4655 W. 37th Place
Sat and Sun 10AM–4PM
Architect: Charles Herbert Lee and Rudolph Liden
Architectural Style: Resort Architecture with stick and shingle styles
Designation: National Register of Historic Places: March 21, 1978
Photo Restrictions: No
The historic name of the now-called Elitch Theatre is Elitch’s Pavilion Theatre. According to an account by Mary Elitch, the building was a nearly circular structure with open sides and a tent-like roof. Early reporters referred to it as a theatorium. The auditorium area was enclosed in during 1891 and 1892. There were verandas on the main and balcony levels, and the tent shaped roof was painted with geometric designs. This theatre is similar in shape to the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, California. Other examples of this style of architecture in Colorado include the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park and the Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder.
The exterior of the theatre is faced with wood drop siding that is painted gray with white trim. The theatre has maintained its original shape, which is octagonal and 43 feet high each side and includes a tent shaped shingle roof. The main entrance to the theatre is on the east side, which faced the original park. The ceiling height of the auditorium is 32 feet and there are a total of sixteen supporting metal pillars under the outer edge of the balcony. There are eight boxes for seating, and gas lighting was installed in the interior for 1891’s second season. There was no heat in the building until 1907, so steam heat was installed for the comfort of the patrons.
The proscenium arch is just over 33 feet wide and 22 feet high, and the space between the curtain line and the back of the stage spans 44 feet. The auditorium can seat 1,419 patrons. The seats on the main floor have replaced the original ones, but those in the balcony appear to be original, complete with folding seats of polished wood and a wire hat rack beneath.
After meeting in California, John and Mary Elitch married in 1872. Together they owned and ran several restaurants, and they came to Denver in 1882 where they established the Elitch Restaurant and Oyster House. When they moved to a new location the restaurant became Elitch’s Palace Dining Rooms. In the late 1880s, they bought Chilcott farm, which sat just a few miles from Denver, so they could grow vegetables for their restaurant. After selling the farm in 1888, they devoted all their energies into developing an amusement park on the property. The new park was to include a theatre for vaudeville performances, a zoo, large flower gardens, a merry-go-round, and a small lake. It opened on May 1, 1890 with high expectations for success.
After 1890, John went on the road with his vaudeville company, but he became ill in San Francisco and died March 10, 1891. In spite of her loss, Mary continued to run the park. She married Thomas Long in 1901. She discontinued the vaudeville acts in the auditorium, made some adjustments, and started the Elitch Theatre, which was a summer stock theatre that played from 1897 through 1991. Elitch Theatre was the oldest summer stock theatre in the United States and many famous actors performed there.
The Historic Elitch Gardens Theatre Foundation was established to raise funds and awareness for the restoration of the theatre. In 2006, the Foundation was awarded $5 million to restore the exterior, and a cement foundation was poured under the exterior walls. The roof, gable, main entrance lobby, and the exterior walls were replaced and painted. A fire suppression sprinkler system was installed as well. In 2011, Denver’s Office of Economic Development awarded the foundation $425,000. This grant, along with other donations, have enabled the theatre to obtain temporary event permits. The summer of 2014 saw the theatre opened for the first time in 14 years, and continued fundraising will help the ongoing project.
The theatre was designed by Denver architects Charles Herbert Lee and Rudolph Liden. Liden was a draftsman for the well-known firm of Varian and Sterner. Together they formed their own firm, Lee and Liden, in 1889. The association was short lived, and by 1895 Mr. Lee was in practice by himself.
National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form March 1978; denverpost.com/elitchgardens; historicelitchtheatre.org/abouttheatrefuture.