(Orpheus Theatre, Imperial Hall)
South Vernal Avenue
Orpheus Hall opened on Thanksgiving Day, 30 November 1911. The amusement hall was named after the god of Mirth from Greek mythology, “a famous musician who is reputed to have had power to entrance men, beasts, and inanimate objects by the music of his lyre."
The opening ball of the Orpheus began with a grand march led by Mr. and Mrs. Don E. Colton and Mr. And Mrs. R. S. Collett, with over a hundred couples participating. High church officials and prominent businessmen were in attendance. “Never in the social history of Vernal has the opening ball of the beautiful Orpheus amusement hall been surpassed . . . The lighting scheme was a delightful surprise, the floor was literally 'a dream,' and the strains of the orchestra penetrating every corner of the large hall left no doubt in the minds of those present as to the appropriateness of the name of 'Orpheus.'
The ticket office, check rooms, and chests for roller skating equipment were located on the right, just inside the west entrance. On the left was a “commodious ladies parlor.” Above the west entrance was the orchestra and visitors balcony. The stage, located on the east end, was not complete for the Thanksgiving opening, but was used as a spectators gallery. The walls of the hall were a tinted light green. The construction of the cream-colored ceiling “gives one the restful, happy feeling” and promised excellent acoustics. “A speaker may now be distinctly heard in any part of the auditorium, even when it is empty, and singers have tried it with equally good results.”
Two weeks after opening, Manager C. W. Showalter changed the lighting color scheme. “The clusters of electric light globes in the center of the ceiling dome alternate red, white, and blue. So also is the row at the second angle of the ceiling dome. The effect is very pleasing, adding another feature to the popularity of the beautiful hall.”
On 12 August 1912, the Orpheus Theatre started showing “daylight moving pictures.” Using a Radium Gold Fibre Screen from American Theatre Supply Company and a new Simplex Projector, movies were able to be shown in a “partly lighted” auditorium. At the time, the only other theaters in Utah with this technology were the Princess Theatre in Provo and the New Rex Theatre in Salt Lake City. Speaking of the advantages of daylight pictures, manager Herold S. Ruland said, “Patrons feel safe, find their seats more readily, less confusion between pictures, and in case of an alarm of fire, pass out of the house without becoming panic-stricken and uncontrollable. . . With this combination it places us in the front rank of the coming picture houses.”
H. A. Lee and N. F. Lee became the owners of the Orpheus Theatre on 23 March 1919, after purchasing the controlling stock of $12,000 from N. J. Meagher, C. W. Showalter, and Andrew King. Mr. Showalter, who had been manager of the Orpheus for several years, planned to spend the rest of the year in Idaho, where he had mining interests. The Lee brothers moved to Vernal from Dragon, where they were involved in the cattle industry. Their purpose in taking over the Orpheus was to “conduct dances and motion pictures shows, giving the public the best service possible.”
A “rumor possessing considerable truth” circulated Vernal in July 1919, saying that the Lee Brothers had sold the Orpheus Theatre to Lawrence Allen and Chas Neal, effective 1 September 1919. According to the news article, “The hall will be fitted up and equipped as an amusement palace of the highest order.”
Improvements were made to the Orpheus after new management took over in the fall of 1928. An old stove in the “cozy corner” was replaced by davenport rockers and rugs. Local businesses helped fund a new $1,2000 moist air ventilation system, which seemed to “turn winter into spring as you step across the threshold.” A stairway was provided to allow patrons to enjoy the “delightfully refreshing current” thrown onto the rear balcony.
Between Christmas and New Years, work began on two projects that were expected to be completed by 20 January 1929. The cloak room, “a source of much embarrassment in the past,” was made “more commodious,” with the promise of doing away “with the crushing and soiling of hats and wraps.” “Pleasant retreats” were created on the stage, where dancers could “repair for a little chat or to listen to the music.”
At the New Years Eve 1928 dance, a contest to choose a new name for the amusement hall resulted in more than a hundred submissions. A committee reduced the list to twenty names, then sought one that “embodied the largeness of meaning appropriate to the appointments and proportions of the building.” The word finally chosen expressed “thought superior in size or quality, possessing commanding dignity: kingly, queenly grand. Such a word could well be applied to the common social center where all meet to have their best times together, where the whole community co-mingles and forgets its troubles and its differences. It could be applied to the court of basket ball boosters as well as the banquet hall of business men. It characterizes with propriety a theater as well as a ball room.” At 11:00 PM, the new name “Imperial” was lowered on the front curtain of the stage and the prize of $10 was awarded to Jack Olcaton.
On 20 April 1965, President Frank R. Walker of Uintah Stake presented the Vernal Jaycees with a release authorizing the demolition of the Imperial Hall as part of the Community Beautification Campaign. Using a sledge hammer, Governor Calvin L. Rampton delivered the first blow. Attending the ceremony were Ashley Stake President William B. Wallis and Mayor Alvin Kay. The Jaycees were to begin demolition of the structure on Saturday, with the help from the Vernal City, Uintah County, and the local National Guard.
1. “Pretty 'Orpheus' Opens Thanksgiving”, 24 November 1911, page 1
2. “Orpheus Opening Blaze of Glory”, Vernal Express, 1 December 1911
3. “Lighting Scheme of the Orpheus”, 15 December 1911
4. “Orpheus Theatre Changes Ownership the First of Week”, Vernal Express, 28 March 1903, page 8
5. “Orpheus Theatre Sold and Will Be Under New Management”, Vernal Theatre, 25 July 1907, page 1
6. “Daylight Moving Pictures”, Vernal Express, 9 August 1912
7. “Historic Orpheus Passes; 'Imperial' is New Name”, Vernal Express, 6 January 1928, page 3
8. “Imperial Hall, Old Landmark, Slated for 'Ax'”, 22 April 1965, page 1