W. H. Shurtliffe of Ogden and W. R. Dredge of Brigham City opened the Elberta Theatre on Monday afternoon, 12 March 1917. Opening features were a five-part Blue Bird release entitled “The Chalice of Sorrow”, accompanied by a two-part LKO comedy. Admission prices were five cents for children and ten for adults.
The Elberta Theatre was the second movie theater in Brigham City. Shurtliffe and Dredge believed “that there is room for two picture concerns in Brigham and for that reason they are going to get into the field and make a bid for their share of the patronage. They will show only first class pictures and will make a strong effort to raise the standard of the moving picture appetite by offering subjects that will be educational as well as entertaining.”
The name of the theater was chosen through a contest. “Shurtliffe and Dredge are offering a substantial prize for a suitable name for the new picture house which they have now under course of erection. The gentlemen will erect a very unique theatre and they want a very unique name, so an opportunity is given everyone to submit a name and a competent committee will decide which is the best.”
Construction of the theater began in September 1916 with the demolition of the old Gasberg buildings in September 1916. “Practically the entire row of buildings extending back into the lot will be taken away in order to make plenty of room for the play house . . .” The property had forty feet of frontage along Main Street, between the Hanson Mercantile and H. C. Christiansen's tailor shop.
The general contractor for the building was T. W. Whitaker. Richard Christiansen did the cement work. Plans for the structure were drawn by Shreeve & Madsen of Ogden. Gravel from the excavation was used to improve city streets. For the south wall of the theater, the owners may have joined with the Knudson Brothers to extend and strengthen an existing wall.
On 1 March 1917, the editor of the Box Elder News attended a test screening of “Whoso Seeketh a Wife”, a dramatization of Hall Cain's book by the Art Drama Company. “The work of the projecting machines was splendid and the seating arrangement of the house admits of a perfect view of the screen from all parts of the auditorium so that … patrons of the house will have a most comfortable view.”
On the front of the Elberta Theatre was an electric sign, seven feet by eleven, bearing the theater's trademark logo. The ticket booth “stands out to the front so that the public can be served either in the lobby or on the sidewalk”. On either side of the entrance were “two nice little stores” for rental purposes. The entrance had a tiled floor and featured a double set of doors to prevent drafts in the winter. Above the lobby, on the second story, was a “commodious” office for theatre management.
A unique feature of the Elberta Theatre was that the end of the auditorium with the movie screen was located at the front of the building, next to the lobby. This arrangement allowed patrons to enter after the film had begun and find their way to their seats using light reflected from the screen. Seating for “a few over 500” was divided into two sections by a center aisle. The floor was sloped, “which makes it possible for a person in any part of the building to get a perfect vision of the screen.” The design enabled patrons to enter or leave by the center or side aisles without obstructing the view of those remaining in their seats. Below the screen was an orchestra pit with room for a piano and up to five other instruments, “so that a regular orchestra can be used when desirable.”
Rest rooms were located in the basement at the rear of the building. Three exits, besides the main entrance, connected to an alley running along the north side of the building. The projection booth, “in a room all by itself and practically apart from the entire building”, held two “modern projecting machines” and the controls for the house lights.[1 & 2]
On 11 December 1918, W. H. Shurtliffe became the sole owner and manager of the Elberta Theatre, after purchasing the interests of his partner, W. R. Dredge. Shurtliffe planned to make Brigham City his permanent home and announced “that extensive improvements, renovation and decorations will be done immediately and the show house will be made one of the very finest in the state.”
The Elberta Theatre closed for renovation in 1926. A new velvet curtain was installed and the lighting system was enlarged. The theater reopened on 30 June 1926, showing Harold Lloyd in “The Freshman.” A newspaper advertisement for the film said, “The Elberta has been newly decorated, renovated and a number of improvements for your comfort -- come and see. A package of Life Savers Free to each person attending the first attraction.”
In 1927, the Elberta Theatre was renamed the Capitol Theatre.
On 14 July 1984, the Capitol Theatre closed temporarily after a chunk of plaster measuring two feet by three feet fell from the ceiling on a Saturday evening. Eva Chappell, a Brigham City housewife, was taken to the Brigham City Community Hospital where she was treated for cuts and bruises. Mrs. Chappell said, “My first thought was that the whole thing was coming down.” Theater Manager Reed Walker voluntarily closed the theater pending a safety inspection.
1. “Elberta Theatre to Open Monday”, Box Elder News, 9 March 1917, Page 1
2. “New Picture House for Brigham", Box Elder News, 1 September 1916, page 4
3. “Work on New Theatre Begins”, Box Elder News, 15 September 1916
4. “Suggest a Name and Win a Prize”, Box Elder News, 29 September 1916, Page 3
5. “Cement Work Going In”, Box Elder News, 13 October 1916, Page 1
6. “Elberta Presents Its First Film”, Box Elder News, 02 March 1917, Page 1
7. “Elberta Theatre Trademark”, Box Elder News, 06 March 1917, Page 1
8. “Elberta Theatre Changes Hands”, 12 December 1918, Page 1
9. “Elberta Theatre to Reopen June 30th", 25 June 1926, Page 1
10. Newspaper ad, Box Elder News, 29 June 1926. Page 4
11. Polk's Utah Gazetteer and Business Directory, 1918-1919, 1920-1921, 1922-1923, 1927-1928
12. "Theater Closed After Chunk of Plaster Falls", Salt Lake Tribune, 16 July 1984, page B3