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History Comes Full Circle With Red Rocks Landmark Designation

Courtesy of Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Red Rocks Amphitheatre was completed in 1941 as part of a Works Progress Administration project.

Red Rocks Park's designation as a National Historic Landmark is one many probably thought had happened years ago. But it was a long time coming for the park, which features one of the most iconic concert venues in the country.

The designation, made official Aug. 4, is just in time to help celebrate the venue's 75th anniversary in 2016.

"It's a good way to start what's going to be a really celebratory year at a venue that has a special place in American history and pop culture," said Brian Kitts, Communications Director for Denver Arts and Venues, which runs the park.

The application process, started by the outside group, Friends of Red Rocks, was more than a year in the making. Requirements included testimonials and letters from supporters as well as historical documentation.

"This is one of those things that the National Park Service and the Interior Department, put you through a fairly substantial process," Kitts said.

The city of Denver bought the park land, originally called Garden of Angels, in 1927 for $54,133 from owner John Brisben Walker. Construction of the amphitheater began in 1936 and was completed in 1941, thanks in large part to the Mount Morrison Civilian Conservation Corps Camp, Kitts said.

"When you look at the history of Red Rocks, it's literally the history of American music."

The camp, which also received a national landmark designation, was in Red Rocks Park from 1936 to 1941 as part of the New Deal era’s Works Progress Administration, which put millions of unemployed people back to work on public works projects during the Great Depression.

The venue is no slouch in the historic department either, Kitts added.

“When you look at the history of Red Rocks, it’s literally the history of American music,” he said.

In 1910, the land was already known for its stunning acoustics and was used to host operas and classical music performance.

“Once the facility opened in 1941, you start to see the Nat King Coles and Ella Fitzgeralds,” Kitts said. “And then you get into the 1960s and it becomes much more folk oriented and then 1964, The Beatles play there as part of their first American tour. And by the time the ‘70s roll around, it’s becoming clear that every important band in the world – from The Beatles to the Beach Boys to Diana Ross and the Supremes – are all playing Red Rocks. And that hasn’t stopped.”


While the venue is best known for its concerts it also hosts other events, including movie nights and workout opportunities such as Yoga on the Rocks. More than 2 million people visit the park each year.

“About half of those are concert-goers and then the other half are people who just stop by to look at the visitor’s center or, you know, hike, or take in some of the mountain property that’s around there. Or just want to be part of a Red Rocks experience,” Kitts said. “You know the interesting thing about Red Rocks is that, you know, even as a facility it’s a living, breathing thing.”

Red Rocks Park By The Numbers:

Date opened: June 15, 1941

Seating capacity: 9,525

Elevation: 6,450 feet

Park size: 640 acres

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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