‘There’s nothing prefer it’: A historic Colorado movie show lives on, due to a household’s combat for its survival | Arts & Leisure

ESTES PARK • The tower steals the present.

In documentaries and newspaper clippings and passed-down tales about Historic Park Theatre, the title or the picture 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 typically known as the Tower of Love as an alternative of its given title.


The tower on the Historic Park Theatre in Estes Park typically known as the Tower of Love and is a star attraction within the mountain city.

It’s one thing large to behold on this small mountain city.

However when you focus an excessive amount of on the tower, you may miss the story concerning the century-old chairs contained in the theater. They’re coated with purple material and uncomfortable sufficient for the proprietor to purposefully choose out of exhibiting longer films to save lots of prospects from tooshie torture. Even for shorter films, prospects are inspired to seize a offered cushion or blanket. When there was discuss of updating the chairs, theatergoers revolted like they do about altering any piece of this historic place.

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Unique seats of the Historic Park Theatre in Estes Park, Colo., on Oct. 7, 2021. The Historic Park Theatre is the oldest single-house movement image theatre within the nation that was initially constructed as a film theatre and remains to be in operation at present. Jenna MacGregor and her mom Sharon Steely personal and function the theater after it was owned by Steely’s mother and father Mickey and Ola Stanger. (Chancey Bush / The Gazette)

Behind the ticket counter, you wouldn’t wish to miss the story a few 5-year-old lady 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 most important films 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 a very good 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.

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The Historic Park Theatre is the oldest single-house movement image theatre within the nation that was initially constructed as a film theatre and remains to be in operation at present. Jenna MacGregor and her mom Sharon Steely personal and function the theater after it was owned by Steely’s mother and father Mickey and Ola Stanger. (Chancey Bush / The Gazette)

On a tour of Historic Park Theatre, co-owner Jenna MacGregor affords 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 remains to be working.

Every phrase right here is necessary, she says. There’s an older theater in Kansas that opened in 1905, however it now has two screens. Older ones, reminiscent of 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 save lots of 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 recent movie show on the town. The latest risk, COVID-19, remains to be looming.

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BELOW: The Park is listed on the Nationwide Register of Historic Locations.

It’s a marvel the theater has survived a long time of obstacles. But it surely’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 stored the theater alive. Every proprietor has his or her personal tales, a few of that are misplaced, and others of which have advanced into their very own form of folklore.

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Jenna MacGregor, co-owner of the Historic Park Theatre, factors to an previous {photograph} of the city of Estes Park contained in the theater early this month. The Park is the oldest single-house movement image theatre within the nation that was initially constructed as a movie show and remains to be in operation at present.

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 keeping with Britannica.

The theater was born just a few years after the close by Stanley Resort made its fashionable debut in 1909. Each had been meant to ascertain Estes Park’s repute 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 trendy 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.”

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LEFT: Vintage piano rolls used to soundtrack silent movies on the Historic Park Theatre.

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 method into getting a few of Hollywood’s largest films to play there.

Gwynn is named the person behind the theater’s early success. He’s also referred to as a mysterious fellow who lived behind the theater’s display screen.

As Doherty researched, he struggled to discover a single picture of Gwynn. However he was informed Gwynn at all times wore a swimsuit and died in a weird method: 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.

A minimum of that’s the story folks inform. And folks inform tales concerning the tower.

Some assume 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, perhaps, he needed the tower to resemble the girl: hole on the within and exquisite on the skin.

One other concept? The tower was designed to appear to be a jukebox, as a testomony to Gwynn’s improvements in sound.

“I can’t say I’ve an opinion both method,” Doherty says. “I assume we’ll by no means know for certain.”

After Gwynn’s loss of life, a businessman who didn’t know a lot concerning the enterprise purchased the theater in 1963. Inside just a few years, it modified palms once more to a few who knew all the pieces concerning the enterprise.

Mickey and Ola Stanger started operating theaters in Colorado in 1946 and handed on their love for the films to their children, 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 blissful and it retains me blissful.”

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Jenna MacGregor owns the Historic Park Theatre along with her mom Sharon Steely in Estes Park. The Historic Park Theatre is the oldest single-house movement image theatre within the nation that was initially constructed as a film theatre and remains to be in operation at present. (Chancey Bush / The Gazette)

Identical along with her daughter. MacGregor, 46, discovered easy methods to promote tickets earlier than she might discuss. By now, The Park seems like a member of the household and a second house.

“If I’m feeling down, I simply come right here,” she mentioned. “It turns my day round.”

Once you’re right here, you see rugs held on the partitions, an old style helper for sound high quality. When the film is about to start out, the sunshine bulbs that appear to be candelabras dim. You sink right into a cushion on high of the purple chair and sink your ft towards the wood ground, the place so many others have positioned their ft. It’s time to observe the display screen, however you’ll catch folks trying round, perhaps on the piano within the nook or perhaps up on the wood beams on the ceiling. In all places 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 would like 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 prospects in the event that they’ve been right here earlier than.

They know the regulars, reminiscent of Doherty, who sees a film right here a couple of times a month. As a filmmaker and historical past buff, he says seeing films at Park Theatre doesn’t evaluate with streaming at house.

“It brings again that misplaced artwork of when going to a theater was actually an enormous deal,” he mentioned. “Being in right here, you may really feel the historical past. You’ll be able to see it and really feel it.”

In case you ask Seely, it additionally doesn’t evaluate with film theaters of the fashionable day.

“These 24 plexes, overlook ‘em,” she mentioned. “That is the theater expertise.”

They’ve seen numerous films right here, however mother and daughter nonetheless wish to sneak into the again row. They’ll’t assist however wish 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 thought to ask prospects, who at all times shake their heads.

“There you go. There’s nothing prefer it.”

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