Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Denver's Historic Movie Palaces

Hollywood isn’t the only location with a history of wonderful Movie Palaces. I wrote recently about Grauman’s Chinese and other theatres in Hollywood but Denver also had its share of exotic theatres during the first half of the 20th Century. Some have survived, some even continue to exhibit films.

Unfortunately, though, the magnificent Movie Palaces that lined Denver’s Great White Way – Curtis Street from 14th to 18th Streets – are all gone. The Empress, the Paris, the Iris, the Princess (later renamed the Victory), and the Rialto once thrived along the ‘theatre row’ that was Curtis Street. But Denver’s Movie Palaces were not restricted to Curtis Street. There were theatres elsewhere in the downtown area and in Denver’s neighborhood.

Perhaps the most recognizable is the Mayan on Broadway. Built in 1930 with its

wonderful central-American themed d├ęcor and architecture, it was a first run movie house for many years, but then as is often the case it fell on hard times and closed. It was also nearly demolished until a public campaign saved it in the mid-80s and

Landmark Theatres took over its operation. It still shows films but now on three screens. The balcony was remodeled into two small theatres with the downstairs auditorium making the third screen.

The Paramount Theatre also opened in 1930 and also was saved by a public campaign in the 80s. This wonderful Art Deco theatre opened originally as a silent movie theatre operated by the Paramount Pictures/Publix theatre chain. It soon switched over to sound as that became the norm. It still retains the Wurlitzer Organ that was installed to accompany the silent films. It no longer screens films but is primarily a concert venue. The current entrance to the theatre is on Glenarm but the original entrance was on 16th Street.

The Denver theatre was another great theatre downtown. It was across 16th Street from the Paramount. It was built in 1927 and operated by the Fox Movie Theatre Chain (part of what eventually became 20th Century Fox). This theatre was not able to be saved at the same time as the Mayan and Paramount. It was demolished – thank you Urban Renewal – and a new building built in its place.

Also gone is the Aladdin. It opened in 1926 with a Moorish design on east Colfax at Race. As with many of the theatres noted here, declining audiences and ticket sales in the 1970s forced its closure (it did operate for a short time as a legitimate theatre). By the mid-80s it was doomed to be destroyed. There is a Walgreen’s drugstore on the site now.

Another theatre that still operates is the Esquire at 6th and Downing. It was built in 1927and opened originally as the Hiawatha. It was remodeled in 1966. As with the Mayan, there now is the larger auditorium on the main floor and the balcony has been converted into a separate screening room.

The Oriental Theater, at 44th and Tennyson, opened on Christmas Eve, 1927 as one of Denver’s original movie palaces. It is now a multi-media event facility periodically showing movies but also operating as a concert venue.

Nearby in North Denver is the Holiday on West 32nd Ave. It originally opened in 1914 as the Egyptian. In the 1960s and 70s it survived by screening Spanish-language films. However by the 80s that was not enough and it closed. The building housed a restaurant for a time. The screen is apparently still intact.

The Roxy in Five Points opened as the only non-segregated movie theatre in Denver, in 1934. The building is still there but it no longer operates as a movie theatre.

The Ogden opened in 1917. It is now a concert venue but in the 80s it was still showing films and was the site of the Denver Film Festival.

The Bluebird, likewise is now primarily a concert venue. It opened in 1915 as the Thompson theatre. In the 70s and 80s it became a porn house.

Other historic theatres in Denver include the Denham, the Orpheum, the Federal, the Aztlan, the Centre, the York, The Webber and the Vogue.

No comments: