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When it opened in 1891, the Elitch Theatre was a cultural epicenter for a young Denver. Some of the first motion pictures in Colorado were played in this building using Thomas Edison’s Vitascope. Silver-screen stars such as Grace Kelly, Edward G. Robinson, and Robert Redford performed there, but the last production on the stage was in 1991.
Since then, the building has fallen into disrepair. The stage has splintered. Headshots of famous actors who performed there are gathering dust. The lights are dark. That could all change, though, thanks to a fundraising effort that raised nearly half a million dollars.
During this initial stage, the renovations to the 132-year-old building will be less cosmetic and more structural: fixing the leaky roof, resurfacing the wood stage, and pouring a concrete foundation. Once the building meets safety standards, foundation board member David Nehls hopes small performances will begin in less than a year. “It won’t be pretty when it gets all finished, but it’ll be workable and it’ll be serviceable,” he says. “It’s baby steps. Eventually, we hope to get the millions to bring it back to a state of the art facility.”
The theater, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is the country’s oldest summer stock theater—a stage that generally only sets up in the summertime—is located on the original Elitch Gardens site in northwest Denver. The renovations have been accelerated thanks, in part, to funds from the City of Denver’s Office of Economic Development, which granted $425,000 to the foundation once it matched 25 percent of that in private donations and proceeds from their summer outdoor film series.
—Image composite courtesy of Historic Elitch Theatre Foundation and Bradi Wells