwab, a friend and rival of Jackson's, "the company was not moving. Decisions were not being made."

Tom Leak, a DBA employee for eleven years, adds, "Everything was rolling along as it had for years. There was no new technology."

Jackson steams at accusations that his company was ever not the best. "Bullshit. Neither one knows half of what they're talking about. Let those no-talent motherfuckers tell me something," he says of his detractors, one of whom, Schwab, is also his golfing partner.

Jackson says that in 1982 DBA developed a new technology that allowed alarm systems and the central station to communicate every 25 seconds via radio waves. And in 1987, he says, the company provided security for the Denver Art Museum's traveling exhibit of the 47-ton likeness of Ramses II's tomb and the treasures contained within.

Skip Swift worked with DBA from 1986 to 1992 and says it was fun; parties on Jackson's double-decker buses were not uncommon, nor were huge open-house affairs during the holidays at Jackson's Bow Mar estate.

Jackson's buddy Howard Pettit, who started working for DBA in the early Sixties and has remained with Jackson ever since, says employees vacationed together in Mexico. "One thing about DBA," Pettit says. "If [employees] made it through the first year, they'd usually stay for ten to fifteen years."

But none of the employees knew that Jackson was thinking merger. In the mid-Nineties, industrialist H. Wayne Huizenga was trying to make his Republic Industries the world's largest security company (a title held--then and now--by ADT). In a matter of six months, Republic had built up one of the largest security companies in the world. Huizenga approached Jackson in late 1995.

"The alarm industry had been hugely fragmented," says Jeff Kessler, a senior vice president with Lehman Brothers who covers the security business. Kessler says the industry was ripe for consolidation.

On a plane ride to Fort Lauderdale, Jackson read Huizenga's biography. According to Gail DeGeorge's book, The Making of a Blockbuster, Huizenga was a fiercely competitive dealmaker who had built two billion-dollar companies: Waste Management (now WMX Technologies) and Blockbuster Entertainment. The former began in 1962 with one truck and one garbage route in South Florida and grew to be the world's largest waste-management company. And from a $7 million chain of nineteen video stores in Dallas, Huizenga built a company worth $4 billion, operating 3,700 stores in eleven countries. (Blockbuster was sold to Viacom, Inc., in 1994.)

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