kivaburnscoverresized
(click the image above
to download a PDF of the complete article 2.6mb)

After 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) and we ran into the charming Mr. Richard Marold, editor of the amazing Kiva: The Journal of the Cheyenne Mountain Heritage Center. When we told him about the slideshow, he pointed us to an out-of-print copy of Kiva that contains a thorough and thoroughly heartbreaking history of the Burns called “From Diamonds to Dust: The Saga of the Burns Theater” By Marion Ritchey Vance.

Among the fascinating things you will learn: The Burns played host to the Russian Symphony Orchestra on opening night, had a stage so painstakingly constructed that it could accomodate elephants for the production of Queen of Sheba and had a “reputation for fine acoustics [that] prompted experts in New York City to request the drawings.” Yul Brynner, Gloria Swanson and Sergei Rachmaninoff all played the Burns! Birth of a Nation was screened with a live orchestra there in 1915!

There is also an incredibly sympathetic and short biography of James “Jimmie” Burns, who was an unusually labor-friendly owner of the Portland Mine (he was a plumber, himself, before he struck it rich). As Ritchey Vance writes:

His own statement at the time, that “every worker has the right to improve his status by bargaining collectively” alarmed the Mine Owners Association and was said to produce apoplexy at the El Paso Club.

This story could easily be made into an HBO series a la Deadwood. Though you know what happens, there’s a detail at the end so heartbreaking it will make you wonder if those intent on destroying the theater weren’t more interested in destroying the memory of Jimmie Burns. You must read this.

Click HERE to download a PDF of the complete article (2.6mb).

Thanks to Erin Myers, Valerie Croke Schoenherr and Richard Marold of the Cheyenne Mountain Heritage Center for all their help with this. Thanks, especially to Marion Ritchey Vance for allowing us to reprint her excellent, well-researched article here.

 

5 Responses to Burns Theatre Followup: You MUST read this heartbreaking history!

  1. Julia Evans says:

    Thanks for the excellent followup. It was heartbreaking to see that beautiful building go down, along with other architectural keepsakes in the vicinity. As I recall, the “mighty wurlitzer” was saved and now plays on at City aud. Pikes Peak Theater Organ Society can confirm this. Check out their Thursday noon “sack-lunch serenades.”

  2. Mark Arnest says:

    Making the loss of the Burns doubly tragic is the fact that it’s exactly the kind of performance space Colorado Springs so desperately needs now – something in between the FAC and the PPC in both location and capacity. My wife’s “if we ever get filthy rich” dream is to rebuild it.

  3. Noel Black says:

    Thanks, Julia. We’ll definitely add the Wurllitzer to our list.

    Mark: Also tragic that Bee Vradenburg didn’t support saving it.

    While it seems a perfect storm of circumstances on one level, it also seems like a political inevitability on another, which I find to be even more tragic.

    Seems like Jimmie Burns was non grata long after his death.

  4. See, this is the kind of content we’ve been waiting for. These stories on BS are so much more than the typical local snips. The mix of current cool and historical vignettes have been my favorite stop in my rounds.

  5. Pat says:

    Just found this Web page about the demolition of the Burns Theatre while typing up my grandmother’s honeymoon reminiscences. She and my grandfather married in 1922 and took a train-and-road-trip west to California from Nebraska on their honeymoon. I have just reached the part where they are sightseeing in the Colorado Springs vicinity and she writes, “Had a shower of rain that evening and after the rain and dinner at the Hotel we went to the Burns Theatre – saw some good vaudeville.” I found a photo of the Burns elsewhere online. What a beautiful building it was, and how sad to read that it, along with its magical acoustics and wonderful history, no longer exists! Such a shame.

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