Elitch Gardens History

The Making of a World-Class
Theme Park

Elitch Gardens has touched the lives of most of Colorado’s residents and is responsible for many of its best memories. Elitch Gardens was always more than a mere amusement park, it was also:

  • One of the first zoos west of Chicago
  • The home of Denver’s first symphony orchestra
  • Denver’s first botanic garden
  • Colorado’s first Children’s Museum and activity center
  • The site of Denver’s first motion picture theater, and…
  • Home of the Trocadero Ballroom, where most of Denver danced and romanced

The bustling little town of Denver was just 30 years old when Elitch Gardens first opened its gates.

Historical Timeline

1890

Elitch Gardens first opens its gates to the public. John and Mary Elitch turned their farm on the outskirts of Denver into a cool green oasis and zoological park for all to enjoy. Friends of the Elitch’s, P.T. Barnum and Mr. and Mrs. Tom Thumb, were among the opening day crowd.

1891

John Elitch dies. Mary Elitch continues to run Elitch Gardens and gains the distinction of being the only woman in the world to own and manage a successful summer resort. She was known throughout her life as “the Gracious Lady of the Gardens” and lived on the grounds until her death.

1892

The Elitch Theatre opens and begins its tradition of a century of first-class entertainment. Actors and actresses throughout the years included Sarah Bernhardt, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Cecil B. DeMille, Grace Kelly, Lana Turner, Mickey Rooney and more.

1909

The log entrance gate is torn down and an ornate, Greek-Revival styled stucco gate is built.

1916

Denver businessman John Mulvihill purchases Elitch Gardens from Mary Elitch and begins a dynasty of four generations of family ownership.

1917

The Trocadero Ballroom opens. Throughout the years, famous musicians such as Tommy & Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Guy Lombardo, Gene Krupa and Lawrence Welk performed on stage. Many Denverites travel to the Trocadero to enjoy world-class dancing and music.

1928

The carousel, which took master craftsmen three years to carve by hand, is delivered from the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. It still operates in the park to this day.

1930

John Mulvihill dies and his son-in-law Arnold Gurtler assumes ownership of Elitch Gardens.

1936

The Ferris Wheel is erected.

1954

KiddieLand opens at Elitch Gardens. Popular television star Hop-A-Long Cassidy presides over the opening ceremonies.

1958

The stucco entrance gate is torn down due to the widening of 38th Avenue. It is replaced by an art-deco aluminum arch.

1965

The famous “Mister Twister” roller coaster is built and is advertised ‘not to have a foot of straight track in it.’ A replica of the coaster still operates at the park today.

1975

The famous Trocadero Ballroom is sadly torn down due to ballroom dancing’s lack of popularity.

1994

The final $95 million financing package is completed and construction begins on the new Elitch Gardens in Central Platte River Valley in downtown Denver. It becomes the first amusement park to be built in an urban area in the United States in more than 30 years. After 104 years of successful operation, Elitch Gardens closes its doors at the famous northwest Denver location.

1995

The New Elitch Gardens opens at its new location in Central downtown Denver.

1996

Premier Parks, Inc. acquires Elitch Gardens, ending eight decades of family ownership.

January 1997

In a dramatic announcement Premier Parks, Inc. announces a huge, multi-million dollar Elitch Gardens improvement program.

May 1997

The dramatically-improved Elitch Gardens wows Denver by unleashing three incredible rides: The Mind Eraser – a suspended, inverted, looping roller coaster; Tower of Doom – a giant vertical-drop ride; and Shipwreck Falls – a family water ride.

June 1997

Elitch Gardens introduces Island Kingdom, a water adventure park with Colorado’s first water coaster. Island Kingdom is still free with general park admission.

July 1997

The Trocadero returns. Built in honor of Elitch Gardens’ famed Trocadero Ballroom, the new Trocadero Theatre seats 700 and can be easily converted into a ballroom.

May 1998

Yet another exciting year begins with the announcement of StarToon Studios, a pint-sized playland complete with whirling rides and a multi-story factory of interactive fun. Plus, three new thrill rides and a new 500-seat air-conditioned food court!

1998

Premier Parks, Inc. purchases Six Flags Theme Parks and expands the brand to Denver. Elitch Gardens becomes Six Flags Elitch Gardens.

1999

Six Flags Elitch Gardens opens with even more sensational new rides and attractions including the Boomerang coaster; the children’s favorite, Looney Tunes MovieTown; and the Batman Forever Thrill Spectacular.

2000

Six Flags Elitch Gardens opens for its 110th season, celebrating years of fun spanning three centuries!

2001

Six Flags Elitch Gardens adds the all-new Spring Concert Series with amazing local and national talent in every musical genre. And thrill seekers delight in Batman and Robin’s all-new, suspenseful Gotham City Carnival of Chaos stunt show.

2002

Six Flags Elitch Gardens offers a cure for the common coaster – The Flying Coaster! This first-of-its-kind ride has passengers lying down and zooming through the mile-high sky.

2003

Six Flags Elitch Gardens is rocking! In 2003, Six Flags Elitch Gardens offers bigger and better spring and fall concert series. Major stars performing at the Universal Lending Pavilion on the grounds of Pepsi Center delight Six Flags guests.

2004

Who needs snow to ride a snowboard? Six Flags Elitch Gardens adds Half  Pipe — the first of its kind in North America. Guests can now spin countless 360s on a gigantic snowboard while cruising up and down a 100-foot tall halfpipe. The Half Pipe is no hype!

2005

Island Kingdom Water Park expands with the addition of EDGE.  This four-story water ride sends water adventurers blasting down more than four stories at a vertical angle. The massive slide gives fearless fun-seekers the thrill of “free falling” before they race up at breath-taking speeds to the edge of the other side. Then, riders plunge back and forth on more than a thousand gallons of swirling water before splashing into the relaxing Castaway Creek.

2006

Six Flags Theme Parks nationwide celebrate 45 years of family fun and entertainment!

2007

CNL Properties purchased Elitch Gardens from Six Flags and retained PARC to manage the park. They dropped the Six Flags brand and went back to Elitch Gardens.

2011

Herschend Family Entertainment (HFE) assumes management of the park. The history of Elitch Gardens and HFE have much in common and the park benefits from many new initiatives.

2012

Three new rides are added to Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park. Tube Top, a thrilling, totally-enclosed tube slide is added to the water park. A fresh, new look at KiddieLand includes two new rides, Rockin’ Tug and Tike Bikes.

 

 

2013BBhorizontal

A new family roller coaster, Blazin’ Buckaroo, is added to KiddieLand. With an exciting first drop, a few quick turns and a top speed of 15 mph, this steel ride is the perfect roller coaster for the whole family.  Live shows are doubled with up-close animal interactions, magical illusions, amazing acrobatics. Summer has never been So Flippin’ Fun!

History timeline compiled with the assistance of Betty Hull, Elitch Gardens historian and author of “Denver’s Elitch Gardens, Spinning a Century of Dreams.” Her book can be found at Tattered Cover bookstores.