To Stand for Centuries

Red Rocks 1941

Red Rocks 1941
It took the CCC six years to build the amphitheater.
Photo Credit: Photos courtesy of Denver Public Library – Western History Collection, by Harry Rhoads

On August 4 the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service named Colorado’s Mount Morrison CCC Camp and Red Rocks Amphitheatre—both built by the CCC— as National Historic Landmarks. They are the first New Deal-era historic sites to be listed in the state. Friends of Red Rocks spearheaded the 14-year effort, with politicians, historians, and a number of musicians who performed at Red Rocks lending support.

Acclaimed as the only naturally occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheatre in the world, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, ten miles from Denver, has served as a music venue for much of the city’s history. Since the first documented performance there in 1906, which featured a 25-piece brass band, the amphitheater has hosted opera and rock stars—though rock music was briefly banned during the 1970s when fans overran the 9,450-seat venue.

The city acquired the 868-acre site on the Front Range for its Mountain Parks system in 1928. Denver’s then-parks director, George Cranmer, convinced the mayor to build a permanent stage amidst the massive slabs. With help from the WPA and the Civilian Conservation Corps construction began in 1936.

Red Rocks (1930s)

Red Rocks (1930s)
The renowned concert venue is cradled within two, 300-foot rocks.
Photo Credit: Photos courtesy of Denver Public Library – Western History Collection, by Harry Rhoads

The amphitheater was largely built by hand. The 200 men of Company 1848, Camp SP-13-C, Mount Morrison each earned a dollar a day. They learned and performed skilled labor such as stone masonry, electrical engineering, cement work, carpentry, and landscaping.

A 1936 account of the CCC in Colorado described the effort: “They are building an amphitheatre that will stand for centuries, and in generations to come this work will remain a symbol of advancement of the western culture of today…an enduring monument to the Civilian Conservation Corps in Colorado…

The Red Rocks Amphitheater was dedicated in 1941. The Mount Morrison camp closed in 1942. It is one of only a few CCC camps to remain largely intact. Denver Mountain Parks uses the buildings for offices and storage. The former mess hall houses a small museum dedicated to the CCC, with artifacts and memorabilia on display.

The camp is open to the public by appointment, in season. Email [email protected] or call 720.865.0900 to arrange a visit.

Robert Krause, Ph.D., a Research Associate for the Living New Deal, is a Historic Preservation Planner with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in Prince George’s County. He grew up in Bozeman, Montana. His grandfather and great-uncle were enrollees in the Civilian Conservation Corps.

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