Originally constructed in 1953, the Bonfils Memorial Theater was designed by Denver architect John K. Monroe for producer and philanthropist Helen G. Bonfils. Widely recognized as one of Denver’s best examples of Art Moderne architecture, the theater was home to the Denver Civic Theater until 1973 when it moved and became the Denver Center for the Performing Arts at 14th and Speer. The historic theater was later renamed the Lowenstein Theater after its long time managing director Henry Lowenstein and continued to operate as a community/children’s theater until 1986 when it closed its doors.
Conflicted by the community’s desire to save the historic theater and the absence of a theatrical tenant to occupy it, the Lowenstein remained a vacant eyesore for almost 20 years. In May of 2005, St. Charles Town Company (SCTC) purchased the vacant theater and adjacent dilapidated parking lot. SCTC placed the property on the National Registry of Historic Places and worked with the National Park Service on an adaptive reuse for the historic structure – the new home of the Tattered Cover Bookstore, one of Denver’s favorite local businesses.
In addition to preserving the historic structure, the project includes redevelopment of the adjoining parking lot into 25,000 square-feet of new retail space, a 230-space parking structure, and creation of a “mini-esplanade” mirroring the historic City Park Esplanade. Project financing includes a mix of public and private sources in collaboration with US Bank, DURA, the City’s Office of Economic Development, and historic tax credits.
The completed project embodies the goals laid out by the City and surrounding community in the June 2004 East Colfax Corridor Plan to preserve the theater building and to “market East Colfax as a destination for authentic, local flavor.” Further, the project helps “promote the corridor as an alternative for small to mid-size businesses, incubator, and entrepreneurial ventures and carve a niche for East Colfax as a destination for local entertainment, shopping and restaurant venues.”
SCTC received the 2006 Community Preservation Award for its work on the Lowenstein Theater from Historic Denver, a non-profit dedicated to the preservation of Denver’s architecturally and historically significant buildings and neighborhoods.