Bluebird Theater

It may be January but it is cycling season my friends.  The Tour Down Under started a few days ago and is pretty exciting so far. Since this blog is part bike too, I thought I’d take a moment to discuss my excitement for the 2015 season.  Cycling teams seem to rarely stay the same or at least stay with the same sponsors from one season to the next and my favorite team Cannondale-Garmin is no different.  I’ve been a huge fan of this team since 2008 when they had just emerged onto the WorldTour scene as Garmin-Chipotle.  A great sponsor — I have one of their jerseys and in the back pocket there is a screened-on burrito as you can see below:

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I guess me posting embarrassing photos of myself here is becoming a tradition. I wanted to prove I’m no liar. I miss those blueblockers. In any event, while Denver is blanketed the last few days or so, it’s summer at the Tour Down Under so this blog intro can be a reminder that while we clear the snow off of our cars it will be 70 soon enough.

Intro:

Thoughts of blue skies and warmer weather brings me to today’s post! Located at 3317 East Colfax Avenue we have Denver’s Bluebird Theater.

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I took this photo facing north on Colfax Avenue between Adams and Cook Streets just a few blocks south of the actual City Park but within the City Park neighborhood. It was built in 1914 and marked the city’s first entertainment venue that opened specifically to show talkies movies.

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The Bluebird Theater was designed by architect Harry W.J. Edbrooke who originally started practicing architecture in Chicago.  I have no idea where that city is, but it sounds like a cool place.  As the architect’s biographical sketch by the Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (OAHP) writes of Edbrooke:

He worked as a draftsman for architects William K. Fellows and Howard Van Doren Shaw in Chicago before opening his own office in 1904. In 1908, his uncle Frank invited him to join in his Denver practice. Harry accepted and stayed until his uncle’s retirement in 1913, at which time he established an independent practice.

Another famous Edbrooke-designed landmark in Denver is also another theater: Ogden Theater.

Architecture:

This is probably the first building I’ve blogged about that doesn’t have an easily defined architectural style. In the National Register form, the style is described as “Late 19th early 20th Century American Movements.”

This isn’t immediately very helpful, especially if you aren’t expertly versed in architectural styles.  Luckily, neither am I but I have books and the internet and time to write this blog. Actually, we have talked about this style before, back when I wrote about Acme Lofts.  The Commercial Style is a subset under the larger, “Late 19th early 20th Century American Movements” designation as is the Sullivanesque style.

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From this photo, we can pull out some of the characteristics that influenced this building even if they don’t add up to a very particular, easily-defined style.

There are some Commercial style elements to the Bluebird, though they are altered to fit this non-skyscraper movie theater, they include:

  • decorative cornices
  • a ground floor store front
  • a flat roof
  • masonry wall surface

While most Commercial style buildings are much taller, and not every characteristics of the Commercial style is present, those four examples above help showcase why the Bluebird is defined as “Late 19th early 20th Century American Movements” in the National Register documents.

But the colorful ornamentation with geometric flourishes and the addition of the exuberant sign do point to aspects of the Art Deco style.  This may not have the emphasis on the vertical that Tannem Hall and other examples of the Art Deco style have, but it helps hint at the early 20th century influence of the Bluebird and is a nod to future theaters that often strongly take on Art Deco characteristics. See the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, CA and the Paramount Theatre in Denver, CO for examples.

The Bluebird pulls from other influences, too.  Most notably, the four Victorian-esque finials that rise atop the cornice. Finials defined are usually small decorative features that sit atop a gable or the top of a roof line.

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And so while I did not strictly narrow down a architectural style for this building, I think we can still come away with a good sense of the influences and contextual markings on the Bluebird Theater nonetheless.

 History:

Continuing on in the architectural realm, the Bluebird Theater was a marker for Denver’s transition from the Late Victorian to the Art Deco period, but it also marked other important shifts in Denver.  As the national register document writes:

The theater’s association with movie theater operator Harry Huffman represents his important contributions to the growth and development of movie theater operation in Denver.

Harry E. Huffman acquired the Bluebird in 1921, 7 years after its doors first opened. (Not to be conflated with the Harry that helped design the building) Huffman bought the property from a John Thompson who had originally named the theater, Thompson Theater.

Huffman, who was already quite the movie mogul and later apparently had a mansion commissioned for himself to look like the mansion from the movie Lost Horizon.  After opening the Bluebird, Huffman went on and opened a number of other Denver Theaters like the American and Orpheum.

In the 1940s, the Bluebird — as well as other Huffman owned theaters — played an increasingly patriotic role, more than just the role of entertaining Americans.  War Bonds were sold to patrons who filled the seats during WWII, and apparently at one point Huffman had a contest between all the theaters he owned to see who could get the most war bonds sold per seat. The Bluebird took first.

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As time went on, however, the Bluebird struggled and eventually became the go-to place to see discounted, B-roll films unfortunately without much economic success. By the the 1970s the Bluebird was a place to see XXX rated films, much to the chagrin to many living in the neighborhood. The run didn’t last long, however, and by 1987 the Bluebird closed.

The Bluebird Theater remained closed until the mid-1990s when a new buyer came in and restored the place to become a music venue.  After receiving a $5,000 Colorado State Historical Fund grant to rehabilitate the famed marquee, the Bluebird continues as a thriving venue today.

 What is it today?

Why, it’s the Bluebird Theater, place to see great live music!

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Thanks for stopping by and see you again next time!


Sources:

https://history.denverlibrary.org/bluebird-theaters-blue-nights

http://www.denvergov.org/cpd/CommunityPlanningandDevelopment/LandmarkPreservation/HistoricLandmarksMap/tabid/442537/Default.aspx

Click to access 97000018.PDF

Click to access Architects_edbrookeh.pdf

https://www.google.com/search?q=define+finials&oq=define+finials&aqs=chrome..69i57j0.1702j0j7&sourceid=chrome&es_sm=93&ie=UTF-8

https://books.google.com/books?id=zj7GdZt0cR0C&pg=PA110&lpg=PA110&dq=harry+huffman+movie&source=bl&ots=KQTve8Lu1a&sig=Lrv2u7NmBEVzOmJJjb2flC7LZ4U&hl=en&sa=X&ei=NBbDVLmXAcWOyATZ4oHoAw&ved=0CEkQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=harry%20huffman%20movie&f=false

http://www.thedenvereye.com/shangri-la/

http://cdm16079.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15330coll22/id/37335