Year Listed: 2016
County: Gilpin County
Construction Date: 1875
Threat When Listed: Demolition by Neglect – Vacant
Video courtesy of CBS4
Located at the south end of Main Street in Central City’s National Historic Landmark District stands the famous Belvidere Theatre. Few buildings in town incorporate such a strong sense of place and community as this imposing structure. Now vacant and suffering from years of deferred maintenance, the building only hints at its former grandeur… and what the community hopes the Belvidere will be again.
The Belvidere Theatre has performed many roles for this legendary mining camp since its construction in 1875. As a performance venue, the Belvidere Theatre was the reflection of a rich theatrical tradition in Central City, which was the de facto economic, social and cultural capital of Colorado in the mid-1870s. The Belvidere was constructed after the great fire of 1874 destroyed many of the early Central City buildings. Henry Teller and Judge Silas Hahn proposed this new theater building as a two-story brick structure with business space on the main floor. The second floor (built into the steep hillside) would house a 450-seat performing space with a raised stage with seven sets of scenery. The local paper called it “the finest, if not the largest public hall in the Territory.”
The Belvidere became an instant success among the residents and visitors of Central City. Along with local theatrical and musical performances, the Belvidere hosted traveling theater troupes, magicians, minstrel shows, and band concerts. The theater, however would be undone by its own success: a local production of “The Bohemian Girl” so convincingly demonstrated the building’s limitations as a theater that plans were immediately underway to construct a new, finer opera house, the Central City Opera House, which is still in use to world-wide acclaim today.
Theatrical uses of the Belvidere precipitously declined after the opening of the Central City Opera House in 1878, yet its first floor businesses continued to thrive. Best known among them was Beaman’s Central Bottling Works (which opened in 1886 and continued until 1904). The building housed a variety of uses over the years including various retail outlets and Company F of the First Infantry, Colorado National Guard, which designated the building as Armory Hall.
The Central City Garage opened in the main floor of the Belvidere in 1915, while the still-functional theater space hosted various community events. The school district actually used the main theater floor for a basketball court in the 1930’s, and a WPA project in 1938 converted the ground floor into a sort of community center. The Belvidere hosted dances, showed movies, and provided a much-needed sense of place for the residents of Central City.
After 2000, the property quietly slipped into a period of neglect and disarray. However, the draw and community memory of the Belvidere Theatre remained strong. An opportunity arose in 2015 when Gilpin County acquired the building. Today the City and the County are committed to the redevelopment of this historic property and Central City’s new status as a Main Street Community presents new prospects for this resilient and cherished building.
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