Denver's Lost Movie Theaters, Take 2

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After World War II, downtown Denver started to decay, and movie palaces disappeared. The Curtis Street pleasure row came down, and the grand old houses that remained turned into adult-film showrooms, places that sold beer, too, dark and dangerous and filled with stink. (The tradition of dirty movies downtown is old. A Rocky Mountain News story from October 16, 1928, describes the Gem at 1746 Curtis Street being shut down by the police for showing “stag” films. In 1928! Hotcha.)

I remember my mother walking me to Woolworth’s downtown in the late 1960s, passing the Denham at 1810 California Street, where a placard outside read “ALL MALE.”

“Can we go see a movie?” I asked.

“Not that kind,” she answered. We moved on.

Finally, the last trees came crashing down. The Denham disappeared in 1974, following the demolition of the Centre, the Victory and the Orpheum. The Denver was destroyed in 1980. The Flick got the boot in 1982 — although the wonderful Victorian building that housed it is still standing.

Unmemorable multiplexes were now the thing. But those, too, are going — although their demise is not as regrettable. Was the Tivoli 12 ever anything but an ambitious, unworkable space? The Brentwood 4 at Federal and Evans always smelled bad, and was notable primarily for the variety of illegal drugs available for purchase. Villa Italia suffered from very bad Space Age décor, including forty-foot-long diaphanous lobby curtains that were never cleaned, and rows fifty seats across with no center aisle – god help you if you had a bladder problem.

As far as I can recall, only two single-screen theaters were built in the region over the last 35 years. The first was the Frank Ricketson Cinema at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, which boasted a gorgeous projection system and a well-curated art-film program that only lasted from 1980 to 1988 (it’s now a black-box theater for live performance, the Ricketson Theatre.) The second and last is the lavish sixty-seat Boedecker at Boulder’s Dairy Center for the Arts, which opened in February 2011.

Today we have sixteen functioning heirloom theaters in the area. Twenty-one other former movie palaces are still standing, but no longer theaters. Several have become either churches or porn outlets — read into that what you will. For example, 3333 West Alameda Avenue, which once housed the beautiful Tabor, now hosts the Hollywood Love Boutique. Today some of these spaces look like prime targets for redevelopment — and with the current backlash towards such analog pleasures as vinyl, maybe one or two will even start to show films again!

But in the meantime, let’s take a look at more of these cinematic landmarks before they change again — or vanish entirely.

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