Archetype Distillery, a Former Porn Palace, Up for Sale

Archetype Distillery occupies an old theater.
Archetype Distillery occupies an old theater. Archetype
Who says there are no second acts in American lives? The old Webber Show, a theater in its heyday when F. Scott Fitzgerald offered that observation, started its third act in 2018 as Archetype Distillery, and has just been put on the block again for $6 million.

In 1916, the year it opened at 119 South Broadway, the movie palace was so modern, so marvelous, it rated a special mention in an issue of J.P. Chalmers's The Moving Picture World. The Webber was Denver’s fourth motion-picture theater; rumor had it that creator/owner DeWitt C. Webber had an apartment in the building with a window overlooking the auditorium so that he could watch the crowd, the orchestra that played for the talkies, and the movies on the screen.

The Webber was one of Denver's most elegant movie palaces.
Courtesy Denver Public Library
In 1996, Rocky Mountain News columnist Gene Amole wrote about going to what was now called the Webber Theater to see Wings, the 1927 silent film that won the first Academy Award for Best Picture. Even when the fancy Mayan opened just a few years later at 110 Broadway, some movie fans still preferred the Webber, because it was one of the first theaters in the city with an effective air-conditioning system.

But business cooled considerably in the ensuing decades, and in the ’70s, the building turned into Kitty’s South. That’s when you could find very different films here: On a visit (on assignment!) a decade ago, Westword’s Michael Roberts spotted copies of Handjobs Across America and Grand Theft Anal, as well as the classic Deep Throat, starring onetime Denverite Linda Lovelace.

The building spent two decades as Kitty's South.
Kitty’s South itself went south in 2007, its civic duty taken over by a Pleasures next door. After that, rumors periodically surfaced about a deal for the old theater, but there wasn't any real action until September 2015, when Wade Murphy closed a deal with the Handler Family Partnership, which had owned the theater and an adjacent vacant lot for generations, to purchase the package for $2.6 million. A month later, Murphy filed for a certificate of non-historic status with the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development, which made preservationists and neighbors alike nervous that the building wouldn't live to see its hundredth birthday.

But not only is the Webber still around, it's looking very good for a centenarian. Murphy and his partner, Michael Chapyak, restored (what they could) of the structure, rebuilt the rest, and reopened it to a standing-room-only crowd in February 2018 as Archetype, a distillery and private-event space. "We wanted to renovate this building by looking back a hundred years in order to look forward to the next hundred years,"  Murphy said at the time.

But BusinessDen just reported that Murphy has put the facility on the block for $6 million. Distilling operations will continue until he has a deal; ultimately he hopes to move Archetype to the mountains.

The Webber sign crumbled when the new owners tried to restore it.
Brad Weismann
Although Murphy and his partners couldn't save the entryway tiles that spelled out the Webber name, they did preserve much of the front facade, including the marquee, and restored the window openings to their original size. The basement is gone (as are its scary Kitty's-era contents), and the first floor now holds a tasting room right along Broadway and a distillery in back. The second floor is a 200-person-capacity event space, with a complete catering kitchen, a second bar and a view of the distilling equipment.

For tasting-room hours, go to the Archetype website.
click to enlarge
The distillery has a starring role.
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun