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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.