1927 movie theater had a stage, orchestra pit and player piano
Steamboat Springs — One of Steamboat Springs’ best-used historic structures, the Chief Theater, with roots that dating to the arrival of the first “talkie” motion picture here, finally found its place on the city’s Register of Historic Places during the week.
Chief Theater Executive Director Scott Parker was presented with a plaque for the building’s exterior by members of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission. The Chief was long overdue for its addition to the register, but it’s not alone in that regard, Commissioner Vice Chairwoman Sally TeStrake said.
“There are a lot of eligible structures in Steamboat,” TeStrake said. “More people ought to apply, because it makes you more eligible for grants and tax credits to help them with renovations to bring their building up to the standard they want them brought up to.”
The Chief opened in early 1927 as the second movie house in town, located across Lincoln Avenue from the first, Alden Theater. According to a 1987 article in “Three Wire Winter,” by Susan Bettger and Susan Meyer, the Chief, with 500 seats, was the largest theater in Northwest Colorado, and in 1929, it debuted a full-sound film called “The Idle Rich.”
According to the Web page IMDb, “The Idle Rich” starred Conrad Nagel as the millionaire William van Luyn, who falls in love with his secretary Joan Thayer, played by Bessie Love, and marries her. Through time, van Luyn persuades his in-laws to accept his generosity. The director was William de Mille.
The Chief was built by the noted Steamboat builder of the era, Arthur E. Gumprecht, and was originally owned by Harry “Chief” Gordon, a man of Native American ethnicity, who reportedly made a fortune in lead, zinc and silver mining in Oklahoma.
The original theater, which has been remodeled several items since it was built, included a stage, orchestra pit and a player piano. Gordon used an Indian or Native American theme throughout the building, according to the architectural inventory prepared by Erica Swissler Hewitt, of Steamboat Architectural Associates.
The Chief continues to thrive today as a not-for-profit community cultural institution, airing documentary films as well as hosting live music, comedy and dramatic performances.
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