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Our story begins in 1887 when John and Mary Elitch purchased the 16-acre Chilcott Farm in Highland. They eventually began to develop their farm into a day resort, called the Elitch’s Zoological Gardens, which opened in May of 1890. The theatre, as it appears today, was built a year later.
The Historic Elitch Gardens Theatre has been described as “one of the cradles of American drama” and has hosted such stars as Grace Kelly, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Debbie Reynolds, Vincent Price, and many more. The theatre was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, and locally landmarked by the City of Denver in 1995. In 1991, a 100th anniversary show was performed and it would be the last full production on the historic stage.
The Historic Elitch Gardens Theatre Foundation was founded in 2002 with the goal of restoring the theatre to its former glory. 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) and the funds were in place to start Phase 1 of the theatre restoration. Work was completed by late 2007.
In 2011 the City of Denver’s Office of Economic Development awarded the Elitch Theatre a grant for $425,000 for Phase 2 of the restoration, which included interior health and safety upgrades. Additional funds were raised by generous donors and phase 2 was completed in 2014.
With the completion of Phase 2 the theatre 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 theatre celebrated its 125th anniversary and in 2017 the fundraising began for Phase 3 of the restoration, which will include lobby renovations and restrooms.