One of our favorite free and local cultural resources on the web has got to be the Pikes Peak Library District’s Photograph Archive. With over 8,000 images online that span from the early 1800s to the present, the archive is a gawker’s delight whether you’re a history buff or not.

One of the PPLD’s richest collections is the Myron Wood archive. Best known for his portraits of Georgia O’Keefe, Wood is an oft overlooked master photographer of the 20th Century who was as deft with the urban imagery of New York City as he was with the ancient dwellings of Mesa Verde. Wood lived in Colorado Springs and was one of its most artful documentarians. Lucky for us, the PPLD has over 1,700 of his images.

This slideshow of Wood’s photographs is from 1973 when he documented the demolition of the Burns Opera House (aka The Chief Theater). The theater was once considered to be one of the great opera houses of the West and later became a movie house. As you will see in the photographs, the building was magnificent. It was destroyed during the wave of government funded “urban renewal” that began in the 60s and continued on into the 70s. Tragically, it was destroyed to make room for the parking lot that still sits across the street from the new Antler’s Hotel (another demolition travesty story for another time) at the corner of Pikes Peak and Cascade.

Wood’s photographs of the demolition are a lovely testament to bad ideas!

If you know more about the history of the Burns/Chief we’d love to hear from you in the comments or send us an email at


20 Responses to Beautiful Photos of a Terrible Thing

  1. commentator says:

    Make way for the future!

  2. Pat Musick says:

    Burns, who made his fortune in the Cripple Creek gold mining district, spent something like 10 years planning the building, finding not only top architects but also acoustic engineers. The facade as well as columns and balustrades were white marble. There were “acres” (a lot) of Green Rooms donwstairs/backstage for performers. The first Colorado Springs SYmphony played there in the second decade of the 20th century. When I was a kid, I saw movies there, as the mo Chief Theater. Imagine the extra dose of fantasy and imagination when, as a little kid, you not only saw “Fantasia” but you ran your hand along the smooth polished marble balustrade, daydreamed into the sculptural decorations and the overall opulence. The theater organ was played before the movies started; that same organ is now at the CIty Auditorium. One of the rationales for demolition at the time was that the building was “structurally unsafe;’ in fact, it was so structurally sound and well-built that demolishing it turned out to be more complicated, difficult, and expensive than projected.

  3. S. McClow-Kinsey says:

    I remember seeing movies at the Chief Theatre as a kid, but didn’t appreciate what a beautiful building it was. I never understood why they decided to demolish it, but seeing these photos brings back bittersweet memories. What a tragic loss of a historic landmark.

  4. Chris Curcio says:

    It’s nice to be reminded that Colorado Springs was once the home of some enormously grand architecture (Wood’s photography is stunning) before it caught the cookie-cutter sprawl virus that it currently suffers from. How anyone could have consented to the destruction of that gorgeous building is beyond me. What is up with this city? If that building had existed in Denver or San Francisco it most likely would still be standing today.

  5. Jeremy Van Hoy says:

    Wow. What a punch in the gut it is to see these photos. Too bad no one could save it…

  6. Nancy Hankin says:

    I can only imagine what a tremendous home for theatre and opera in this community the Burns could have become. It makes the Ellie Caukins Opera House in Denver pale by comparison.

  7. Dee Tetzlaff says:

    WOW! what a shame to see a building of such elegance torn down.

  8. Noel Black says:

    My father, an architect, wept when they tore it down. I’ve also heard that the way the bank who owned the property at the time managed to do it was by simply going in and tearing it down the day after they announced it would be demolished, but I wasn’t able to verify that.

    Anyone who has ever been to the Castro Theater in San Francisco can attest to what fun it is to go the movies or a performance and listen to the organ beforehand. It’s, as they say, quite grand.

    Let’s not forget that Colorado Springs wasn’t the only victim of Urban Renewal, either. Robert Moses destroyed the beautiful old Penn Station in NYC for the atrocity that’s there now. Sigh.

  9. Jan McMillan says:

    I lived in Colorado Springs from 1966 to 1985 and am planning to return this year. I’ve lived many places, including San Francisco, and I have a great fondness for theaters like the Castro in SF, the Paramont in Oakland and this beautiful Burns Building in what I consider my hometown. These buildings, this arcitecture are such a national treasure to us…wise is the community who sees the value and works to preserve them.I am so sad when I see them go.

  10. Heartbreakingly beautiful.

    I live in an island city plagued by hurricanes and bad leadership, but the Galveston Grand Opera House, built in 1893, still stands, polished and gleaming. The historic architecture of Galveston Island is as important an asset as the beaches and bay waters, and has been painstakingly preserved over a century of storms, economic and environmental devastation, and development.

    Remember there are still beautiful buildings in Colorado Springs that must be protected from the wrecking ball. I’m thinking of the lovely old city utilities building on Nevada Avenue. Be vigilant. There will always be developers who will argue the efficacy of knocking those buildings down to make way for the new.

    Kathryn Eastburn
    Galveston, TX

  11. Gina Dellinger says:

    It brought tears to my eyes to see these photographs again. I remember going to the Chief Theatre as a child. My parents would drop off my siblings and I to see the matinee while they went shopping downtown. What flights of fancy we imagined while being inside such a glorious place!

    I have never parked in what replaced the Burns Opera House out of principle. Such narrow-minded vision is abundant in the downtown area … remember the Ute Theatre?

    I have high hopes for the restoration of the Mining Exchange building … we must be ever vigilant.

  12. Rick says:

    I’ll never forget waiting in a line that wrapped around the corner and down Cascade avenue with my older sisters to see A HARD DAYS NIGHT in the 1960s. I loved the Cheif Theater. I always sat in the balcony and I would watch the always empty VIP boxes by the stage, believing that the Phantom of the Opera lived there. Later, when I learned that the Burns Theater was the was one ot the first venues where Lon Chaney Sr. performed, I knew I was right about the Phantom. I left Colo Springs in 1971. Had I been there when they began demolition, I would have sat at the front entrance to stop them. It is a tragedy that we lost such a wonderful piece of our local history. These excellent photos are all we have left.

  13. suesun says:

    I can’t stop the tears from coming… to be moved so by photos of a place I never knew.

  14. Ginger Morgan says:

    What a loss. Our sense of what is valuable can be so short sighted and — too often — driven by greed. I am sad for us all.

  15. […] all the response we got to our slideshow of Myron Wood photographs depicting the demolition of the Burns Theatre last week (thank you Pikes Peak Library District!), synchronicity synchronized (as it is wont to) […]

  16. Jim H. says:

    The Chief was an architectural wonder. But what about the destruction of the Antlers, Giuseppe’s at the Rex, the Ute, and the Out West? Where are these pathetic, short-sided morons now that took our history? Downtown deserves the bars and panhandlers!!!!!!

  17. […] of the Historic City Auditorium website was installed in in 1976 after having been saved from the Burns Theatre before it was leveled. The lunettes in its foyer also house two exquisite WPA-era murals by local Broadmoor Academy […]

  18. Amber Cote says:

    Heart-breaking, truly. I’m glad Myron captured these stunning images so we can know what we’ve lost.

  19. […] Now: Portraits of Urban RenewalKIM on Then & Now: Portraits of Urban RenewalAmber Cote on Beautiful Photos of a Terrible ThingJennifer on Free Song of the Day, 3/17/10: “Faces” by AddiquitMarty on Flickr Photo of […]

  20. […] HEREto see the original post, “Beautufiul Photos of a Terrible Thing” and HERE to read an […]


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