The fountain in front is dry, but the doors are open.
Familiar sounds of mariachi music are piped through speakers in the ceiling, and strings of flicker lights illuminate the faux Mexican village facades.
Free tours are being offered at Casa Bonita every hour from 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
There are T-shirts and trinkets available near the entrance, but the real draw is a chance to see a place so intertwined with Colorado lore in a way you’ve never seen it before— empty.
There’s a strong smell — (cleaning fluid?) when I enter on this particular day. Perhaps it’s just the smell of a building that’s been closed to the public for more than a year.
Workers, some in knee-high rubber boots, make their way to and fro. There are an impressive 16 people, mostly tourists, waiting to go on the 2 o’ clock Friday tour — five of which are surprisingly patient children who appear to be between 7 and 11-years old.
A charming sheriff, complete with hat, sidearm, badge and friendly smile leads the tour. She has a thorough knowledge of Casa Bonita history and trivia. The tower, for those who don’t know, is 85 feet tall.
We’re warned before embarking on the tour that it will take at least 30 minutes but in reality it took closer to an hour.
A Lakewood institution since 1974, the sheriff says they plan to reopen for dining and entertainment under new management, but with the same owners, in September.
Even for those who’ve been to Casa Bonita several times, the enormity of the structure — 52,000 square feet — is hard to describe.
To say there’s too much information given wouldn’t be fair, but details are covered in, well, great detail, including the process for ordering food (when the restaurant is open).
The waterfall is 30 feet high, although on this day it’s not running.
In the pink dining room, the ceiling was built curved to improve the acoustics. The sheriff and kids let loose with a rip roaring ‘Yee Haw’ to prove it works. It works remarkably well.
Faux rocks that make up large amounts of the place were made from chicken wire and concrete. The sheriff says they took a year to construct before being installed in the restaurant, which had been a Joslin’s retail store in a previous lifetime.
The pool, 14 feet deep, is filled.
In the past, divers are said to have made their jumps from 30 feet in the air, but the sheriff says a recent visit from safety inspectors put an end to that. They do, however, still dive from 25 feet above the pool — a respectable feat for a suburban strip-mall restaurant next door to a dentist’s office.
At Black Bart’s hideout, the kids make a beeline for the legendary glowing skull. The adults meander over to check out the puppet show. The sheriff happily obliges anyone who wants a photo.
The theater, hidden away on the lower level, seats over 150 people and is said to be haunted.
Years ago, a server named Hector suffered a heart attack and met his demise in the room.
“And ever since, his footsteps are known to be heard by other servers who work in the room on dimly-lit occasions,” the sheriff said.
If you’re a football fan, you may be interested to know the Broncos held their 2011 draft in the theater.