ESTES PARK • The tower steals the present.
In documentaries and newspaper clippings and passed-down tales about Historic Park Theatre, the title or the photograph or the punchline goes to the tower. When folks stroll by the theater, their eyes go to the tower.
It is smart for the 80-foot construction to attract consideration, with its colourful neon lights and an much more colourful historical past. It has drawn a lot consideration the theater usually known as the Tower of Love as a substitute of its given identify.
It’s one thing massive to behold on this small mountain city.
However when you focus an excessive amount of on the tower, you may miss the story in regards to the century-old chairs contained in the theater. They’re lined with pink material and uncomfortable sufficient for the proprietor to purposefully decide out of displaying longer motion pictures to avoid wasting clients from tooshie torture. Even for shorter motion pictures, clients are inspired to seize a supplied cushion or blanket. When there was speak of updating the chairs, theatergoers revolted like they do about altering any piece of this historic place.
Behind the ticket counter, you wouldn’t need to miss the story a few 5-year-old woman who as soon as sat on Roy Rogers’ lap and the way she grew as much as personal this theater. You’ll see she’s nonetheless giving out tickets in her 70s. Elsewhere, you’ll see posters from the largest motion pictures in historical past and a classic “No smoking” signal. You’ll hear of ghost encounters and a labor of affection that retains this theater’s lights on.
On an excellent evening, you’ll see the theater’s seats fill. Even on an evening with fewer folks, the theater has that particular feeling guests describe as “vigorous.”
And the tower? It’s empty inside. All the time has been.
On a tour of Historic Park Theatre, co-owner Jenna MacGregor presents a spiel about this place’s declare to fame: It’s the nation’s oldest single-house movement image theater that was initially constructed as a movie show and continues to be working.
Every phrase right here is vital, she says. There’s an older theater in Kansas that opened in 1905, but it surely now has two screens. Older ones, corresponding to Orpheum Theater in Denver, had been demolished in favor of one thing new.
So The Park has cemented its place in historical past, as evidenced by a list on the Nationwide Register of Historic Locations. That transfer, in 1984, was a tactic to avoid wasting the theater from ever being torn down.
MacGregor speaks of many issues that would’ve taken down the theater. The Garden Lake flood of 1982. One other flood in 2013. A lighting strike straight to the tower. A more moderen movie show on the town. The latest risk, COVID-19, continues to be looming.
It’s a surprise the theater has survived many years of obstacles. However it’s not a thriller.
“It’s solely nonetheless right here due to my household,” mentioned MacGregor, who owns the theater along with her mom, Sharon Steely.
They’re the newest in a small line of people that have saved the theater alive. Every proprietor has his or her personal tales, a few of that are misplaced, and others of which have developed into their very own type of folklore.
The theater’s story begins in 1913, because the film business was simply starting. Round that point, there have been greater than 21,000 film theaters within the nation, in accordance with Britannica.
The theater was born just a few years after the close by Stanley Lodge made its fashionable debut in 1909. Each had been supposed to ascertain Estes Park’s popularity as “a really excessive class and high-end touristy city,” says Sean Doherty, who has made two documentaries about Park Theatre.
“It should’ve been fairly distinctive and fashionable to have a theater in a city like this in these days,” Doherty mentioned. “It nonetheless amazes me that it was constructed within the first place.”
The theater quickly belonged to a person named Ralph Gwynn. He’s the one who added the tower and the foyer in 1926. He’s the one who talked his manner into getting a few of Hollywood’s largest motion pictures to play there.
Gwynn is called the person behind the theater’s early success. He’s also called a mysterious fellow who lived behind the theater’s display.
As Doherty researched, he struggled to discover a single photograph of Gwynn. However he was instructed Gwynn at all times wore a swimsuit and died in a weird manner: He went to a sandwich store, returned to the theater and yelled, “Oh, God, let there be rain.” He then had a deadly coronary heart assault.
At the least that’s the story folks inform. And other people inform tales in regards to the tower.
Some suppose Gwynn constructed the monolith as a metaphor, however there are a number of metaphors at play.
Maybe Gwynn constructed the tower after the love of his life left him on the altar. The heartbroken man needed the tower to resemble his coronary heart with out her: empty.
Or, possibly, he needed the tower to resemble the girl: hole on the within and delightful on the surface.
One other idea? The tower was designed to appear like a jukebox, as a testomony to Gwynn’s improvements in sound.
“I can’t say I’ve an opinion both manner,” Doherty says. “I assume we’ll by no means know for positive.”
After Gwynn’s dying, a businessman who didn’t know a lot in regards to the enterprise purchased the theater in 1963. Inside a couple of years, it modified palms once more to some who knew all the pieces in regards to the enterprise.
Mickey and Ola Stanger started working theaters in Colorado in 1946 and handed on their love for the films to their youngsters, together with daughter Sharon Steely.
The film biz made for a magical childhood. She by no means needed to go away it.
“I’m in my 70s, and I’ve been within the theater enterprise since I used to be 1,” Steely mentioned. “I grew up completely happy and it retains me completely happy.”
Similar along with her daughter. MacGregor, 46, realized the way to promote tickets earlier than she may speak. By now, The Park looks like a member of the household and a second residence.
“If I’m feeling down, I simply come right here,” she mentioned. “It turns my day round.”
While you’re right here, you see rugs held on the partitions, an old school helper for sound high quality. When the film is about to start out, the sunshine bulbs that appear like candelabras dim. You sink right into a cushion on prime of the pink chair and sink your ft in opposition to the picket ground, the place so many others have positioned their ft. It’s time to look at the display, however you’ll catch folks trying round, possibly on the piano within the nook or possibly up on the picket beams on the ceiling. All over the place you look, there’s a way that you just’re seeing a film prefer it was meant to be seen.
That’s why every time Park Theater was at risk of closing, MacGregor’s household stepped in.
Over the previous yr, because the pandemic closed the theater for months at a time, MacGregor made up for misplaced income by promoting a home. She and her mother leaned on their different companies, together with an out of doors beer backyard on the town.
“Our world revolves across the theater,” MacGregor mentioned. “We’ll do something for it.”
“We wish the theater to be right here for generations,” her mom provides. “It’s a treasure.”
You’ll see the 2 of them most nights on the theater, pouring butter on popcorn and smiling whereas they ask clients in the event that they’ve been right here earlier than.
They know the regulars, corresponding to Doherty, who sees a film right here a few times a month. As a filmmaker and historical past buff, he says seeing motion pictures at Park Theatre doesn’t examine with streaming at residence.
“It brings again that misplaced artwork of when going to a theater was actually a giant deal,” he mentioned. “Being in right here, you’ll be able to really feel the historical past. You may see it and really feel it.”
When you ask Seely, it additionally doesn’t examine with film theaters of the fashionable day.
“These 24 plexes, neglect ‘em,” she mentioned. “That is the theater expertise.”
They’ve seen numerous motion pictures right here, however mother and daughter nonetheless wish to sneak into the again row. They will’t assist however need to be a part of the magic, as arms wrap round shoulders and shared laughs kind a refrain. Collectively, they let their troubles drift away whereas the film performs.
When the credit roll and folks drive away, the Tower of Love will stay in sight above all of the city’s shorter buildings. After which the tower will fade into the rearview.
However phrases from a girl in her 70s may stick in your thoughts.
“Have you ever been in a theater you want higher than this?” Seely is understood to ask clients, who at all times shake their heads.
“There you go. There’s nothing prefer it.”