I would cringe every time I watched it.
“I’m Warren Epstein, a film critic and long-time fan of independent films, and I loovvvve Kimball’s Peak Three Theater.”
With that endorsement, my giant face has preceded every movie at Kimball’s for years. I won’t lie — it’s a little embarrassing.
But my feelings of embarrassment at seeing my nose larger than a Buick are now offset by my pride and gratefulness about having been part of that theater’s story and the story of theater owner Kimball Bayles.
Cancer took Kim earlier this month, and it has likely killed the movie palace he loved and sometimes probably hated.
During my first visit to Colorado Springs in 1988, it was a visit to Poor Richard’s Feed and Read that sealed the deal on moving here. My wife, Jane, and I ate the amazing kitchen sink salad on the cafe side, then wandered over to the bookstore side, where staff members were moving the bookshelves and setting up folding chairs. The lights went out, and a screen filled with a French film.
By that time, Richard Skorman, who’d written a book about independent films and would go on to be vice mayor of Colorado Springs, and Kim, an English teacher and film professor, had been running this little oasis of food, culture and counterculture for a decade. Kim bought Poor Richard’s Cinema from Richard in 1992. The theater had expanded to be a fully raked (sloped seating) cinema, though tiny with only 55 seats, and one of the only movie houses in the country to have a concession stand inside the theater.
“I can say it was pretty good for our concession business to have that popcorn smell right where the theatergoers sat,” Richard recalls. “Many would quietly come up and knock on our little projection room door for more popcorn during films.”
The timing for the business couldn’t have been better. In the early ‘90s, arthouses around the country thrived as small, low-budget films like The Piano and The Crying Game started drawing immense mainstream crowds.
Buoyed by those successes and others, in 1994, Kim decided to take the chance on a $1.5 million renovation of an old movie house on Pikes Peak Avenue.
At the time, I was film critic for The Gazette and would be reviewing many of the films, and even though I would occasionally pan films showing at his theater, Kim and I became friends. I remember he couldn’t wait to tell me about Pulp Fiction, the violent, complex, brutal and hilarious action flick by Tarantino.
“It’s gonna kill,” he told me. And he was right. Lines up and down Pikes Peak Avenue for months. Months! Then came My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Lines up and down the avenue again. For months.
Kim was that rare independent theater owner to curate everything he presented on his screens. He would go to special exhibitor screenings and attend film festivals, such as Telluride and Sundance, and then couldn’t wait to share his favorites.
But the business model for indie films hit rough waters after 2000, as the megaplex chains took hold. Kim tried to adjust, adding a wine bar, adding another screen, and going with more mainstream fare.
The following two decades became a constant struggle. It seemed like every few months, Kim would tell me he was not going to make it to the end of the year. Sometimes, a popular film would stave off the gloom. Sometimes, he just soldiered on regardless.
“He was brave Kim to the end, fighting to stay alive,” Richard says. “He said goodbye to me and many others who loved him. He was the sweetest soul.”
The theater closed the day after Kim’s death on Jan. 11. The last film I saw there was the weekend earlier — The Fablemans, Spielberg’s bittersweet reflection on how he developed his affection for film.
How appropriate. Kim lived to share his loves: Of great films from around the world. Of fine wine. Of gourmet food (he briefly owned the former Metropolitain restaurant.)
After his passing, I talked to his wife, Sabrina Bayles, about these public passions, and she told me about other sides of Kim.
He was crazy about mountain biking.
“The trail was his church,” Sabrina says.
He shared his love of mountain biking at the Colorado Springs School, where he coached the sport and worked as a substitute teacher.
“He would stay after class talking with the kids, just drinking in their curiosity about everything,” Sabrina says. “Folks at the school would have to say, ‘Kim, you have to go.’ He never wanted to leave.”
Another love was for his family. He constantly doted on their daughter, Marina.
“Marina was his pride and joy, and he was a dad who wouldn’t miss a single important moment — not a basketball game, not a dance performance,” Sabrina says.
And as a husband, he was attentive as hell, and never shied away from showing his feelings.
