The theater that screened Colorado’s first motion picture will open its doors to moviegoers once again on June 16 for a screening of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. The showing kicks off the Historic Elitch Theatre’s 2017 Summer Film Series, a fundraising effort to restore a gem of Denver history.
The theater had its first season in 1891 and is named for Mary Elitch, the matron here and of Elitch Gardens, who was known for her collection of odd animals including an ostrich that drove her around in a wagon. This is your chance to use the force and help a dedicated team of volunteers patch the roofs, secure the upper balcony and tidy up one of the last architectural remnants of Ms. Elitch’s legacy.
Historically, the Elitch Theatre was beloved by the big stars of the old days. Names like Vincent Price and Grace Kelly can be found among the people listed as performers. According to tour guide Daniel Rios, Clark Gable was turned down here as a result of his odd mustache and protruding ears.
Today, Rios is one of the dedicated people who have been working to restore the facility. On Saturday, he could be found prepping for their first screening alongside his sister Amaya and his mother, Jennifer Kain-Rios, who’s on the theater’s board of directors.
When the Elitch Theatre closed in 1991, the tourguide Rios said, the building became neglected. Holes in the walls let in mice. Nonexistent foundations let foxes burrow in from beneath the floorboards in pursuit of the mice. Pigeons took over the ceilings and made a mess of the balcony.
“It took a lot of time to clean that out,” he said.
Despite some obvious fix-its that remain, the team has made a lot of progress. They’ve had a handful of shows in the theater in the last few years and many more on the lawn outside.
With every new event, the preservationists’ cause gets a little more support and a little more capital to keep the improvements going. For the film screening, organizers suggest a $5 minimum donation to attend.