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The information from the 1970’s on in the article contains a few inaccurcies and omissions. I want to correct these, especially since there is an important lesson here for anyone concerned about historic preservation.
It is true that the Aladdin was the first theatre in the region to offer sound. A new, much larger screen, was added in front of the stage and the sound system was updated in the mid 1950’s to offer 70mm and 6 track stereo sound and it became one of the premier roadshow houses in the region. It presented “The Sound of Music” in the mid 1960’s for several years because it was so successful. It had many successful runs going into the early 1980’s including showing “Earthquake” in Sensurround and “Star Trek”.
During that time it was leased by National General Corp., which later became Mann Theatres, from the heirs of the owner that built the theatre. When the lease expired Mann theatres chose not to renew it, seeing the trend towards suburban multiplexes.
The theatre was dark for a while until it was leased by a local live theatre impressario named Robert Morise. Morise removed the sound system and screen to reveal the stage for live performances (including revealing the fountains on either side of the stage which were concealed by the screen). This made it costly to reinstall a film system. That proved to be the theatre’s undoing when Morise’s company, the Aladdin Theatre Co. folded several years later.
The theatre sat dark, now owned by a new individual who had purchased from it from the heirs in the intervening years. He was approached by an architect who had a vision of creating an apartment building with small efficiency apartments on the site.
An organization called Friends of the Mayan had successfuly obtained a landmark designation from the Mayan Theatre sometime earlier, not CHUN (Capital Hill United Neighborhoods) as mentioned). I assisted them in that effort with the understanding that they would assist me in saving the Aladdin after that. When we learned of the plan we spoke in front of the Denver City Council in an attempt to have the Aladdin designated a landmark to preserve it. The council was concerned that there was no future for inner city theatres but, as I pointed out to them, the Aladdin has always done well when it had a successful film and someday new theatres would come back into downtowns, but never build a theatre like the Aladdin again. (This proved to be true when AMC Theatres built a multiplex downtown some years later.)
The landmark designation was eminent but there was a 90 day waiting period before it would take effect. During that time the owner, realizing he would lose his ability to redeveloping the land, razed the theatre with no notice to avoid public outcry. We learned about it at the last minute and were able to take some final photos (in near darkness inside) before some the artifacts were removed and the building was demolished.
A tragic and senseless end to what was the most beautiful atmospheric theatre in the Rocky Mountain region. Had the Aladdin survived, I’m confident it would be a unique and successful showplace for Denver today.
Around 2006 a small multiplex was built on east Colfax, not too far from where the Aladdin once stood, which currently shows art films.
I managed the Continental during most of the 1990’s including the first remodel and there are a couple of inaccuracies I want to correct. I know nothing about 35mm replacement lenses being inadequate and replaced for Shawshank Redemption. The same lenses were used throughout my tenure. Part of the design of D-150 was that other film formats were never allowed to come close to filling the screen, 35mm in particular. We did at one time experiment with using a different lens size to enlarge the picture but it was too washed out.
Indeed, the D-150 lenses were still in the booth when I left although they wer extremely scratched and unusable from years of neglect.
The D-150 screen was removed after the fire in 1983. The replacement screen was shorter in height by several feet and quite a bit shorter in length since the format was obsolete, although it retained quite a bit of the D-150’s belly. The original D-150 screen literally extended around the front rows of the theatre, similar to Cinerama.
Auditorium #5 is indeed the original auditorium, which I fondly referred to as “Old Main” after the remodel.
The 70 mm presentations did make the Continental a powerhouse in Denver. The Continental actually grossed over 50% of the Denver area gross out of 10 theatres on “The Abyss”.
Actually, Jim Sutton did not manage the Centre Theatre. He opened and managed the Century 21 Theatre in the late 1960’s, later becoming the City Manager for Denver and then District Manager before relocating to California. I also worked for him during that time and he truly was a wonderful man and was one of my role models as a young man in the exhibition industry. Sadly, he passed away quite a few years ago.
I spent a large percentage of my career working at the Century 21, including helping set up the theatre before it opened and returning years later to manage it.
It was originally built as a roadshow theatre with 70 mm capability and was a remarkable theatre in many ways. Not the least of which was its design. There were no 90 degree right angles or parallel walls in the entire building. Not only did this contribute to a modernistic design, it had practical applications for the auditorium by controlling sound bounce between walls. It was also the first theatre in the region to offer Dolby Stereo, which was installed for Streisand’s “A Star Is Born”.
I do not recall Snow White as being the first film, although it did play there during its first year of operation along with “Quiller Memorandum”, “Gambit” and “Casino Royale”. The very, very first film to play there was “A Funny Thing Happened On My Way To The Forum”, which ran for one night as a special invitational preview for the theatre before it opened to the public. As I recall the first roadshow film to run in the theatre was Disney’s “Happiest Millionaire”.
The Cooper Theatre was located only 4 blocks north of the Century 21. This created problems when they both offered reserved seats on roadshows because customers would purchase tickets for one theatre in advance and then attend the other by mistake, probably confused by the “C” in the names. Periodically they would even get past the doorman (sorry, that’s what they were called in those days), and the usher would realize the error when they couldn’t locate the seat numbers!
It’s heyday came years later when the capability to run “black track soundtracks” was installed. This meant the theatre could run rough cuts of films before the soundtrack was added to the print, allowing it to run advance previews of films. A number of studios used it to show test screenings which would be attended by the stars, producers, directors and studio execs. Dino De Laurentiis tested both “Hurricane” and “King Kong” at the Century 21 and said it was his favorite theatre for previews.
Dantonoff: I think I met your grandfather once at the theatre. I may even have some photos that I can share for your archives if there is a way to contact you.