Historic Preservation Month Feature: Mountaineer Theater in Lake City

28 May

“Modern Cinema. Vintage Setting”

City: Lake City, CO
Population: 500
Year Built: 1974
Privately Owned


The Mountaineer Theater, located appropriately in the mountain town of Lake City, CO, is one of many in the state who is currently in the process of converting from 35mm film to the new industry standard digital projection. Yet this small-town for profit theater has managed to avoid the pitfall of closing their doors for good by undergoing a two year fundraising effort that has raised more than $120,000 through the contributions of a select group of individuals. They have temporarily closed during the fundraising process and plan to open up again this coming summer.

Built in 1974, the Mountaineer Theater began as a local destination to cater to a small population of prideful residents who valued the theater as one of their community’s great assets. In time, Lake City’s population expanded as out-of-state tourists began to flock toward the mountains, many of whom settled down there such as second-home owners and retirees. For a while, ticket sales remained steady but around the 1990’s theater owner Phillip Virden began to witness a decline. When the 2008 economic recession hit, ticket sale revenues had plummeted and the film industry’s demand for digital conversion was looming closer. Mr. Virden knew he needed to take action, but without historic status for tax credits and digital projector prices still high, the task would be very difficult. But by 2010, projector prices began to dip and Mr. Virden took the opportunity to seek out funds.


Initial fundraising efforts were sought through a coalition called Cinema Pine Group, a subset of the National Association of Theater Owners. Yet after several weeks, the financial agreement dissolved and a new partner was needed. Mr. Virden found it in Gunnison Private Savings and Loans who became the major financier by helping to create an equitable financial package. In the end, they helped raise over $70,000 for the theater. Other sources included individual private donors who contributed small amounts that totaled over $1,500 and Phillip Virden himself, along with his wife, who raised over $50,000.


Though no direct community partnerships were formed during the process, Mr. Virden hopes to build them during future efforts to raise an additional $25,000 that will be used to restore the theater’s interior seating and box office. Some ideas include working with the Downtown Lake City district to create business incentives such as “dinner and a movie”, hosting classic movie nights in agreement with licensed film production studio companies, and partnering with the Art Council of Lake City to host a future film festival.  The theater plans to open this summer and The Lone Ranger starring Johnny Depp was filmed 60 miles west of Lake City and may possibly be the opening movie.

For more information visit: http://mountaineertheatre.com/



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