Long intermission between acts
Live music returns to Historic Elitch Theatre, ending 23 years of silence.
Emmylou Harris, the Bodeans and Air Supply were some of the final musical acts to perform at the Historic Elitch Theatre in summer 1994.
When the Elitch Gardens amusement park relocated to the Central Platte Valley that fall, the venue near the 3800 block of Tennyson stayed behind and was shuttered.
Pigeons, vermin and decay overtook the once-esteemed summer stock theater that hosted Grace Kelly, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Debbie Reynolds and many other performers. Ray Charles played there in 1989.
But the 126-year-old theater has undergone enough restoration to host large audiences once again. On Saturday evening, the Sweet Lillies took the stage, before The Sunnyside All-Star String Band.
“The community is becoming more aware of us. They want it to become a venue again,” said Tracy Frickey, president of The Historic Elitch Theatre Foundation, the volunteer-run nonprofit in charge of restoring and maintaining the theater.
Saturday evening’s performance was a fundraiser for the Sunnyside Music Festival, a free community bluegrass and folk concert scheduled for Sept. 9 at Chaffee Park.
About 160 tickets were sold in advance for the fundraiser Saturday, said Noah Teitelbaum, president of the festival.
“Part of our proceeds go to support music programs for children,” he said.
Frickey said Mary Elitch Long, who founded the park with her husband, regularly hosted Denver children, especially orphans, and exposed them to the arts, music, botany and other subjects. That’s one reason hosting the fundraiser seemed like a good fit, she said.
The theater took on public tours in late April as part of Tours Open Denver. The foundation has applied for Scientific and Cultural Facilities District funding, which requires hosting other arts groups and being open to the public.
But more work needs to be done before the theater can be leased out for events big or small. Sections of seats were cordoned off, and the upper balconies, although structurally sound, remained off limits because of safety concerns.
Frickey estimates the building, which is in the third phase of its restoration, needs at least an additional $2 million of interior improvements, including restrooms, an elevator and a lobby restoration.
A separate fundraiser for the theater itself is planned for Aug. 26 and will feature Hazel Miller, a supporter who is donating her talents to the cause, Frickey said.