Denver’s historic El Jebel temple to get new life as special events venue

The El Jebel Shrine Mosque fourth floor horseshoe-shaped theater in Denver, Colorado on Monday, December 12, 2023. The event center was constructed in 1906 and opened in 1907. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

In Denver, there are much taller buildings than the five-story, rectangular Mosque of the El Jebel Shrine in Uptown. But there are few that are as eye-catching. Or historic. Or intriguing.

Those are among the qualities that caught the attention of Non Plus Ultra, a company that looks for settings where its clients can hold events: product launches, concerts, corporate holiday parties. The San Francisco-based company has added the El Jebel building to its Denver portfolio and is getting it ready for the next chapter of its 117-year existence.

“What we really shoot for is something that has history or is iconic or has architectural significance. El Jebel strikes all of those,” said Jordan Langer, Non Plus Ultra founder and CEO.

The Mosque of the El Jebel Shrine, which was constructed in 1907, located in Denver, Colorado on Monday, December 12, 2023. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

The company works with the owners of venues that many times have been sitting idle and “activates” them, turning them into platforms for shows, immersive art events and concerts. The El Jebel Shrine and the adjacent parking lot sold for $12.37 million in 2016 to a limited liability company associated with a Virginia-based law firm led by attorney Robert Lubin.

Various developers, including former President Donald Trump before he was elected, have looked at building on the parking lot. A proposal submitted to the city in 2021 was for a 30-story condominium building on the lot.

Lubin said in a voicemail that he’s looking at a more permanent arrangement with Non Plus Ultra, with the aim of making the building a full entertainment center. He said the plan is still to build a tower next to El Jebel.

The El Jebel building has been empty for the past several years, Langer said.

“There’s a whole new group of folks in Denver that have never been able to step foot in there, have never been able to go see a show or party or event or experience,” Langer said “I’m very much looking forward to being able to bring that back and open that incredible space up to the public.”

Another well-known building among Non Plus Ultra’s Denver event sites is the Denver Sports Castle, Beaux-Arts building that was originally an automobile showroom and then a sporting goods store for more than four decades, first owned by Gart Bros. Sporting Goods and later by Sports Authority.

Non Plus Ultra pays the landlords a percentage of the revenue from the events held on the properties. Langer said the percentage can range anywhere from 5% up to 20%.

“Generally speaking, we come in right around 10% of our revenue,” Langer said.

His company finances work and updates needed to host events in a building. Langer said his Denver team is working with the city fire and building departments to ensure safety standards are met. The company acts as a kind of facilities manager: keeping the building clean, taking care of the utilities, fixing things like broken windows.

“We’re really more a real estate company than we are an events company,” Langer said.

He believes the El Jebel building will lend itself to immersive, experiential and music events, but said that will be up to the clients using the venue.

“We hope to be able to book some of our first shows in the first quarter” of 2024, Langer said. “We’ve been teasing it out there. There is a lot of excitement surrounding the building.”

Lobby space of the Mosque of the El Jebel Shrine located in Denver, Colorado on Monday, December 12, 2023. The event center constructed 1906 and opened in 1907. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

El Jebel temple the “whip cream and cherry”

The El Jebel building at 1770 N. Sherman St. was originally named the Mosque of the El Jebel Shrine of the Mystic Order and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1997. The Shriners, a fraternity that’s a spinoff from the Masons, built the temple in 1906 and opened it in 1907.

Historic Denver, which promoted the building’s addition to the register, said the Shriners called their building mosques in keeping with the Middle Eastern flavor of their costumes and rituals. The group’s nomination for the historic designation said the building’s exterior “is one of the best examples of Moorish-inspired architecture in Colorado” and includes two onion domes and a small minaret.

The even “greater significance of the building may be found in its interior,” Historic Denver wrote.

Three Non Plus Ultra employees recently took a Denver Post reporter and a photographer on a tour inside the building, starting with the huge, horseshoe-shaped theater on the fourth floor that could seat about 500 people. Historic Denver said the theater has an Egyptian motif, some of which was damaged and painted over after a 1924 fire.

Working with the city and other organizations, Historic Denver holds a conservation easement on the property that requires the owners to maintain the historic site. The organization said in an email that the easement, which applies to all subsequent owners, was placed on the property in 2003 in exchange for special zoning that would allow development of the adjacent lot.

Luke Rangel, who is heading the effort to get the building ready for events, put up work spotlights that made the dark wood of the stadium-like seating shine.

“It’s in amazing shape for being as old as it is,” said Rangel, who has been at work on the building since October.

Lindsay Probasco, head of Non Plus Ultra’s sales in Colorado, said workers will patch up some of the walls while carefully following the guidelines for historic places. “We just want to touch it up and bring it back to life”

The Ballroom of the Mosque of the El Jebel Shrine located in Denver, Colorado on Monday, December 12, 2023. The event center was constructed in 1906 and opened in 1907. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

Probasco and Rangel said the grand ballroom on the third floor is their favorite part of the building. Both attended events in the ballroom when it was known as the Sherman Street Events Complex.

The Shriners sold the building to the Scottish Rite Masons in 1924, which used the site until 1995. The Eulipions theater organization  owned the building for a while.

Rangel watched a professional boxing match in the ballroom in the 1990s. “They put a ring in the center and had some local fighters.”

Probasco remembers attending events staged in the ballroom about 20 years ago.

“One of the firefighters that came and inspected for the city had his prom down there” in the ballroom, Rangel said.

Columns in the grand ballroom “support a ceiling composed of shallow barrel vaults designed to float as a canopy over the entire room mimicking the feel of a sheik’s tent,” according to Historic Denver’s description. The walls are covered in elaborate painted stenciling that is attention-getting more than a century later.

The ballroom balcony of the Mosque of the El Jebel Shrine located in Denver, Colorado on Monday, December 12, 2023. The event center constructed 1906 and opened in 1907. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

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