Tabor Grand Opera House

16th Street & Curtis Street,
Denver, CO 80202

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Tabor Grand Opera House - c1896

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Horace A.W. Tabor, having made his fortune in the silver mines of Leadville, and having already built a great opera house there, moved his family to Denver, and immediately began making plans to build an even bigger opera house, one that would put Denver on the map.

No expense was spared. The finest woods were used for the seating and boxes, including Japanese cherry and Honduras mahogany, and the decoration was described as “Egyptian Moresque” by one local reporter. Three entrances opened into a rotunda, roofed with stained glass, 70 by 20 feet in dimension. Next to this area was the lobby, decorated with two immense mirrors, and a ceiling painted with frescoes. A large chandelier lighted the scene. The hallways and stairways were covered in rich Wilton carpeting of crimson, with a green border. Plush mohair seats and curved balconies faced the large stage, 72 feet wide by 50 feet deep, which was graced with a huge painted curtain. Seating capacity was 1,500. The ceiling of the auditorium was 65 feet above the floor. In the center was a circular dome 30 feet across, which was painted to represent a sky with clouds. The rest of the area was decorated with laurel leaves and other paintings and murals, in rich maroon, gold, blue, orange and black. Three tiers of box seats rose upward from the front of the auditorium, all of the seats covered with crimson plush. The walls of the interior were covered in wallpaper specially designed for the theater. The floors throughout were done in different woods, with parquet being the predominant style, and much of that was covered with thick Brussels carpeting. Most of the woodwork throughout the building was done in heavy paneling with occasional carving and gilding. Heavy cut glass globes covered the gaslights on all floors.

Aside from grand opera, the Tabor Grand featured light operas, plays, musicals, and played host to many charity balls, concerts and comedies. The All-Star Specialty Company, the Taborettes, and the Pantomime Carnival were among the early acts booked there.

The structure was remodeled considerably in 1921 to accommodate motion pictures. The name was changed to the Colorado Theater, and was changed back to The Tabor in about 1930. What, at the time, was asserted to be the largest steel girder ever installed in a public building, was put into place to hold up the weight of most of the balcony. The rest of the theater, from the lobby to the lounges, was decorated in the then-popular Spanish Renaissance style. Through the 1920s and 1930s some of the biggest names in entertainment played the house. Some were just starting their careers, such as Judy Garland, when she was a member of the singing Gumm sisters, the Andrew Sisters, and a very young Donald O'Connor.

Aside from the vast theater itself, the building held offices for architects, lawyers, physicians and dentists. Shops at street level sold everything from jewelry to shoes. The building was also home to a dance studio, art school and the Civic Symphony Orchestra, predecessor to the Denver Symphony.

The theater held its own during the heyday of the movie palaces, but like many, started to feel a pinch by the mid 1940s. It was sold in 1949 for $1,000,000 and the new owners made an effort to stage legitimate theater there, while struggling to keep up with the advent of television and the flight, by many, to the suburbs. Again known as the Tabor, it held Denver’s premiere of “Around the World in 80 Days” in 1957, and the following year installed a Cinemiracle screen, an offshoot of Cinerama, for the showing of “Windjammer”, the first film using the new process.

Plans were made as early as 1945 to demolish the building for offices, and it faced that threat again in 1961. After a futile attempt to keep its doors open by showing occasional second run movies, it was obvious that the old theater was too big and too costly, and it closed its doors for the final time. The Tabor Grand Opera House was torn down in 1964. The famous painted curtain was given to the Central City Opera House Association that same year, but it was too large to display. It went into storage and remained there for years, disintegrating, before being hauled to the dump. The former Tabor Grand property is now occupied by the Denver branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

Contributed by James Bretz

Recent comments (view all 12 comments)

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on July 4, 2007 at 10:30 am

The Tabor Grand Opera House is listed in the 1897-98 edition of the Julius Cahn Official Theatrical Guide. It was managed by Bush & McCourt. Ticket prices ranged from 25 cents to $1.50. The seating capacity is given as 1,220, but the breakdown does not add up to that figure: Orchestra, 390; Dress Circle, 192; Balcony, 150; Gallery, 130; total: 862, plus box seats, and maybe standees. The house had both gas and electric illumination, and was on the ground floor. The proscenium opening was 33 feet wide X 37 feet high, and the stage was 45 feet deep. There were 8 members of the house orchestra.

philbertgray
philbertgray on November 6, 2007 at 9:14 am

Interior and exterior views of Tabor Grand Opera House

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Interior after remodel in 1931
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stereo view of Tabor exterior
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williame303
williame303 on November 7, 2007 at 10:12 pm

I had the privilege of seeing the Tabor Grand when I was about 10. We went to see the road show presentation of OKLAHOMA in Todd-AO. I knew the Tabor story well (my 4th grade teacher delivered groceries to Baby Doe in Leadville when he was a boy) so I knew the importance of this building. During the intermission I walked down front and turned around to see the entire theatre. The balconies and some of the boxes were there, but the access was closed. Still, it was magnificent.

I couldn’t believe that they tore it down. Sadly, it was in the way of a big urban renewal project in the ‘60s which removed 22 blocks of downtown Denver. Fortunately they couldn’t afford Phase 2, so all the buildings in what is now LoDo were spared.

The Federal Reserve Bank is an interesting building, but in the wrong place. Here’s a photo:

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After 9/11 they decided to put up a better security fence, so they put in a dreadful frilly thing with flower pots that looks like the 1920s. Awful.

Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois
Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois on March 3, 2008 at 8:04 pm

Williame303 – Oh to see OKLAHOMA! in 70mm TODD-AO, SIX TRACK STERO SOUND again! I know they also showed AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, did they show any other 70mm films?

The Tabor Grand Opera House/Caloado was at the Northwest Corner of 16th and Curtis Streets.

Up above they mention that WINDJAMMER was the first film using the new CINEMIRACLE process, which is true. Course it was also the last cause CINERAMA bought them out and ended up showing WINDJAMMER just like other CINERAMA movies.

Nothing is known about what happened to that Robert-Morton Pipe Organ. If you know anything, please email us!

“You’re In The Show With TODD-AO”

William
William on June 17, 2008 at 9:37 am

The Tabor Grand Theatre had a Grand Opening night of April 6th., 1929.

Coate
Coate on July 30, 2009 at 8:23 am

Denver’s complete CINEMIRACLE and CINERAMA exhibition history has been included in the “Remembering Cinerama” series and is posted here.

jimmy650
jimmy650 on August 28, 2010 at 12:02 pm

It must have been 1948, my friend Bob Leffler and I cut class at East High to see Sally Rand at The Tabor. The ticket was $2 and the show was a rip-off. The stage was completely dark, Sally had a huge white fan and a blue spot light. The theater was still grand. Downtown Denver looks little now like it did in the 1940’s, is it progress?

Jim Mimmack
Palo Alto California
.edu

TLSLOEWS
TLSLOEWS on August 28, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Great photos.What a nice theatre.

dhabben30
dhabben30 on April 20, 2012 at 11:55 am

I work at a stone/monument company in Denver CO and we have a pair of the stone columns from the theatre before it closed. We have been in business since the 1920’s and acquired the columns along the way, they are beautiful and in great condition. Should anyone be interested in purchasing the pair please contact me directly.

Darrell Habben, Jr

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 13, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Harry W. J. Edbrooke was not involved in the design of the Tabor Grand Opera House. He was only 18 years old when it was built. His father, Willoughby J. Edbrooke, was one of the architects, and his uncle Frank E. Edbrooke served as supervising architect.

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