“He would let the tears flow, especially when Marina came along,” she says. “He wore that on his sleeve.”
I saw those passions for family and the outdoors. I also saw the struggles to balance those with running a theater that was losing its footing.
What will happen to the cinema now?
That’s an open question, and lots of folks in the local arts and philanthropic communities are wrestling with it. Whatever happens, it’s unlikely that it will return as it’s been. The for-profit independent cinema model just doesn’t seem viable.
What is not an open question is Kimball’s legacy. So many of us found our lives enriched, as we gobbled fresh popcorn (with real butter), sipped some wine, and let the stories of love, tragedy and transcendence wash over us. He was like Alfredo in the Italian classic Cinema Paradiso. He humbly shared movies with his village, perhaps never realizing how those efforts had become the town’s cultural center. Its heart.
The marquee outside the now dark Kimball’s Peak Three Theater says it all:
“Our hearts are broken. Kimball Bayles 1952-2023.”
Friends Remember Kimball Bayles
The local arts community and those who love independent films had strong reactions to the passing of Kimball Bayles, owner of Kimball’s Peak Three Theater:
“He brought so much art, culture and sheer coolness to our community. Our deep condolences go out to his family and friends.”
—Susan Edmondson, CEO and president of the Downtown Partnership
“Fifteen years ago, our first Indie Spirit Film Festival was held at the Peak Theater. Thank you to Kimball Bayles for the opportunity that launched us … thus becoming a part of the independent film community in the Pikes Peak Region. The Peak offered opportunities to local independent filmmakers through film-related events and private screenings of their films. … It is our hope that the legacy Kim has created will continue to thrive and his vision to support the independent film community will last far into the future.”
—Ralph Giordano, Festival Director of the Independent Film Society of Colorado
“Kimball was my first real introduction to independent film. I clearly remember going to Poor Richard’s Cinema, walking up what felt like a secret flight of stairs and into a very small, cozy theater. Kimball walked to the front of the room, personally welcomed everyone, talked a little about the film and then left us to be transported to another world, as only film can do. He created space for films that otherwise might not have been seen and has made our community richer for doing so.”
—Linda Broker, Executive Director of Rocky Mountain Women’s Film
“Love and Mercy was one that he booked upon my friendly persistence to find it and bring it to his theater. … I would make suggestions/requests to Kim for upcoming (music-related) titles I knew were soon to be released. He would find the distributor and get them booked, usually only for one or two showings. (The Linda Ronstadt doc actually ran for about a week.) Then I would begin promoting through social media to the musicians and music lovers in my media circle. For the one-time-only showings, usually late at night, we got a pretty decent audience …1/2 to 3/4 of a house. Enough to make him a little money (maybe?) and the goodwill to book another, once I found it. … We also sat and chatted about other music films we had seen through the years. What a great guy. I will really miss him!”
—Singer-songwriter Sean Anglum
“He fought valiantly. A friend to me and to Colorado Springs. Love to his beautiful and beloved girls.”
—Kathryn Eastburn, author and journalist
“I remember way back before the theater opened and Kimball showed films at Poor Richard’s. After every film, we’d have great conversations sharing our thoughts. One of my all-time favorite discussions was after watching Naked Lunch with Kim.”
—Rodney Wood, artist and former director of the Manitou Arts Center
“When I considered moving here, an independent theater was one of many plus-column factors that convinced me to move here.”
—Artist Jill Spear
“I frequented his theater often – one of the luminous places for art and cultural light in downtown Colorado Springs, a place with too few such places.”
—Brandon Fibbs, TV, film and podcast producer
What Was the Deal with That Giant Projector in the Lobby?
“The projector that he had in his lobby for years was my/his old 35 mm projector. It was from the old Flick. The arthouse that was on Tejon and Willamette used to be the only place for arthouse films until Richard Bailey of Bailey’s Kitchens bought the building and shut it down because he was a fundamentalist who only wanted Scott, owner of the Flick, to show G-rated movies, for God’s choice. He ran the Showboat Theater there instead for two years with movies like Mary Poppins. It failed miserably.”
—Friend and former business partner Richard Skorman
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