It's been one setback after another for the Historic Elitch Theatre, a circa 1891 structure that's one of the last vestiges of the days when Mary Elitch ran her amusement park in northwest Denver.
Elitch alumnus Cecil B. Demille described the theater as “one of the cradles of American drama,” and there's certainly been plenty of drama involved with the building.
When Elitch Gardens moved downtown, after voters approved a 1989 bond measure that would add $14.9 million in infrastructure to the Platte Valley location, the theater remained in its original home. As houses went up around it, a foundation was formed to pay for the theater's restoration, and that foundation has organized numerous fundraising events over the past few years.
But on June 4, the board of the Historic Elitch Theatre Foundation announced that it was canceling its 2018 season because of unexpected damages. Here's the message:
We are deeply saddened to say that we will be canceling our 2018 events at the Theatre. It has been a rough month with many more ahead of us as we process through the damages of the Theatre. As more information becomes available we will pass it along. The support you have given us has been amazing. The journey; while hard at times has created great accomplishments and great joy in our hearts. Here is the press release that we will be sending out shortly. We wanted you to hear it from us first.
Due to previously unforeseen circumstances, the Historic Elitch Theatre Foundation regrets that it must cancel the 2018 Summer Programming at the Theatre. The wind damage to the Historic Elitch Theatre was extensive; estimates for the required work to repair the Theatre are ongoing. Some temporary repairs have been completed. The Board continues to assess the mounting fiscal implications.
1. What is the Historic Elitch Theatre Foundation Board doing to repair the damage?
We are working with our insurance company, construction companies, historical restoration companies and our landlord to assess and evaluate the scope of the work required, the timeline and feasibility of restoring the integrity of the structure.
2. Does the Theatre have insurance coverage?
Yes. We are working with our insurance company to assess what our policy covers based on the damage reports that are available and being generated in ongoing assessments.
3. What can we do to help?
Please stay tuned for announcements of opportunities to participate in off-site programming.
4. Why can’t the movies and events happen out on the lawn?
The Theatre building where all the equipment and logistics are housed for the summer movie series is completely inaccessible.
5. Will sponsorship and ticket monies be returned?
Yes all monies will be returned.
Thank you again for being so faithful to this historic treasure!
John and Mary Elitch purchased the sixteen-acre Chilcott Farm northwest of Denver in 1887 and began developing Elitch’s Zoological Gardens, which they opened in May 1890. The theater was added a year later.
During its summer seasons, the theater hosted such stars as Grace Kelly, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Debbie Reynolds, Vincent Price and many more. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, and locally landmarked by the City of Denver in 1995.
The Historic Elitch Theatre Foundation was founded in 2002 with the goal of restoring the theater; the total cost of restoration was estimated at $14.2 million. By August 2006 the Foundation had raised approximately $5 million (with $1.2 of that going to the restoration of the Carousel House). In 2011 the City of Denver’s Office of Economic Development awarded Elitch Theatre a grant for $425,000 for Phase 2 of the restoration, which included interior health and safety upgrades. With the completion of Phase 2, the theater was granted temporary occupancy and, for the first time in fourteen years, the building was open to the public for tours and events.
In 2016 the theater celebrated its 125th birthday. In 2017, according to the website, the fundraising began for Phase 3 of the restoration, which will include lobby renovations and restrooms. But that budget didn't take into account recent damage.
And now that schedule is gone with the wind.
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