DENVER — If you’ve ever wondered what that huge space of land in central downtown Denver looked like before becoming home to the now iconic amusement rides at Elitch Gardens, you’ll love this throwback Denver7 news report from the early 1990s.
To commemorate our 70th anniversary, we're opening up our Denver7 video vault to showcase stories and moments over seven decades of covering Colorado.
Plans had long been in the works to move from Elitch’s original location along 38th street in northwest Denver to a 72-acre plot of land along the south Platte River near Speer Blvd.
Denverites were getting nervous.
When this report aired, it had been two years since the artist's renderings and plans had been unveiled. Denver7 reporter Bill Clarke took those concerns to then-Elitch President Sandy Gurtler who wanted to reassure Elitch fans that the empty lot would eventually become what it is today.
He blamed the delays on problems securing financing. “And we thought that that was going to be a little bit easier and didn't quite realize the whole magnitude of it,” Gurtler said.
Because at the time, Elitch was locally owned, Gurtler told Denver7 he wanted to keep the ownership and financing local but ran into trouble with lenders and investors who picked apart pieces of the overall financing package.
“They don't have a niche for us. They can do shopping malls, they can do strip centers, they can do office buildings, housing projects. But where is there a relocated amusement park?? He said.
Eventually, $95 million in financing would come through and the dreams of a new Elitch would become reality as the park opened in 1995 and the historic location closed for the final time after 104 years.
At the time, it was the first amusement park in more than 30 years to be built in any urban area in the country, according to the Elitch Gardens website.
During the 1990s, the park ownership changed hands first by Premier Parks, which acquired Elitch and ending the park's local ownership that lasted for over eight decades. Then in 1998, the park became known as Six Flags Elitch Gardens after Premier Parks purchased the Six Flags brand.
In 2007, CNL Properties purchased the amusement park and its name was returned to Elitch Gardens.
The park's longtime home at 38th and Tennyson underwent a transformation of its own through the years and the legacy of the original Elitch still survives. The historic Elitch Garden Theatre, built in 1891, was part of the original park that featured a zoo and botanic garden.
Through its 132-year-history, Elitch Theatre has had its ups and downs as Denver changed, but even through decades of dormancy, it is now thriving after recently experiencing a revivial.
Denver7 this summer got a behind-the-scenes peek inside the theater as it reopened for free movie nights in hopes of live theater eventually returning on the historic stage. You can watch the feature in the video player below.