Denver’s Lost Movie Theaters Take 1: Roll 'Em

Empire, 2936 Larimer Street: Little is known about this venue; extensive remodeling has left only its marquee.
Empire, 2936 Larimer Street: Little is known about this venue; extensive remodeling has left only its marquee.
Brad Weismann

There are ghosts on the grid.

The new owners of what was once the Webber movie theater at 119 South Broadway recently applied for a certificate of non-historic status — a first step toward allowing the building to be demolished. Losing landmarks is nothing new in Denver; waves of development have been altering the city’s landscape since the town was nothing more than a plank set across two whiskey barrels. Decade after decade, booms and busts have left the town crammed with a hodgepodge of buildings from every era, living together in funky familiarity.

A lot of iconic places are gone now, grand old caverns that decayed into eyesores and then were scraped away for the sake of redevelopment. I miss many of them, but in particular I miss the movie theaters. The region is lucky, though, since sixteen period movie houses survived, and still show movies or serve as concert halls. However, at least 130 cinemas that used to exist in the area no longer do. So I decided to find what was left of them.

From the turn of last century to the Great Depression, Denver’s downtown was a lively, lit-up, “open” town – one in which booze, women, gambling and other vices could be accessed easily. Curtis Street was an illuminated canyon of theaters, pool halls, cafes, hotels, bars and restaurants. When he visited, Thomas Edison called Curtis “the best lighted street in America” – but as it turns out, Edison would show up in any given town and make the same assertion. He was an inventor who was also a skilled and ruthless promoter.

The names, the wonderful names, were the first thing that hit me during my research. Scattered across downtown were movie theaters such as the Bijou, the Rivoli, the Mystic, the Lyric, the Fun, the Gem, the Ritz, the Comet, the Alpha and the Omega.

The changes in the number of cinemas and their vectors across the city are instructive. From crowding the oddly oriented streets of old downtown, theaters made a solid leap into the Highlands area, and slower encroachments south along Broadway. By and large, these beautiful picture palaces, large and small, didn't survive. And after the '30s — which started with the opening of the Mayan Theater — few new houses were built for decades. The mass exit to the suburbs after World War II, coupled with the rise of TV, killed the theater business. There was an explosion of drive-ins, though, and Denver boasted almost two dozen between when the first one was built — the East 70 at 12600 East Colfax Avenue in Aurora, in 1947 — and the first went down, when the Valley at 6360 East Evans Avenue was closed in 1977.

I have favorites. The Centre, with its unique catty-corner entrance at 16th and Cleveland and steep, curving, fairy-tale balcony staircases. The magnificent Aladdin, at 2000 East Colfax Avenue, was the first movie house west of the Mississippi to play The Jazz Singer in 1927 (it turned back into a live stage house for a time after failing as a movie house in the early 1980s, but couldn’t be saved and was torn down for a Walgreens). The Vogue on South Pearl Street was the perfect little neighborhood cinema, noted for its art films. And no one who ever saw a show at the Cinerama-sized Cooper and the Century 21 will forget the experience.

Here are some of Denver’s lost theaters:

Webber/Kitty’s South, 119 South Broadway: The Webber was built in 1915 as a showplace and headquarters of the small regional Webber chain. It closed in 2007 after many years of service as part of the Kitty’s adult theater chain.
Webber/Kitty’s South, 119 South Broadway: The Webber was built in 1915 as a showplace and headquarters of the small regional Webber chain. It closed in 2007 after many years of service as part of the Kitty’s adult theater chain.
Brad Weismann
Empire, 2936 Larimer Street.
Empire, 2936 Larimer Street.
Brad Weismann
Berkeley/Alcott, 3936 Tennyson Street: Opened as the Berkeley in 1908, then became the Alcott in 1918. Closed in the late ‘20s due to the success of the nearby Oriental Theater, then became a grocery store, then housed a furniture company. In the mid-1960s, it became home to the venerable Flesher-Hinton music company. Now that company is leaving, and the building is valued at close to $1,000,000.
Berkeley/Alcott, 3936 Tennyson Street: Opened as the Berkeley in 1908, then became the Alcott in 1918. Closed in the late ‘20s due to the success of the nearby Oriental Theater, then became a grocery store, then housed a furniture company. In the mid-1960s, it became home to the venerable Flesher-Hinton music company. Now that company is leaving, and the building is valued at close to $1,000,000.
Brad Weismann
Rex/Yates/Coronet, 4979 West 44th Avenue: Dating back to 1926, the auditorium still exists, and the space is in limbo.
Rex/Yates/Coronet, 4979 West 44th Avenue: Dating back to 1926, the auditorium still exists, and the space is in limbo.
Brad Weismann
Lakeside Twin, 4655 Harlan Street, Wheat Ridge: Now the Queen of Vietnamese Martyrs Church.
Lakeside Twin, 4655 Harlan Street, Wheat Ridge: Now the Queen of Vietnamese Martyrs Church.
Brad Weismann
Tower/Crest, 2245 Kearney Street: For many years after its theatrical life ended, this space served as a church of one kind or another.
Tower/Crest, 2245 Kearney Street: For many years after its theatrical life ended, this space served as a church of one kind or another.
Brad Weismann
Flatirons, 1089 13th Street, Boulder : Opened in 1950, closed in 2009. A large, comfortable, movie-watching venue perpetually hamstrung by the lack of parking nearby.
Flatirons, 1089 13th Street, Boulder : Opened in 1950, closed in 2009. A large, comfortable, movie-watching venue perpetually hamstrung by the lack of parking nearby.
Brad Weismann
Grand, 2017 Larimer Street: This empty venue stands next to the Marquis Theater downtown.EXPAND
Grand, 2017 Larimer Street: This empty venue stands next to the Marquis Theater downtown.
Brad Weismann
Art, 1326 Pearl Street, Boulder: After service as a movie house, the space became the great live venue the Blue Note for many years.
Art, 1326 Pearl Street, Boulder: After service as a movie house, the space became the great live venue the Blue Note for many years.
Brad Weismann
Regency, 1109 Walnut Street, Boulder : A cinema from 1969 through 1989, the space has held a poolroom, bars and restaurants since then.
Regency, 1109 Walnut Street, Boulder : A cinema from 1969 through 1989, the space has held a poolroom, bars and restaurants since then.
Brad Weismann
Baker/Federal, 3830 Federal Boulevard: After dormant decades, a local theater group attempted to restore this auditorium in the 1990s, but the cost to bring the structure up to code was prohibitive. It’s served time as a carpet warehouse, and now holds an evangelical church.
Baker/Federal, 3830 Federal Boulevard: After dormant decades, a local theater group attempted to restore this auditorium in the 1990s, but the cost to bring the structure up to code was prohibitive. It’s served time as a carpet warehouse, and now holds an evangelical church.
Brad Weismann
Denver’s Lost Movie Theaters Take 1: Roll 'Em (14)
Brad Weismann

Watch for more lost theaters soon.

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