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From Dinosaurs to Rock n' Roll

History

Red Rocks History

If you think of Red Rocks Park as just a beautiful place to see a concert, think again! All around you are 738 total acres of deer, dinosaurs, pines and prairie, geological wonders and spectacular vistas. At 6,450 feet above sea level, Red Rocks Park is a unique transitional zone where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains. The diverse environment allows visitors to see plants, birds and animals of both regions. Red Rocks Amphitheatre is a geological phenomenon – the only naturally-occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheatre in the world. From Sting and The Beatles, to opera stars and U2, every artist aspires to play on this magical, spiritual and emotional stage.

Building the Amphitheatre

On May 9, 1936, Denver Mayor Benjamin Franklin Stapleton and Parks and Improvements Manager George Cranmer received approval from U.S. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes to use the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to build the Red Rocks Amphitheatre –George Cranmer insisted that Denver officially use the English spelling).

Created by the Civilian Conservation Corps Reforestation Relief Act on March 31, 1933, the CCC aimed to save both unemployed young man and endangered lands during the Great Depression by putting the men to work conserving forests and grasslands. The CCC was a pet program of President Roosevelt, who had initiated a prototype program as governor of New York.

As one of Colorado’s most spectacular settings, Red Rocks attracted the state’s most celebrated piece of architecture. Its amphitheatre is the master work of Colorado’s most highly regarded architect, Burnham Hoyt

Once the National Park Service approved Hoyt’s plan, the CCC began to level the seating area between Ship and Creation Rocks. Although Cranmer had assured the mayor and city council that this would be a cheap and simple task, he soon realized that considerable dynamite would be necessary.

To grade the theater so that all seats would have great views of the stage, CCC workers removed 50,000 cubic feet of dirt and rock. Although steam shovels accomplished some of the heaviest work, most of the muscle came from the picks and shovels, wheelbarrows and rock sleds of the dollar-a-day CCC workers.

After leveling the seating space, workers finished the theater by laying over 90,000 square feet of sandstone, quarried in the Lyons, whose reddish color and textures resembled the natural stone at Red Rocks. CCC workers built the amphitheatre with 800 tons of quarried stone and 30,000 pounds of reinforced steel. The project estimated to take two years actually took five. The materials cost $115,881.87 and the labor, paid by the federal government to CCC and WPA workers, amounted to $357,281.69.

Grand Openings

On June 8, 1941, a pre-opening ceremony audience heard welcoming speeches from city, state, and federal officials and listened to selections played by the Denver Junior Symphony Orchestra. Governor Ralph Carr praised the George Cranmer, Mayor Benjamin F. Stapleton and others who “were wise enough to foresee the grandeur of the completed theater.” Mayor Stapleton paid tribute to the 500 young men who had served stints at the Mount Morrison CCC camp during the four years spent constructing the theater. The mayor called the CCC boys up to the stage, where they received a standing ovation.

The official grand opening took place on June 15, 1941. Broadcast over the Columbia Broadcasting System, the gala attracted national coverage, including a review in Time Magazine. Music critic Olin Downes said in the New York Times, “Nothing in the U.S. could equal the beauty and scenery of the outdoor theater.”

Red Rocks Today

Red Rocks Park and the CCC camp received National Historic Landmark status in 2015 and received the honorary award on June 15, 2016 — the amphitheater’s 75th anniversary. The award is administered by the National Park Service on behalf of the Secretary of the Interior. The designation recognizes sites that possess exceptional value and quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.


Fast Facts

Red Rocks at a quick glance.

1941

Date Opened/ Dedication:
June 15, 1941

9,525

Amphitheatre Seating Capacity:
9,525

6,450

Elevation:
6,450 ft

738

Red Rocks Mountain Park Size:
738 acres

2015

Designated National Historic Landmark:
2015

193

Number of Steps:
193 (Stage to Top Plaza)

100

Elevation Difference from Stage to Top Row:
100 ft

2.5

Miles of Seating:
2.5


Timeline

From dinosaurs to rock n’ roll: learn about the history and timeline of Red Rocks.

250,000,000 - 65,000,000 B.C.

Dinosaurs roam Jurassic Colorado, leaving skeletal Diplodocus and Tyrannosaurus Rex at Dinosaur Ridge just east of Red Rocks, where the footprints of the giant lizards may be seen to this day.

