But that merry-go-round couldn't continue forever.

*****

The bizarre radium boom of the flapper era ended somewhat abruptly — leaving as a legacy extensive contamination. In the years following the demise of the National Radium Institute plant, the land stayed industrial. A textile factory took over the radium site, and further down the river, in the Platte Valley, a diesel refinery and a storage facility for gasoline were added to the mix that already included the trainyards. "It's a mystery why that land became so popular," says Goodstein. "It's really an awful piece of land."

Location Info

Map

Elitch Gardens

2000 Elitch Circle
Denver, CO 80204

Category: Attractions and Amusement Parks

Region: Central Denver

Historic Elitch Theatre Outdoor Plaza

4500 W. 38th Ave.
Denver, CO 80211

Category: Theaters

Region: Northwest Denver

Nevertheless, popular it became. By the mid-1970s, developers were already eying the area between Union Station and the Platte. One land baron wanted to make it into a commercial district to rival Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Another wanted to make it a second downtown. There was a proposal to transform it into the headquarters for the 1976 Olympics — awarded to Denver in 1970 and then famously rejected by Denver voters in 1972. It was one of three potential locations for the new Colorado Convention Center, which ultimately went by the site of the old one on 14th Street.

And then there was Elitch's. Although a small part of Elitch Gardens was still devoted to actual gardens, by the '70s the park was mostly about rides. In fact, the Gurtlers tore down the Trocadero in 1975 to make room for more of them. "They did not like the location or the urban setting," says Goodstein. "They didn't like the street kids of the northside hanging around. They actually put spikes along the planter beds outside the front gates so nobody could sit down on them. It was not very welcoming,"

The Gurtlers made it known that they wanted out of the area, threatening to move Elitch Gardens to the suburbs — a revenue loss that Denver most definitely wanted to avoid. But the city was going to have to come up with somewhere else to put the park, and the area along the Platte southwest of downtown was starting to look like an attractive option. Except for that slight problem of radioactive contamination.

In 1983, the Environmental Protection Agency stepped in and made the old radium plant, as well as other radium-contaminated areas around the city, a Superfund cleanup priority, excavating nearly 100,000 tons of radioactive soil from the site over the next decade. Eventually the fourth generation of Gurtlers ponied up $6 million for the property, and the campaign slogan "Vote for Elitch's — it's Denver!" convinced the city's voters in 1989 to approve spending major dollars on road and infrastructure improvements at the site. Elitch's owners spent another $90 million moving fifteen of the park's twenty major rides to the new location, which opened in 1995. But the reincarnated Elitch's didn't meet sales goals, and two years later Elitch Gardens went to the highest corporate bidder.

The current ownership of Elitch's is complicated. After a decade-long stint as Six Flags Over Elitch Gardens, the park — the only amusement park in the center of a major city — is now the property of an entertainment corporation that leases the operations to another entertainment corporation. Nevertheless, heritage is important at Elitch Gardens. "Unlike a lot of theme parks, Elitch's is known for great live shows," says Elitch spokeswoman Debbie Gibson. "It's a tradition."

This year, for example, the park built a new stage for a show called Rock School for Kids in Kiddieland. (That's another tradition: Elitch's opened the original Kiddieland in 1952, one of the first amusement parks to do so at a time when most still catered almost exclusively to adults.) "It's a cool and funky, silly interactive musical show designed to get kids and grownups dancing," Evans says.

In the building it calls the Trocadero — whose interior echoes the original — Elitch's is now offering Cirque Innosta Verano. "It's a revue-type show with aerial acts, balancing acts, an indoor garden and a lot of great music," says Evans. "We've redesigned the stage this year and put the stage in the center of the theater to really get the guests in the middle of the experience."

Elitch's is also rolling out three new rides this year — unusual for a single season. "In the world of theme and water parks, generally a new ride would be installed once every couple of years," notes Evans. Last year, after a management change at the park, the new bosses decided to focus on customer service rather than add new rides. This year, though, that's changed: "The patrons of Elitch's deserved some new rides," she says. And here's what they're getting:

Rock n Tug: "It literally looks like a tugboat, and it slides back and forth and up and down to sort of simulate the motion of riding on waves," Evans explains. "Kids and adults can ride together on this one."

Tike Bikes: "Little scale-bound motorcycles that kids can sit on and ride around in a circle pretending like they're feeling the feel of the open air through their hair," Evans says.

Tube Top: A big, fully enclosed water slide for anyone 48" or taller. "You ride on a four-person or two-person tube, and as soon as you launch into the ride, you launch into darkness," Evans says. "You go though a funnel-shaped vortex, and then a twisty slide and a waterfall into the pool below."

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