Denver Movie Theaters: The Glory Years
In the days before cable television, Netflix, and Blockbuster (RIP), there was only one way to see a motion picture and that was to see it at an actual movie theater. Back then, a trip to the movie theater was a relatively affordable form of entertainment, but the entertainment was anything but cheap.
That golden era of movie theater programming and architecture is captured perfectly in a wonderful book we ran across recently, titled, The Flick and I, by Ralph J. Batschelet. Mr. Batschelet spent the bulk of his professional life managing a string of iconic Denver movie theaters including the Bluebird, Paramount, and Mayan.
If you never had the pleasure of visiting a movie theater in the pre-cable days, it's safe to say that it was a very different experience than visiting a multiplex today. In fact, all you need to know about that era comes from the subtitle of Batschelet's book, "The heyday of the movies when the theaters were palaces and the manager was king."
Thanks to an incredible amount of competition (Denver once boasted as many as 66 movie theaters) movie managers of Batschelet's era were expected to put on a show themselves in an attempt to draw customers. This showmanship included everything from giving away live cats to promote the Disney picture, "That Darned Cat," to handing out bags of groceries to customers during the hard times of the Great Depression.
One particularly intriguing, but completely unsubstantiated, nugget from The Flick and I is the suggestion that Denver's Paramount Theater was one of the first movie theaters in the country to serve buttered popcorn.
According to Batschelet, buttered popcorn wasn't served in theaters prior to 1944 because theater owners were worried that the butter would stain their customers' clothing. Batschelet and his crew at the Paramount boldly broke through this perceived barrier by ladling creamy butter on popcorn without reservation. Their experiment was so successful that buttered popcorn became standard movie fare throughout the world.
The glory days of Denver's movie palaces are long gone, but anyone who wants to relive those days should definitely take a look at some of the materials we've collected at the Western History and Genealogy Department including:
- Easy Come, Easy Go, or, LeRoy Hafen's Afternoon at the Movies by Clark Secrest
- Our Show Houses: A History of Movie Theaters in Grand Island, Nebraska by John Sorenson
- Left in the Dark, Portraits of San Francisco Movie Theaters by R.A. McBride
NOTE: Longtime Denver residents might find the title of Batschelet's book a bit confusing because there was once a movie theater called "The Flick" at Larimer Square. Despite its title, this book has nothing to do with that particular movie house. In fact, the Larimer Flick doesn't even rate a mention in the The Flick and I.
I was privileged to have been a projectionist during the latter days of the theatre experience, 1971-1988. Different? Yes. I worked at the Mayan before and after its "renovation." We had several banks of colored lights that could be brought up separately or together to create an atmosphere that, enhanced by the architecture, made an ethereal world onto itself. Waterfall curtains in some theatres made for a very elegant presentation. This era of showmanship passed all to soon in the 1970s and 1980s.
Hi Thomas! Thanks for sharing your memories with us. Though we've seen plenty of great movie theater innovations since that time (stadium seating, etc...) there was definitely something special about the presentation and showmanship from the bygone days.
Growing up in Chicago in the 50's-60's movies were released in the downtown theatres and select neighborhood theatres. Theatres had only 1 screen. When I left Chicago, in '76 , there were still double features. Two movies for one admission.
I was 4 years old back in 1948 when I arrived in Denver and I think I have been in all the theaters in operation through the years, but don't remember ever being the theater called ISIS! that was the "Good Ol Days" Took a girl on my very first date to see West Side Story at the Centre Theater when the movie came out. Wanted to marry that girl, but she was not interested, me being a poor boy!
Sure do miss those places and have been to almost all the drive ins too. My favorite was the Lakeshore Drive in. Nothing is permanent now, here today, gone tomorrow "R.I.P.
Thanks sharing those memories with us K.A. Even though you didn't get the girl, we hope you enjoyed the movie! And you're absolutely right about nothing being permanent.
Thanks for sharing, and this is of my memories, I was born in 1936 here in Denver. Some of the theaters I remember were, Tabor, Paramount, Denver, RKO Orpheum, Denham, Center, Mayan, Webber, Jewel, Alameda, Comet, Gothic, there are more that I have been too. This may help with your memories of the great time that we lived in.
Hi BLG - I've seen pictures of a few of these gems. They must have really been something to see. Thanks for jogging our memories!
You must have forgotten the Ritz on S. Broadway(changed to Kitty's Cine Art) at some point. I lived just across the alley on S. Lincoln, my Mother would give me a buck for a double feature, food, and an afternoon of skating at Skateland on the south end of the same block.
Hi Randy! So many great old theaters, it's easy to miss a few. Thanks for reminding us. That neighborhood has changed so much recently, I wonder how long before Kitty's is a brew pub?
Anyone remember the small movie theater I believe was on Welton Street across from Fontius Shoes that had a small parking lot attached to it.
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