Before this trip, I had never been to Estes Park, Colorado. My mother has been several times so I asked her what my absolute must-do activities should be. One of the first she mentioned was the Historic Park Theater. She told me it was a great experience to see a modern movie in a historical theater and something uniquely Estes Park that I couldn’t experience anywhere else.
We visited the Park Theater after our first day in Rocky Mountain National Park. We spent the day hiking Bear Lake, Emerald Lake, and Alberta Falls and left the park thoroughly happy though a bit hungry and tired. For a late lunch, we went to Grubsteak, a historical building and restaurant in Estes Park. When it was first built in 1908, the building was a bowling alley before becoming a hospital in 1929. It went through a series of identities as beauty parlors, souvenir shops, and restaurants until it become Grubsteak in 1990. Though new owners took over in 2015, it continues to be an eatery that embraces its history and serves delicious food.
There is nothing we enjoy more after hiking than a good burger. At Grubsteak, they had a variety of meat patties including beef, bison, elk, and yak. I opted for yak just because I’d never had it before and as a general rule I always order something on the menu if I’ve never had it. It was delicious with the Swiss cheese, mushrooms, and carmalized onions, but to be honest I was missing some gamier meat to compliment the sweetness of the mushrooms and onions. Lesson learned; I’m not a big yak fan. Mona had a special – the Duck, Duck Juice burger. It was a duck patty with carmelized onions and homemade ponzu sauce. She told me it was juicy and delicious – perfect for her love of duck.
After enjoying our burgers, we decided that seeing a movie sounded perfect. We were full and a bit tired so nothing could be better than visiting a historic theater and taking in a new release.
Park Theater is the oldest movie theater operating in the United States and has been in business since 1913. The building has survived a series of owners, renovations, and natural disasters. Most significantly was the Lawn Lake Flood of 1982. Before the film, Park Theater shows an informational short about the theater and historic disaster.
In July 1982, the Lawn Lake Dam failed a torrent of water crashed into Estes Park. There was severe damage to 177 businesses – more than 75 percent of the commercial properties in downtown Estes Park. Water filled the Park Theater, but stopped just at the stage and the screen itself was spared. According to the short film, if the screen had been damaged they might never been able to reopen. Over 30 years later, Park Theater has overcome the flood damage and continues to show films daily.
We got there early to buy tickets. Too early. I was incredibly excited and wanted to make sure they wouldn’t sell out but was very kindly informed that wasn’t going to happen in the off season and I could come back at 30 minutes before the film to buy my tickets at the regular time. I was probably a little frightening in my enthusiasm, but historical theaters make me extremely happy. And when I love things, sometimes I get a bit over enthusiastic.
After arriving at a more appropriate time, we bought our tickets and our treats then settled in to watch the movie. The theater has certainly been renovated since 1913, but has maintained its historical charm. The advancements are those that are necessary to make it a modern movie theater – screen, lights, and equipment. But the décor and ambiance continue to be classic.
The first thing my mother asked when I told her we had gone to Park Theater was, “Did he offer you a seat cushion?” Yes, he did. The seats in Park Theater are traditional seats instead of the overstuffed multiplex chairs most people are used to. But Park Theater combats the potential discomfort with a very lovely gentleman who offers you a personal seat cushion for additional padding. I loved it. I loved the charming gentleman who offered me the seat, I loved the additional comfort, I loved seeing the stacks of extra cushions at the ready by the door, and I just loved everything about it.
As a one-screen auditorium, Park Theater shows one film at a time. When we were visiting, Bad Times at the El Royale was showing. There were three showings a day and, as I said, the box office opens 30 minutes before the film starts so no need to show up too early. And in true local pride, Denver football is also regularly shown on the big screen.
The Park Theater was a wonderful way to relax after a day on the trails and if you’re visiting Estes Park, it is absolutely an essential place to visit.