9,000 B.C.

Folsom people occupy the Front Range.

5,000 B.C.

Archaic tribes occupy Red Rocks and nearby sites such as Willowbrook, Ken Caryl and Roxborough.

1000-1800

Utes prevail in Colorado’s mountains and foothills.

1800

Southern Arapaho and Southern Cheyenne move into Ute territory, sparking intertribal warfare along the Front Range.

1858

Discovery of gold in Cherry Creek and South Platte River triggers the Colorado Gold Rush.

1859

Robert W. Steele, the first governor of Jefferson (later Colorado) Territory, builds his still-standing governor’s mansion at the base of Mount Vernon canyon, six miles north of Red Rocks.

1860s

Colorow, a Ute Chief, leads Indian resistance to whites arriving with the 1858-59 gold rush. He holes up at Red Rocks and in the nearby cavern now called Colorow’s Cave.

1864

George Morrison, a Scottish stonemason, homesteads what becomes the town of Morrison and opens up quarries to produce the famous Morrison Formation red sandstone used in many Colorado buildings.

1870

Jefferson County Judge Martin Van Buren Luther and a throng of locals celebrated July 4th on the Rocks and supposedly baptize Red Rocks: “We the assembled citizens of Bear Creek and vicinity hereby christen this The Garden of the Angels.”

1872

Morrison Stone, Lime, and Town Company is established by former Colorado governor John Evans, Walter S. Cheesman, Charles B. Kountze, David H. Moffat, and others, including George Morrison.

1877

Professor Arthur Lakes of the Colorado School of Mines tours Red Rocks and excavates the 90-foot-long fossil remains of Apatosaurus ajax, one of the first of many dinosaurs found in the area.

1905

With part of the million dollars he makes selling his Cosmopolitan magazine to William Randolph Hearst, John Brisben Walker, Sr. starts buying up Red Rocks and surrounding property.

1906

Walker and his son, John Brisben Walker, Jr. spend $150,000 to create the “Garden of the Titans,” an amusement park.

1910

To promote the Garden of the Titans, John Brisben Walker Sr. and Jr. complete the Mount Morrison Railway Company, a tourist excursion up the east face of Mt. Morrison.

1911

Mary Garden, the world-famous Scottish soprano, sings "Annie Laurie” and Schubert’s "Ave Maria" in the first solo concert at Red Rocks. She declares, "Never in any opera house the world over have I found more perfect acoustic properties than those under Creation Rock in the natural auditorium at Mount Morrison.”

1927

Denver buys 675 acres of Red Rocks for $50,000, later buying or leasing additional acreage reaching to the top of Mt. Morrison.

1930

Denver builds a five-mile scenic auto road through Red Rocks.

1931

Denver opens the Indian Trading Post, a two-story Pueblo Revival style structure, complete with a gift shop, dining room and museum exhibits surrounded by a cactus garden and nature trails.

1935

The Morrison Civilian Conservation Corps Camp is established to put unemployed 17- to 25-year-olds to work constructing Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre between 1935 and 1941.

1941

Red Rocks Amphitheatre is officially dedicated on June 15 with a Native American Ceremony, as well as selections from “Orpheus in the Underworld,” “La Traviata” and “Carmen,” followed by “Home on The Range” sung by the Denver Municipal Chorus. Colorado Governor Ralph Carr and Denver Mayor Benjamin F. Stapleton preside.

1964

The Beatles rock the Rocks.

1973

Red Rocks Amphitheatre is designated an official Denver Landmark.

1976

Town of Morrison is placed on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district for preservation.

1998

Under Mayor Wellington Webb, Denver buys 193 acres to add to Red Rocks Park.

2003

Grand opening of the new $26.4 million Red Rocks Visitor Center and Hall of Fame.

2007-08

Red Rocks implements a recycling and composting program. By 2008, Red Rocks had reduced its landfill waste by 85% annually.

2008

Widespread Panic surpasses any other performers for the most number of sold out shows at Red Rocks.

2008-09

Original benchwood replaced with eco-friendly wood.

2011

Red Rocks becomes the first inductee to the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.

2015

Designated National Historic Landmark.

2018

The Red Rocks Depot opens in the Upper North parking lot and is home to waste management operations including sorting of recyclable and compostable materials.