4655 W. 37th Avenue
Sat 10am - 4pm Sun 10am - 4pm
Architect: Charles Herbert Lee & Rudolph Liden
* Built: 1890
Photography Allowed, Partial disabled access; free parking, RTD #38
The Theatre was built in the shingle style reminiscent of the Globe Theatre and added to the National Resister of Historic Places in 1978. Built by John and Mary Elitch, it housed the first screen-projected motion picture in Denver. The park, which was open 7am-7pm, was an immediate success earning $35,000 in profit its first year. Not to see Elitch Gardens is not to see Denver! The Historic Elitch Theatre Foundation has received a $500,000 grant to renovate the interior: this year may be the last time to see it in its original condition.
Programming during Doors Open Denver will include performances by The Front Range Youth Symphony, School of Mines String Quartet, Front Range Youth Jazz, lectures on the history of the theatre, ghost stories told by Dennis Gallagher and a chance to see glimpses of some great memorabilia. We encourage anyone who has a connection with the theatre to visit us for Doors Open Denver, as we gear up for the 125th Anniversary in 2016. Informal tours will be offered throughout the day.
Under the direction of founder John Elitch, who wanted his theatre to resemble Shakespeare's famous Globe Theatre, the Historic Elitch Gardens Theatre was designed by architects Charles Herbert Lee and Rudolph Liden and built by W. L. Heckart and his carpenter father. When it opened in 1890, the theatre was an open-sided pavilion; in 1891 the first renovations began, the theatre was enclosed and the structure made more solid. The theatre has been modified in many ways over the years, but still presents a fine example of rare Victorian-era architecture of the Stick-Eastlake style, which enjoyed modest popularity in the late 19th century. The park, which was open 7am-7pm, was an immediate success earning $35,000 in profit its first year and housed the first screen-projected motion picture in Denver.
John Elitch died in early 1891 and responsibility for the management of the theatre and the Elitch Gardens park passed to his wife, Mary Elitch. Many of the theatre's original features still remain: the seats in the balcony are original to 1890, as is the proscenium arch. The seats in the downstairs auditorium, however, date back to the 1940's and the current fly building was constructed in 1954. You can still see signs of the original pavilion structure as well as parts of the original exterior in some out-of-the-way areas of the building.
Photos of actors who played Elitch's are stored in the theatre, and their autographs are still visible on some of the dressing room walls. Some date as far back as 1902! The theatre, operated as part of Elitch Gardens amusement park from 1891 to 1991, hosted some of the most famous names in entertainment of the era, making Denver and the neighborhood a major hub of the elite national theatre scene. The first films shown west of the Mississippi where presented at the theatre in 1896, predating Hollywood.
Many performers from the Elitch stage, such as Harold Lloyd, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Cecil B. DeMille and Silvia Sydney, made their way out west to make their mark in the new medium. Sarah Bernhardt famously played at Elitch's in 1906 after her farewell tour was rerouted due to the San Francisco earthquake. Other notables who played the theatre are Frederic March, Edward G. Robinson, Grace Kelly, Ginger Rogers, Antoinette Perry, Mickey Rooney, Robert Redford and hundreds more.
When we participated in Doors Open Denver in 2012, the building was still in a deep state of disrepair. Since then, we obtained a Community Block Development Grant from the City and County of Denver and have just completed our first phase of renovations to the interior. Come see the progress, it will be a very different experience.
* City and County of Denver historic landmark