Long before Red Rocks became part of the Mountain Park system, its extraordinary rock formations attracted local and regional attention. In the 1880s and 90s, the park was known as the Garden of the Angels. Local entrepreneurs offered burro rides into its isolated picnic sites and hawked refreshments from vending stands. Stairs and ladders made the steep rocks and caves accessible, even to fashionable ladies in the long skirts of the day. Hiking among the park’s outcrops was a favorite outing.
Early in the 20th century, Red Rocks Park attracted the attention of Denver businessman John Brisben Walker, who purchased it in 1906 and renamed it the Garden of the Titans. Walker enhanced this tourist destination with a funicular railway to the top of Mt. Morrison and built or improved carriage roads and trails among the rock outcrops. From 1906 to 1928, when Red Rocks Park was purchased by the City of Denver, he worked tirelessly to promote the foothills in the Morrison area as a destination for tourists and a haven where weary city dwellers could refresh themselves. Walker was particularly intrigued by the acoustic qualities of the natural amphitheatre between the Park’s two tallest monoliths, and promoted a plan to develop a more formal amphitheatre capable of seating 10,000 people.
Walker also promoted foothills tourism generally, and was instrumental in encouraging Denver to create its Mountain Park system in 1910. The growing popularity of the automobile and Denver’s road improvements into the foothills spelled trouble for Walker’s funicular on Mt. Morrison, and the threat of war affected his hopes for a boom in foothills recreation. By the early 1920s he turned to other pursuits and tried to interest Denver in acquiring Red Rocks as one of its new Mountain Parks.
After Denver bought this ‘Park of the Red Rocks,’ the City immediately began building miles of scenic roads and contemplating a huge amphitheatre. The scenic roads capitalized on the park’s natural features, providing spectacular views. In 1931, Denver built the Indian Concession House, designed by W.R. Rosche in the Pueblo Revival style and now known as the Trading Post.
Amid the Great Depression of the 1930s, Denver was handed an opportunity. George Cranmer, Manager of Parks and Improvements, was quick to take advantage of a new program, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), designed to relieve the hard times. In 1935, three camps were established in the Mountain Parks, and one was specifically intended to work on the long-sought amphitheatre. Planning began in earnest, and by 1936, construction was underway. Men stationed at the Mt. Morrison and Genesee camps worked on the amphitheatre until it was completed and turned over to the City in 1941.