In 1918 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints built a dual-purpose recreation hall with a theater on one side and a dance floor on the other. For decades, the building was “the heart of the community.”[2, 3]
The theater showed silent films, with John Oldroyd operating a hand-crank projector and Deniece Blackham providing piano accompaniment. The auditorium featured a stage, orchestra pit, and potbellied stoves along the walls for heating. Ushers helped showgoers to their seats and children of widows attended for free.[1, 2, 3]
"Local citizens formed drama clubs, and some real 'spine-chilling' thrillers were well attended. The Young Men and Women of the LDS Church staged many productions. The local schools provided superior entertainment as the youth displayed their talents in operettas and other musicals."
Dances were held every weekend, usually with live orchestra accompaniment. Whole families attended, even young children in pajamas and bare feet. The town staged dances when soldiers went to war or returned home.
"In those days, when money was very limited in the lives of the young, dances were the most popular of all recreational activities. Many who were privileged to experience . . . the 'Big Band Era' are convinced there was never, nor will there ever be again, a period that can equal those great times enjoyed by so many."
The LDS Church started selling off its recreation halls and the property in Fountain Green was sold in 1944 to Ivin Rasmussen.[2, 3] He continued operating the theater and dance hall until 1950, “when television changed the way people spent their evenings.” Rasmussen converted the building into a general store and roller-skating rink. The store closed in 1976 and the building remained vacant for 30 years.[2, 3]
In 1998, the Fountain Green Heritage Committee, a chapter of the Utah Heritage Highway Alliance, made plans to restore the old recreation hall as a community center. Lewis and Lynn Rassmussen, who had inherited the property, donated it to the city so the restoration effort could qualify for grant money.[1, 2, 3]
“A lot of people who grew up in this town and still live here remember going to the movies at the theater and what a special thing it was,” said Fred Burns, head of the committee. “We want it to be that way again.”
The roof had collapsed, along with part of the floor, and debris filled the rooms. Some areas of the building were almost knee deep in pigeon droppings. Inmates from Gunnison prison cleared debris during 2001 and 2002, until funding for the work program ran out. Local volunteers helped on weekends. The last of the rotted timber was pushed to the center of the dance hall and destroyed by bonfire. A high-pressure hose was then used to clean the brick walls.[2, 3] The building was left with “a roof of blue sky and clouds.”
Gene Peckham, chairman of the Heritage Committee recalled, “There was never a time when we called a work party that we didn't have 20 to 30 people, from a man in his middle 70s down to kids.”
"It's brought our city together like nothing anyone could have ever imagined," said Mayor Scott Collard.
The Division of State History awarded a $40,000 grant for historic and engineering studies. An engineering firm began drawings for a restoration of the building and started the process of listing the theater on the National Register of Historic Places, but the firm went broke before finishing either. A new engineering firm rejected the first firm's whole approach, leaving the Heritage Committee with almost nothing for the $40,000.[2, 6]
The Utah State Historic Preservation Office received a nomination form for the Fountain Green Theatre, but corrections and additional information were required. These were never completed, possibly due to the engineering firm going under, so the nomination never went through the formal review process. Despite some reports, the building has not been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
After a couple of brothers in town provided a new $70,000 roof, the Heritage Committee started receiving major loans, grants, and gifts, including $65,000 from the George S. and Dolores Dore' Eccles Foundation, $180,000 from the Utah Community Impact Board, and $150,000 from the community. 300 people, nearly half the local population, volunteered 5,000 hours on the project. In July 2004, the committee had raised $700,000 and still needed another $50,000.[2, 3]
A dedication party for the restored dance hall was held on Memorial Day weekend in 2004. By mid-July it had been in use every weekend for family reunions and at least a dozen wedding receptions. The annual operating cost for the facility was estimated at $13,400.
The dance hall features doors just like the originals and a maple dance floor with rubber matting underneath. Original elements of the building restored by volunteers include the ticket booth, woodwork, and stencils. Denice Aagard overcame her fear of heights to repaint the original green-and-red stencil design, fourteen feet above the floor.[2, 3]
In November 2004, the Utah Heritage Foundation gave the Fountain Green Theatre and Dance Hall one of its nine annual Heritage Awards for preservation.
In 2004, work remaining to be done on the theater side included an exterior marquee, sound system, flooring on the stage and auditorium, laying replica Victorian-era carpeting in the aisles, and installing seats from a demolished theater building at Snow College.
In 2003, Brigham Young University was restoring the theater's original advertising curtain. The roll-down curtain, which protected the movie screen, had a mural-type image surrounded by advertisements from local businesses, such as banks, mills, and furniture stores.[1, 3]
"We found [it] in the basement during the renovation, just rolled up and sitting there,” Fred Burns explained. “It's in great shape. The [curtain] is signed on the back by actors who were in plays that were performed here. We're told that the [curtain] alone is worth as much as the entire building. I've never seen anything like it in my entire life, it's a great find.”
The Heritage Committee plans to use the theater for plays, musical performances, and a Mormon Heritage Film Festival. One or two movies would play a week, using prints borrowed from the BYU film library.[1, 3]
1. "Oral Histories, 'Lost Treasures' of Beloved Fountain Green Theater Being Preserved, Restored", Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area, 26 September 2003
2. "Old dance hall kicks up heels", Deseret Morning News, 13 July 2004
3. "New life for an old building", Deseret Morning News, 15 November 2004
4. "The Thumb", Salt Lake Tribune, 14 November 2004
5. “The History of Fountain Green”, 1999, quoted in "New life for an old building", Deseret Morning News, 15 November 2004
6. Email from Corey Jensen, Utah State Historic Preservation Office, 8 January 2014