Ute Theater - CSPM

Ute Theater

Like the rest of the country – residents of Colorado Springs were crazy about movies in the 1930s. Photographs of west Pikes Peak Avenue show a jumble of lighted movie marquees. Several of them had elaborate decorative motifs – including the Ute Theater, which opened on July 12, 1935. Operators of the Ute hired artisans to craft ornate tables, lamps, fixtures, and furnishings evocative of southwest themes. Lester Griswold, master craftsman and author of the authoritative book Handicraft, designed and built this decorative table for the lobby of the theater.

– From the CSPM Curator of History

In the early twentieth century Colorado Springs had a thriving silent picture theatre scene, playing host to the Odeon, Liberty, Princess, America, and Burns Theatre. These theatres employed live musicians to play over the pictures and also held live performances, such as vaudeville shows. With the advent of talking pictures in the 1930’s theatre specifically geared towards showing movies began to arise and supplant the traditional theatres.

One of the most opulent movie theatres in Colorado Springs was the Ute Theatre. In 1935 the Ute was built on the grounds of the old Rialto Theatre. Joseph Cooper, who owned a variety of theatres in the Midwest and West, commissioned the building. He sent architects and designers throughout the southwest to find inspiration in authentic Native America objects and design. Upon completion the theatre had ornate decorations with highly stylized and colored sconces, banisters, and tables. Cooper commissioned Lloyd Moylan, a nationally known artist who specialized in southwest imagery, to paint 2 murals in the main auditorium that were each 40 feet in length.

The Ute Theatre was the setting of an infamous act of discrimination, and resistance, in Colorado Springs. On April 1, 1944 Juanita Hairston, joined her nephew and a friend, went to see a film at the Ute Theatre. After the film had started an usher approached the group and informed them that they would have to move from their seats on the main floor and go to the balcony. Juanita refused as there was a large sign in the lobby advertising all seats as the same price. Eventually the theatre brought in the police and when they deemed Juanita to be causing a disturbance, they forcibly removed her, not even allowing her to return for her purse, which was never located. The NAACP assisted Juanita in filing a lawsuit against the theatre for violating Colorado’s 1935 Civil Rights Law. After numerous legal delays Juanita received $627.18 in 1947, primarily for her lost purse which contained a paycheck.

In the 1960s the Ute Theatre was purchased by Colorado Interstate Gas. The theatre was demolished to make way for office buildings and parking lots. Russ Wilson, owner of the Flying W Ranch, purchased most of the theatre’s décor at auction. Sadly, much of it was destroyed when the Flying W Ranch was burnt in the Waldo Canyon Fire, finally ending the Ute Theatre’s physical legacy in Colorado Springs.

Generously Submitted by Patrick Lee, CSPM Museum Technician

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