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Oriental Theater
Oriental Theater
4335 W. 44Th Ave.
Denver ,CO 80212
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The historic Oriental Theater, in the Berkeley Highlands neighborhood, is a shining example of the Exotic Revival architectural style popularized in late 1920s movie theaters. Built at a time when a theater’s décor prepared patrons for the excitement and glamour of a film, the Oriental Theater’s interior created for theatergoers the atmosphere of a Middle Eastern palace at twilight. The Persian courtyard theme is evident in realistic murals depicting desert themes, minarets, domes, arches and palm fronds. Plaster friezes, terracotta accents, recesses designed to resemble porticos and balconies, rich draperies and rose-colored seats completed the scene. A small orchestra pit was built in front of the stage, joined by a large pipe organ. The Oriental Theater was built as a movie theater, but even in 1928 it hosted vaudeville and music performances. Through the 1930s and 1940s the theater flourished with daily features that included the Depression Era concept of “bank night” where groceries and small household goods were given to lucky patrons. The age of the automobile and the rise of the suburbs in the 1950s marked the beginning of rough, dark days for the Oriental Theater. In the 1960s to boast withering attendance, plush seating, new carpet, fresh paint, fluorescent lighting and a bigger projection screen were added. But by 1969 the owners had resorted to showing adult films in order to stay afloat, a business decision that inflamed the community. Through the 1970s and 1980s the Oriental Theater slid into a steady state of shabby disrepair, as a dollar movie house catering mostly to college students from nearby Regis University, and by 1987 the theater was untenable and shuttered. For a while the theater was home to a church, but subsequently, except for the very rare special performance, it lay vacant for years. In the 1990s several attempts were made to revive the Oriental Theater but none of the owners in those years had the vision or staying power to keep in front of trends and capitalize on the theater’s substantial assets.
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