The Henry Strater Theatre has closed, marking the end of one of downtown Durango’s most prized event spaces that has provided entertainment for nearly 60 years.
Rod Barker, president and CEO of the Strater Hotel, said the theater, adjacent to the hotel on the 600 block of Main Avenue, is actually not part of the building complex the Barker family owns.
Instead, the event space has been leased from a consortium of owners – known as Main Avenue Partners LLC – for the past 58 years.
“And it’s been a challenge for us to afford what it takes to lease a building and a space like that for all these years, especially one that’s for theater and events,” Barker said.
Now, with the coronavirus outbreak precluding large gatherings for the immediate future, Barker said it was time to close.
“It’s just come to a point, with this virus, that’s pushed us over the tipping point where we can no longer extend ourselves on those kind of expenses,” he said. “We bought the building over many times just in rent. It’s time for us to figure something else out.”
Barker said the decision to close was not made lightly.
“It’s been a wonderful theater,” he said. “A lot of magical things happened there.”
Back in the mid-1900s, the building where the theater now stands was an automobile garage workshop.
But a group of Durangoans – Orvis Grout, Mahlon White and Mort McGinley, as well as Barker’s father, Earl, and grandmother, Marion Jarvis, and others – opened what was then called the “Diamond Circle Theatre” in the space in 1962.
“Up until that point, Durango was a business community – mining, ranching,” Barker said. “This was Durango’s first foray into having family entertainment.”
The historic venue prided itself on melodramas, Barker said. And as Durango’s entertainment and tourism economy grew, so too did the events at the space.
The theater, renamed in 2008 as the Henry Strater Theatre, in recent years hosted countless live concerts, like Judy Collins and George Winston; numerous festivals, such as the Durango Celtic Festival, Bluegrass Meltdown and Cowboy Poetry Gathering; and countless events and conferences, such as the Green Business Roundtable.
Since 1987, the Henry Strater Theatre has been home to the popular Snowdown Follies. Janalee Hogan, an organizer of the event, said it’s going to be difficult to find a space to replace the theater.
“It’s a significant loss for our community,” she said. “We’ll find a way to deliver some fun and frivolity ... but we’re going to have to come together and find solutions. This community has struggled to find an option for a new theater space.”
Main Avenue Partners LLC is a group made up of mostly longtime Durango families. One of its representatives, local lawyer Nick Anesi, said the owners have yet to come together to figure out the future of the space, which has been made more complicated by the coronavirus outbreak.
“I can’t say what’s going to happen at this point,” Anesi said. “We have to see what people want to do.”
Barker, for his part, said the Strater Hotel is still looking for ways to be a central go-to for live events. He said the company is looking into the possibility of developing the vacant lot between the hotel and Denny’s as a possible future development site for a new theater.
“Maybe all these groups and events will have a new future in that location,” he said. “We’ll see, but it’s always been a dream of mine for a long time to do that.”