Attending a show at the historic Boulder Theater can be like stepping into an art deco time capsule that’s blaring modern rock. Or jazz. Or showing a movie. The former opera house has branched out quite a bit since it was first built.
One of Boulder’s favorite architectural gems and most beloved concert venues celebrated its 75th anniversary this week, but the 75 number might be a bit misleading, as the building itself existed from 1906 to 1936 as the Curran Opera House. The year 1936 brought major renovations to the opera house’s interior, changing the entire layout of the opera house and adding the colorful murals and paintings for which the theater is famous, according to Cheryl Ligouri, CEO of Z2, the company that manages both the Boulder Theater and the Fox Theatre. A naming contest set the name as “The Boulder,” hence the 75th anniversary celebration this year.
“I can’t imagine what Boulder would be like without the Boulder Theater,” Ligouri says. “And we’re really happy that we’ve been able to stay true to our roots, which is to be a big part of Boulder’s entertainment world.”
From the time of the renovation to about the late ’70s, the Boulder Theater was exclusively a movie house, but that changed as multiplex theaters moved to town, forcing Mann Theatres, the then-owner, to shut the theater’s doors in 1979. In 1981, Mountain Productions bought the theater and renovated the interior to become a multi-purpose concert venue, capable of hosting musical acts as well as screening films. However, Mountain Productions closed the theater a few years later. Several ownership changes later, Doug Greene is now the owner.
Once the theater began hosting music shows, says longtime local entertainment writer Leland Rucker, it was instantly the most desired destination in town. The 1,000-person venue was big enough to actually attract national touring acts.
“You just wanted to go there because they were the acts you couldn’t see anywhere else,” Rucker says. “You didn’t have to go to Denver; you could see them in downtown Boulder.”
In 1980, with the theater’s future up in the air, the city designated the marquee sign a historic landmark, rendering it immune to future development. In other words, no one could tear down the sign, all but cementing the theater as a fixture on 14th Street. Since then, the venue has mostly hosted concerts as well as a mix of other entertainment events.
“I think [the landmark designation] is one of the things that really saved the theater early on,” Rucker says. “I think that’s what kept it from being Boulderized early on.”
The theater is closely entwined with Boulder’s history and has hosted some of the most famous names in music, including B.B. King, Lucinda Williams, Bonnie Raitt, Blues Traveler and Johnny Cash. The theater continues to attract big names. The theater kicked off its 75th year on Friday with the first of two nights of performance by Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, and King will return later this month. Amos Lee, the Decemberists, Ice Cube and Randy Newman all are booked for the upcoming months.
The theater is now the home of some of Boulder’s most cherished entertainment traditions, from the eTown radio program to the annual Warren Miller film screenings to the Boulder International Film Festival and more. Since merging with the Fox Theatre last year, the colorful theater seems to only have gotten stronger. Projects for the upcoming year include renovating the balcony seats, which haven’t been removed since the theater re-opened in 1936. The theater plans to ask supporters to sponsor a chair. Official prices have not yet been set and will be announced next week, but Ligouri says the price will vary from around $275 to $600, depending on whether the donor is an individual, a family or a business.