CONFIRMED: Sparkling New Disney Park Quietly Opens in Colorado, Follows a Different Path Than Its Sister Parks

in Disney, Disney Parks, Entertainment, Featured, Theme Parks

Illustration of a yellow burst background with multi-directional starbursts. A large red question mark is scribbled across the image, obscuring parts of various street signs and a small cartoonish house at the bottom, near the celebrity sports center in Denver.

Credit: Inside the Magic

A brand-new Disney park quietly opened in the heart of Denver, Colorado, much to the surprise of the entertainment giant’s fans. But though it became increasingly popular with guests, its ownership was even more “striking” than its attractions, and its financial shortcomings ultimately led to its demise.

Related: Colorado Governor Offers Asylum to Mickey and Minnie Mouse

Illustration of a yellow burst background with multi-directional starbursts. A large red question mark is scribbled across the image, obscuring parts of various street signs and a small cartoonish house at the bottom, near the celebrity sports center in Denver.
Credit: Inside the Magic

After Success, Disney Moves Forward

Walt Disney dreamed up the idea of a magical place where families–children and their parents alike–could experience things together while sitting on a bench watching his two young daughters on the merry-go-round at Griffith Park in California.

Walt and his daughters enjoyed their Saturday outings, but something was missing. That something was the opportunity for the young father to experience the fun of those outings. Walt’s answer to the problem was the development of a theme park resort–one that ultimately found its way to a 150+-acre area of orange groves in southern California. Walt called it Disneyland.

Black and white photo of visitors walking near a fairy-tale style castle with turrets and flags, in a celebrity sports center theme park setting.
Credit: D23

Walt Disney’s “Experiment” in Colorado

In a post in Colorado Heritage magazine in the Fall of 2007, journalist David Forsyth wrote about Denver’s Celebrity Sports Center, explaining how Walt Disney, the visionary who had already begun the development of his massive empire with the construction, opening, and operation of Disneyland in Anaheim, California, came to open a park of a different kind in Colorado:

Over the forty years that Disney oversaw his creations, they expanded from simple cartoons to enormously popular movies and theme parks. Although his enterprises were huge successes, Disney never let that success slow him down because, as he said once, “I can never stand still; I must explore and experiment.” That desire for exploration, with the financial backing of the Mouse, brought Disney to Colorado on several occasions, and it led him to launch one of his company’s major experiments in Denver.

And an “experiment” it was–for two reasons. First, though Walt had several successful feature-length films under his belt by the late 1950s, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Dumbo (1941), Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), and Lady and the Tramp (1955), he had only one theme park resort to his name.

Related: Disney’s ‘Cinderella’ is Hiding Several Secrets, But We’re Revealing Them Here

Cinderella in her shimmering blue gown is surrounded by a magical glow in a dark forest, illustrating a classical fairytale moment of transformation.
“Cinderella” (1950)/Credit: Walt Disney Animation

Related: Walt Disney Hated Scenes In His Own Films, Especially in This 1955 Blockbuster

Second, though Disneyland had become very successful, the type of “park” Walt was planning in Colorado was quite different from Disneyland.

An Experiment in a Prime Location

In the late 1950s, Denver had already become one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S., but the area was still in need of entertainment options that weren’t affected by inclement weather.

At the time, Denver was home to Lakeside Amusement Park, as well as the Elitch Gardens. For residents who were more sports-oriented, the area offered swimming, golf, college sports teams, and the Denver Bears baseball team.

Night view of a cityscape featuring the sparkling new Disney Park Colorado with a lit Ferris wheel and roller coaster, trees, and reflections on water, under a dusk sky.
Lakeside Amusement Park/Credit: Visit Denver

Forsyth wrote in his column that “by 1959, Denver was sorely in need of amusement options for the winter, or at least options that were impervious to bad weather.” It’s no wonder that a group of investors came together on a project that would offer just that. But news that several well-known celebrities comprised the group of investors was likely a bit of a surprise.

News of a New Disney Park is Announced

In November 1959, The Denver Post ran an article announcing plans for a “huge play center” in southeast Denver. According to The Post, the new location would feature restaurants, a health salon, a bowling alley with 80 lanes, and a massive indoor pool, among other offerings. At first, Denver’s new amusement park, named Celebrity Sports Center, sounded unremarkable at best as none of its features was unique.

But its ownership was extremely unique, and its uniqueness was hinted at in its name. (Hint: Celebrity)

Illustration of a retro-style sign that reads "Celebrity Sports Center" in a stylized font, featuring star motifs, set against a radiant yellow background with a sunburst pattern, located in Colorado.
Credit: Disney Wiki

The new location would be owned by a group of some of the most famous Hollywood celebrities of the time, including Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Burl Ives, Bing Crosby, Spike Jones, Art Linkletter, and John Payne. And the other major investor in the group was none other than Walt Disney.

Related: Walt Disney & Lucille Ball: The Dots You Probably Never Connected Until Now

On December 14, 1959, the solid gold investors group participated in a groundbreaking ceremony for the nearly 123,000-square-foot facility.

Walt Sets His Sights on Colorado

As Walt Disney wanted to keep going and keep growing, he likely had several projects in the works at once. But his next “park” would take on an entirely different look from the park in southern California.

Opening Day parade at Disneyland
Credit: D23

Per KXAN in Austin, Texas:

After Disneyland opened in California, Walt Disney was looking for another U.S. destination to host entertainment. He then set his sights on Colorado.

The Denver Public Library took a deep dive into what some locals may remember as Celebrity Sports Center, an indoor and outdoor amusement park in the Denver suburb of Glendale.

In 1960, Walt Disney and some other big-name investors opened up the park, initially called Celebrity Lanes. After expanding, the project cost $6 million, which is approximately $63 million today, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A vintage black and white photo of the Celebrity Sports Center in Colorado with a large sign next to a parking lot full of cars, depicting mid-20th-century architecture and design.
Credit: Facebook/Disappearing Denver

Dubbed the Celebrity Sports Center, Walt’s new venture–alongside other celebrities like Jack Benny, George Burns, Bing Crosby, Burl Ives, Spike Jones, Jim and Marian Jordan, Charles Laughton, Art Linkletter, and John Payne–was an amusement park that included a massive swimming pool, bowling lanes, space for birthday parties, and more.

The location even offered swimming lessons and professional bowling tournaments. The reported price tag for the construction of the location was $6 million.

It opened in 1960, and by 1962, the property was acquired entirely by Walt Disney Productions. In its prime, the Celebrity Sports Center was a bustling location. It was well received by the public and enjoyed decades of success.

Walt’s Colorado “Park” Fizzles Out

During its time, the amusement park was bustling with birthday parties and visitors who came to enjoy bowling, swimming, and more. It was quite successful. But unlike Walt’s other park ventures, the Celebrity Sports Center fizzled out after only 30 years.

Black and white photo of an excavator with the arm positioned as if playing with a giant chess piece in a parking lot in Colorado, with a sign reading "Celebration Fun Center Amusements" in the background.
Credit: Facebook/Disappearing Denver

According to KXAN, the location was demolished in 1995 to make room for retail locations. Today, the property that was once home to Walt’s only amusement park in Colorado is now home to a large shopping center that is anchored by a Home Depot store.

in Disney, Disney Parks, Entertainment, Featured, Theme Parks

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