Elitch Gardens

Elitch Gardens

Infobox Amusement park
name = Elitch Gardens

caption =
location = Denver
location2 = Colorado
location3 =United States flagicon|USA
opening_date =May 1, 1890
closing_date =October 1, 1994
previous_names =
season = May through October
area = 28 acres (113,000 m²)
rides = 23
coasters =6
water_rides =1
owner = John and Mary Elitch (1890-1916) John Mulvihill (1916-1930) Gurtler family (1930-1995)
slogan = Not to See Elitch's is Not to See Denver
homepage =

Elitch Gardens was a family owned seasonal amusement park, theater, and botanic garden in the West Highland neighborhood of Denver, Colorado, United States at 38th and Tennyson streets. For more than a century Elitch's was one of the most popular entertainment destinations in Colorado. It was nationally known for its lush gardens, the Trocadero Ballroom, the Theatre at the Gardens and the premier wooden roller coaster, Mister Twister. The park moved to downtown Denver in 1994 and later became Six Flags Elitch Gardens (now simply Elitch Gardens once again). The former location is being redeveloped. In August 2006, Six Flags sold Elitch Gardens for a reported $170 million dollars.

Early History

Elitch's Zoological Gardens opened May 1, 1890, on 16 acres (65,000 m²) of former farmland bought by John and Mary Elitch.

Mary Elitch managed the park for 26 years following John's death in 1891. The Elitch Theatre, official name Theatre at the Gardens, opened that year, and became home to the oldest summer stock theater in the country starting in 1897 and continuing to entertain until it closed in 1987.

The park's first roller coaster, a Toboggan Figure 8, opened in 1904. The park's original carousel, built by Philadelphia Toboggan Company, was added in 1906. The carousel remains in operation today as the Kit Carson County Carousel in Burlington, Colorado.

Mulvihill/Gurtler ownership

. It was during this time the park's enduring slogan was first popularized: "Not to See Elitch's is Not to See Denver."

As floral gardens were expanded and greenhouses built, Elitch's became a commercial florist. Mulvihill died in 1930 and the park's ownership transferred to his son-in-law Arnold Gurtler.

In the mid 1930s, the zoo portion of the park was discontinued, with the space being used for more formal gardens (and rides). A giant floral clock was added and the Trocadero Ballroom became a regular stop for touring big bands and home to "An Evening at the Troc", a weekly radio broadcast. During this classic period of Big Band Jazz and Swing, the Trocadero Ballroom became a famous summertime night spot as its seemingly endless succession of brilliant stars provided countless hours of live national radio broadcasts in an age before television. [Fisher, Steve. " [http://www.du.edu/magazine/archive/spring2004/nostaglia.html Dancing at the Troc] ". "University of Denver Magazine". Spring 2004.]

In 1945, management was assumed by Gurtler's sons, Jack and Budd. In 1952, a section of the park called Kiddieland, oriented to small children, was opened. At a time when amusement parks catered almost exclusively to adults, Elitch's Kiddieland was an instant hit attraction with the first of many lucky generations of small fry. Lots of fun stuff for tots, like 2-seat rocket planes, open-wheel race cars, real floating "motorboats", a real small-scale car track with gas station, all in Kid Scale. The floral business side of the park was quite successful, becoming the largest supplier of carnations in the country in the early 1950s.

Despite substantial community outcry, the Trocadero Ballroom was torn down by the Gurtlers in 1975, claiming the declining popularity of ballroom dancing, replacing Denver's beloved landmark Old Troc with Skee-Ball and arcade games. The theater, which had switched formats from summer stock to star-centered performances in 1963, closed in 1991.

Mister Twister

Mister Twister opened in 1964. It was a 96-foot (29m) tall wooden coaster, designed by John Allen of Philadelphia Toboggan Company [ [http://www.rcdb.com/id2102.htm Mr. Twister (Elitch Gardens)] . Roller Coaster DataBase.] , and advertisements promoted the fact that it didn't "have a foot of straight track". It was regularly rated as one of the top ten rides in the country until it stopped operating in 1994 when the park was relocated. Twister II at the new Elitch Gardens is modeled after the original.

Knoebels, in Elysburg, Pennsylvania, considered relocating the original Mister Twister but, due to space constraints, built a new version very closely patterned after the original, which they simply called "Twister".

One feature of Mister Twister was that, after ascending the first hill, the rider was within the line of sight of another coaster, Lakeside's crown jewel 'Cyclone'.


The Wildcat was Colorado's first roller coaster and was the oldest of the the coasters in the park when it closed in 1995. It was an out-and-back design by Herbert Schmeck of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, and like Mr. Twister, did not make the move to downtown Denver. It has since been demolished to make room for residential purposes.


The Sidewinder was Colorado's first looping coaster, and arrived from Magic Springs and Crystal Falls park in 1990. It was built by Arrow Dynamics, and is a launched shuttle loop that speeds into a drop, into a vertical loop, up another hill, and then proceeds to run the course backwards. It made the move to the new park, It is one of four Arrow launched loops made by Arrow to still operate today.

