For 84 years the Glen Huntington Bandshell has been a fixture in downtown Boulder’s Central Park; a place of community pride, public gatherings, and civic events. It stands as a rare example of Art Deco architecture in Boulder and is one of only two Colorado bandshells from the early to mid-1900s.
This story begins more than 100 years ago when the City hired the famous design firm, Olmsted Brothers, Landscape Architects, to create a park system for Boulder (Olmsted was the company that designed Central Park in New York City). In Boulder they identified the region on either side of Broadway along the Creek, as the main civic park area.
By 1937, civic planner and landscape architect Saco DeBoer began designing the Bandshell landscape plan which was completed in 1940. A strong promoter of the City Beautiful Movement, DeBoer served as Denver’s official landscape architect from 1910 to 1931. His Denver projects include the Botanical Gardens, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Speer Boulevard, and the Cherry Creek Park system. DeBoer anchored Boulder’s central park with a bandshell, seating and a great ‘listening’ lawn with shade trees.
The Boulder Lions Club dedicated the bandshell to the Boulder community on June 26, 1938 at a ceremony that brought over 2,000 people to celebrate. The bandshell was designed by Boulder architect Glen H. Huntington (designer of the Boulder County Courthouse, Boulder High School, and properties in the University Hill neighborhood). The structure reflects an elliptical style similar to other bandshells of the period including California’s famous 1922 Hollywood Bowl and Chicago’s Grant Park.
Thirty years ago the Bandshell was in disrepair after being tainted by the sketchy activities that were going on in Central Park through the 1980’s. With advocacy from a group that was made up of several Historic Boulder members led by June Holmes, the City Council was convinced to give the Bandshell a new lease on life. The Landmarks preservation planner, Lara Ramsey, was also very involved in promoting the preservation. It was landmarked in 1995 along with the tiered seating and was restored by the Parks & Recreation department in 1997.
According to the designation memorandum, the Glen Huntington Bandshell is “environmentally significant for its planned and natural site characteristics; as a component of the central urban park; and as an established, familiar, and prominent visual landmark for Boulder citizens due to its arched design, its location near major thoroughfares, and its amphitheater seating.”
In 2015, the Bandshell was threatened when City planning documents showed it being moved or demolished to make way for a reconfigured park. Friends of the Bandshell and Historic Boulder sprung into action again and in 2016 obtained a listing on the state’s “Most Endangered Places” list, where it remains listed “In Progress.” Concerned local advocates strongly support keeping the structure in its original location, reincorporating and redefining it as a community asset integrated with planned events in Boulder’s Central Park, and expanding the landmark designation boundary to include the original park as designed by DeBoer.
In the summer of 2021 “Friends of the Bandshell” revived the landmarking effort to connect the southern portion of the Bandshell park back with the seating and stage structure. An assessment by a consulting landscape company, Mundus Bishop, affirmed that the southern property had historic and design merit. In April 2022, the Boulder Landmarks Board voted to recommend that the southern portion of the Bandshell park area be landmarked to extend the protection to the entire area.
This summer, the City Council will review this recommendation and vote. Historic Boulder advocates the logic of expanding the landmark boundary. This will ensure that any changes to the Glen Huntington designed Bandshell and the associated Saco DeBoer designed Bandshell park, will be reviewed by the Landmarks Board. Designating this property as a landmark would also enable the Parks & Recreation department to share the responsibility for the protection of this important historic resource by working with another city agency …. the Landmarks Board.
Landmarking this park area doesn’t preclude the City government from making changes to this landscape as long as they are sympathetic to the historic design vision of the Park. Landmarking could open up sources of funds for the City from state and perhaps federal grant monies, taking a burden off of taxpayers. Heritage tourism is real and could be taken advantage of to bring more tourist dollars to Boulder. Imagine a marketing campaign that brands this area as ‘Olmsted’s Central Park, west of the Mississippi.’ Think how fitting it would be to extend landmark protection of the entire Bandshell property in Central Park during this year, celebrating the 200th birthday of Frederick Law Olmsted senior.