The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver wants artists to return to the Holiday Theatre stage.
Earlier this month, the LoDo museum announced it is leasing the 95-year-old theater space at 2644 W. 32nd Ave. in Highland as a satellite location for artists’ performances, workshops, classes and other programs.
“The Holiday will allow us to deepen our investment in the artists, who were showing on Delgany Street, by showing other aspects of their work there,” said MCA Denver Director Nora Burnett Abrams.
MCA Denver plans to move into the space, which was built in 1926, in December. A program with Jason Moran, an artist currently on display at the museum at 1485 Delgany St., will be hosted in early January, but regular programming will begin in the spring.
Programming for teens is an important part of the museum’s educational efforts, Abrams said, and the museum is in talks with North High School to host workshops and events for the students at the nearby satellite location as well.
It also plans to host other local organizations and offer professional services for local artists, such as mental health services and tax return guidance.
The museum has previously rented the theater space from its former tenant, Highlands Church, to host off-site programming, such as Mixed Taste lectures, over the past six years.
“We have been using our lower level for programming before, but it only has a seating capacity of about 125, and the scale of our programming has been defined by the space where we can host them. So, I think we finally have a space that meets our ambition,” Abrams said.
The Highland theater property includes 12 apartments and two retail spaces, in addition to the main 400-seat theater.
The apartments were built in 1914, and the theater was added in 1926 as the Egyptian Theatre, part of a wave of Egyptian-themed businesses after King Tut’s tomb was discovered in 1922. It eventually became part of the Atlas Theatre Co. chain as the Holiday Theatre, before shuttering in the ’80s. The name lives on in its still-standing marquee.
Highlands Church had been using the theater since 2012, but moved into a larger sanctuary in Platt Park in early 2020. Church founder Rev. Mark Tidd and co-pastor Jenny Morgan, who owned the building with their spouses, sold the building in late August
Property owned by Denver Cultural Property Trust
MCA Denver’s seven-year lease is with the Denver Cultural Property Trust, which was founded this year by Mark Falcone, CEO and founder of Denver-based development firm Continuum Partners.
The trust, which paid $5.1 million for the building, was formed in an effort to preserve important commercial spaces and residences on a long-term, affordable basis for artists in the community.
“Because it was the Trust and not a for-profit entity, they were able to offer us lease terms at very much below market rate, which is the only way that this became an option for us,” Abrams said. “I thought it was pie in the sky when it came on the market. I didn’t think this would all come to be.”
Falcone is a former board member of the museum, as well as the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, which provides grant support to arts organizations around Denver. When Highlands Church’s leadership put the building on the market in late 2020, Abrams relayed her interest in the property to him.
Falcone said he had been thinking about starting Denver Cultural Property Trust for a few years. Growing up, his mother was engaged in the local art community, and studied history in college, including art history.
“Artists face a somewhat unique challenge because their presence is often viewed as the tip of the spear of gentrification, and they co-existed really nicely in affordable neighborhoods around the city, center city in particular. But as the value of those center city neighborhoods began to escalate, the artists are being pushed out, too,” Falcone said. “Artists are creative and inventive, and the places they wanted to go would consistently resist them. So, I just felt like it was something that if we came up with the right mechanism, it was a way we could intervene and hopefully make a difference.”
The theater building’s apartment units and retail spaces are both leased. Continuum will manage the property, and as renters choose to leave, Falcone plans to offer the spaces to artists at an affordable rate.
In addition to the Holiday Theatre property, Denver Cultural Property Trust recently completed another project — Casa Azul, named after Frida Kahlo’s home and museum in Mexico City.
Casa Azul features two small rental properties with four units in each at 3555-3575 Marion Street in the Cole neighborhood. Continuum Partners purchased the parcel in 2018 for $325,000, according to property records, and completed construction on the buildings this summer.
Falcone said the company is in the process of transferring ownership to Denver Cultural Property Trust.
“I hope this is part of how we are addressing affordability challenges on a very long-term and sustainable basis,” Falcone said. “Seattle and San Francisco have tried lots of different things, none of which have really solved their problem. So, I think it’s essential that people like us in the private enterprise bring our creativity to the table and look for ways to fix this. Our real estate is only as valuable as the market we’re in. I don’t want Denver to become San Francisco.”