Ride List

*Twister (1964 John C. Allen wooden twister coaster)
*Sidewinder (1980 Arrow Dynamics launched shuttle loop, debuted 1990)
*Wildcat (1927 Herbert Schmeck wooden out-and-back coaster)
*Splinter (Intamin log flume, debuted 1967)
*Rainbow (Huss Rainbow, debuted 1985)
*Troika (Huss Troika, debuted 1977)
*Paradise (Huss Breakdance, debuted 1987)
*Holland Express (Mack Zugspitz, debuted 1966)
*Casino (Chance Wipeout/Trabant (Ride), debuted 1965)
*Mine Shaft (Chance Rotor, debuted 1991)
*Round-Up (Hrubetz Roundup, debuted 1963)
*Thing-A-Ma-Jig (Heintz-Fahtze Twister, debuted 1985)
*Spider (Eyerly Spider, debuted 1969)
*Swing Ride (Zierer Wave Swinger, debuted 1969)
*Wild Mouse (Miller wooden wild mouse, debuted 1960)
*Bumper Cars (Reverchon Dodgems, debuted 1955)
*Illuminator (Chance Skydiver, debuted in 1992)
*Carousel (Philadelphia Toboggan Company 1936 model)
*Big Wheel (Chance Giant Wheel, debuted 1975)
*Sea Dragon (Chance Sea Dragon, debuted 1981)
*Sky Ride (Watkins chairlift, debuted 1969)
*Battle Zone (Intamin boat tag, debuted 1987)
*Tilt-A-Whirl (Sellner Tilt-A-Whirl, debuted 1957)

Move to new location

In 1985, management and ownership of the park was assumed by Budd Gurtler's son, Sandy Gurtler. At its historic location the park had no expansion space, and the family had long planned to relocate to a larger location. The city of Denver provided a location in the Central Platte River Valley, an area that was once a Superfund cleanup site.

On May 27, 1995, Elitch's opened at its new downtown location with fifteen of its twenty major rides from the old location. [Will, Ed. "ELITCH GARDENS REBORN: Patience the watchword for opening day at Denver's new (old) amusement park". "Denver Post", May 26, 1995: Weekend page 22.] The new location sits adjacent to Interstate 25 between INVESCO Field at Mile High and the Pepsi Center. It is currently one of the few downtown amusement parks in the United States.

At the old location, separate arson events a day apart in November 1995 destroyed the arcade building [Robinson, Marilyn. "Fire spurs call to up security Old Elitch park scene of blaze." "Denver Post', November 4, 1995: B-01.] and heavily damaged the Splinter water ride and Wildcat roller coaster ["Second fire at old Elitch's". "Denver Post", November 6, 1995: B-03.] .

Following two seasons at its new location with attendance of about one million (versus 750,000 for the last season at its old location) and a second season goal of 1.2 million [Olgeirson, Ian. " [http://www.bizjournals.com/denver/stories/1996/09/23/story8.html Forecast for Elitch's: Visitor numbers flat] ". "Denver Business Journal", September 20, 1996.] , the park was sold to Premier Parks who subsequently purchased all Six Flags parks. The park operated as 'Six Flags Elitch Gardens' until 2006. PARC Management purchased Elitch Gardens from Six Flags in 2007 and rebranded it simply 'Elitch Gardens'.


The 28 acre (113,000 m²) site of the former amusement park has undergone redevelopment as Highlands' Garden Village. The site won the Environmental Protection Agency's 2005 Overall Excellence in Smart Growth award [ [http://www.epa.gov/piedpage/awards/2005_overall_dura.htm EPA Smart Growth: 2005 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement] . United States Environmental Protection Agency. August 2, 2006.] for its new urbanism development of 308 housing units and a variety of office and retail spaces. The site maintained many of the old trees and other park elements, including the historic Elitch Theatre and the structure that once housed the carousel, which is now a picnic structure. The new development exceeded Colorado's Built Green and Energy Star programs and also used recycled construction materials [ [http://www.rose-network.com/projects/index.html?cat_toc.html&top.html&highland.html Jonathan Rose Companies > Projects > Highlands' Garden Village] .] Site developers had an agreement with Wal-Mart to put in a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market at the site. Wal-Mart pulled out of the agreement after strong opposition from residents, neighbors and the local city council representative. Commercial development was stalled until July 2005 when Sunflower Market announced they would anchor the center with an organic grocery store. [Moore, Paula. " [http://denver.bizjournals.com/denver/stories/2006/11/06/story5.html Retail building starts at old Elitch's site] ". "Denver Business Journal". November 3, 2006.]


Further reading

*cite book |last=Hull |first=Betty Lynne |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Denver's Elitch Gardens : spinning a century of dreams |year=2003 |publisher=Johnson Books |location=Boulder, CO |isbn=1555662854
*cite book |last=Hunt |first=Corrine |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=The Elitch Gardens story : memories of Jack Gurtler |year=1982 |publisher=Rocky Mountain Writers Guild |location=Boulder, CO |isbn= 9780937050279
*cite video | people =KRMA-TV | year =1995 | title =Rocky Mountain Legacy: Elitch Gardens | url = | format = | accessdate = | medium =Videotape | location =Denver, CO | publisher =Council for Public Television, Channel 6, Inc.
*cite book |last=Levy |first=Edwin Lewis |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Elitch's Gardens, Denver, Colorado: a history of the oldest summer theatre in the United States (1890-1941) |year=1960 |publisher= |location= |oclc =15110556

External links

* [http://www.sixflags.com/parks/elitchgardens/ParkPress/article012405.html History of Six Flags Elitch Gardens] timeline
* [http://www.highlandsgardenvillage.net/ Highlands' Garden Village]
* [http://www.coloradomagazineonline.com/Colorado%20Places/Elitch_Gardens/Elitch_Gardens.htm The Original Elitch Gardens] photoessay at "Colorado Magazine"
* [http://www.elitchgardens.com Elitch Gardens Official Website]

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