B50 Note: Everything you ever wanted to know about Celebrity Sports Center. No, really. This article was originally published in Colorado Heritage magazine in Autumn 2007. Reprinted with permission of the Author. Images courtesy of celebrity.bt76.com
Spares and Splashes: Walt Disney’s Celebrity Sports Center
— by David Forsyth
Once, when speaking about the entertainment empire he had built, Walt Disney said, “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing—that it was all started by a mouse.” 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.
By the late 1950s the Denver area was one of the fastest growing in the United States, and something both new and old residents needed was entertainment. There were plenty of options. For those seeking fast rides and other thrills there were Lakeside Amusement Park and the old Elitch Gardens. Those more interested in sports had swimming, golf, the Denver Bears baseball team, and college sports teams, among many other choices. But the one problem plaguing these forms of entertainment was that, to varying extents, foul weather could hamper one’s enjoyment of them.
When Lakeside opened in 1908, the Denver Republican praised the summer resort as a welcome addition to Denver’s recreation needs. Nature, the Republican wrote on May 24, 1908, had done a good job of supplying Denver with winter amusements, but the city had never had “an open air playground in keeping with the demands of its cosmopolitan and thoroughly discriminating population.” By 1959 the exact opposite attitude seemed true—Denver was sorely in need of amusement options for the winter, or at least options that were impervious to bad weather. In late 1959 a group of investors joined forces on a project that could offer hours of amusement regardless of the weather while also improving the lives of the area’s young people—a priority for one of the investors.
On November 15, 1959, The Denver Post announced that a “huge play center” was in the works for southeast Denver. According to the Post, the center was to include an eighty-lane bowling alley, a massive indoor swimming pool, restaurants, a lounge, and a health salon. The center would be owned and operated by Celebrity Bowling, Inc., a recently formed corporation based in Los Angeles.
While none of these activities were especially original, what was unique about the future Celebrity Sports Center was its ownership. The facility took its name from the fact that it was owned by a number of Hollywood celebrities, among them Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Burl Ives, Bing Crosby, Spike Jones, Art Linkletter, and John Payne. And there was one other major investor, whom visitors sometimes encountered at the site once construction got under way—Walt Disney.
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