In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps removed Moraine Lodge from Rocky Mountain National Park in an initiative to restore the land to its original state. They converted the lodge’s remaining assembly hall into a museum in 1936 and the following year added the Moraine Park Museum Amphitheater. Like other outdoor venues in the national parks, the amphitheater follows Greek design with a rustic naturalism that blends in with the setting. The architecture plays a subordinate role to nature, responding to the terrain rather than controlling it, by following basic principles such as refraining from removing large numbers of trees to create seating, incorporating a distant natural view as the stage background, and placing a campfire near the stage. The amphitheater also reflects the ‘Parkitecture’ era of Park Service design that naturalized visitor centers, creating an organic aesthetic for guests that blended manmade structures with nature.
Overlooking a view of Longs Peak, the amphitheater features rustic design elements like the plank and stone seating built around the topographic shape of the bowl, ponderosa pines creating a wall around the stage, and stone steps and trails for pedestrian traffic. The new museum and theater were important additions to the Park Service’s education and interpretation programs at Rocky Mountain and served as a venue for delivering slideshow presentations. The first lecture took place in the summer of 1937 and hosted 97 guests. The Estes Park Trail—a local newspaper—published a list of weekly programs held at the amphitheater which included motion pictures like Glimpses of the National Parks and campfire lectures such as “Oddities in Nature’s Gardens” and “Winter Life in the Rockies,” both given in the week of July 25, 1938.
The Moraine Park Museum Amphitheater site is one of the best representations of National Park rustic design and remains unchanged to this day. Using the natural landscape, retaining native plants, and including views of the park were key elements of the Park Service’s conservation movement in the 1930s. Citizens nominated the site to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, and promoted understanding landscapes as places of historical information.
Since its original construction, the National Park Service replaced the amphitheater’s stone seating with wood planks in the 1950s. The amphitheater has hosted many events over the years, ranging from lectures and religious gatherings to stargazing and campfires. It remains in use today largely for weddings and school education programs.