The Gem Theatre was built in 1909 by Myers and Henry.
Otto E. McIff, or Mac as he was called by the people of Panguitch, was employed as a "picture show operator" since before 1914. After McIff was injured in a serious accident in 1929 the newspaper wrote, "We are mighty glad to notice that Otto McIff is able to be out on crutches . . . At one time the people of this city throught that Mac was done for . . . so we are glad to see him out again under nearly any condition . . . You are worth a hundred dead men, Mac, and we wish you all the luck in the world."
The Fire of 1924
On Saturday evening, 9 February 1924, one of the reels of film got stuck in the projector and caught fire, igniting a full reel in the lower magazine. Manager McIff picked up the buring reel and tried to extinguish the flames, but was forced to throw the burning mass away from him. The few people in the theater were evacuated in a "very quiet manner" and McIff was able to save the remaining reels of film and some office furniture. Although the fire progressed slowly, those fighting the fire considered it useless to try to save the theater itself. The limited supply of water that was available was used on the garage on the north of the theater and a residence at the rear. The wind was favorable, so the fire did not spread to nearby buildings. The Garfield County News reported that "Everyone did all that could be done, and gave all the assistance in their power."
Only the outer shell of the theater survived the fire. For several days afterwards school children would eat potatoes that had been stored beneath the theater's stage and then cooked by the burning of the building.
The Kinema Rebuilt
The future of the Kinema Theatre was uncertain. There was $5,000 insurance on the building itself, but nothing to cover its contents. The fixtures and furniture of the theater were "a total loss", so all the equipment would have to be purchased new if the theater were to be rebuilt. On the week following the fire the Garfield County News said, "It is very probable the picture show building will be rebuilt into a modern picture palace in the near future." However a week later it was reported that Manager McIff was considering offers to manage a theater somewhere in the north and that "It is understood that the old house is not to be rebuilt in the right near future. We hate to see Panguitch without a picture house . . ."
McIff remained in Panguitch and the Kinema was rebuilt. The new theater was "as near fireproof as possible". The projection room was built of brick and concrete, with a metal floor and roof. The front of the theater was done in the Mission style and an awning was put over the box office to "keep the customers from the storm". The "old lobby that used to harbor the kiddies during the day" was "done away with". The theater was ready to reopen at the end of May 1924, just as soon as the seats arrived. The suppliers of theater organs were behind on their orders, so films ran without accompaniment until a new Wurlitzer Organ and two Powers B. Machines were installed in July.
The Garfield County News reported that the new Kinema Theatre had "a mighty neat appearance" and was "one of the most modern in the south, and as far as neatness is concerned, it cannot be beaten anywhere." Of the theater's manager the paper said, "Mr. McIff deserves great credit for the effort he is making to please our people and should receive a liberal patronage from those that enjoy screen pictures and real service."
The Kinema Theatre was renamed the Hub Theatre in 1928 and remained under the management of Otto E. McIff. On 8 February 1930, the Hub Theatre showed the first "talkie" in Panguitch. The movie had "a clear, loud tone which pleases everyone who has heard it". The Filmtone talking machine cost $2,000 and was manufactured by Nathaniel Baldwin in a Salt Lake City factory. Unlike cheaper systems which used records, the Filmtone Talkie stored sound directly on the film.
In December 1930, after running the picture show in Panguitch for over 16 years, Otto E. McIff took over management of the Casino Theatre in Gunnision. The McIff family moved from Panguitch to Gunnison in March 1931, and Millard Hatch became the new manager of the Hub Theatre. Earl Whittaker managed the Hub Theatre for a brief time, but gave it up in 1933 so he could devote all his attention to his theaters in Piute County.[15 & 16]
In 1933, Millard Hatch and C. Hawks renovated the Hub Theatre and renamed it the Gem Theatre. Mr. Hawks was a representative of Columbia Pictures and owned a chain of theatres in Utah and Nevada. Improvements were made to the theater over the next several years. In 1933 the theater had "remodeling for sound effects". In July 1934 a new "sound screen" was installed, which was to "make the pictures clearer and the sound much better". In 1935 the front of the building was remodeled, and the lobby and aisles were "covered with a heavy felt covering".
In May 1938, the Gem Theatre closed for ten days for painting and remodeling. The screen was moved back about 50 feet, increasing the seating capacity of the theater. A new ventilation system was installed. The theater management also planned to install more comfortable seats and to build a balcony.
New projectors, costing $2,500, were installed in the Gem Theatre in 1940. The machines included new bases and "the latest fire proof attachments". Florescent lighting was installed in the auditorium. A "dual amplification sound system" and other remodeling had been done a year or two earlier.
A fire caused a panic in the Gem Theatre on 23 June 1934. During the third reel of the Sunday evening feature, the film broke and started to burn. Before the operator, Alton Talbot, could do anything the remainder of the reel caught fire. The audience, noticing the auditorium becoming lighter and hearing a strange hissing sound, turned and saw flames shooting out through the projection windows and into the auditorium for about three feet. They made a wild dash for the exit, but by the time the building was empty the fire was out. Everyone returned to their seats and the show went on after a short delay. The projection room was "red hot, as was the machine in which the fire started."
Russell and Memphis Talbot managed a movie theater in Panguitch for almost twenty years. In the mid-1950s the theater was run for brief periods by the Allens and then the Wilcoxs. After the advent of television, the theater could not attract large enough crowds to pay film rental fees.
The Gem Theatre closed about 1986. The title of the last movie, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, remained on the marquee for ten years as the theater sat idle. Sometime after this the theater was again damaged by fire.
Mark Childs, owner of Childs Construction, and his wife Heather, a retired dancer, purchased the Gem Theatre in April 2010, after moving to Panguitch from Henderson, Nevada. After replacing the building's fire-damaged roof, the Childs rebuilt the Gem Theatre's interior and reopened it on 28 May 2011. The 150-seat auditorium has an expanded stage equipped for both live entertainment and cinema. The lobby hosts a 1920s penny candy story, with freshly-popped popcorn and roasted nuts, and “Scoops from the Past,” a 1950s ice cream parlor with hand-dipped ice cream made on site. The second floor offers an Internet lounge with free Wi-Fi, a museum with Gem Theatre memorabilia, and a premium VIP balcony for the theater.
1. [McIff Left for Salt Lake City], Panguitch Progress, 03 April 1914; and [McIff Returns to Panguitch], Panguitch Progress, 13 November 1914, Page 4
2. "McIff Able To Be Out", Garfield County News, 18 October 1929, Page 1
3. "Big Fire at the Kinema", Garfield County News, 15 February 1924, Page 1
4. "Chapter 10: The First Decades of a New Century", A History of Garfield County, by Linda King Newell and Vivian Linford Talbot
5. [Kinema Probably to be Rebuilt], Garfield County News, 22 February 1924, Page 1
6. [Kinema Not to be Rebuilt in Near Future], Garfield County News, 29 February 1924, Page 4
7. [New Kinema Nearly Ready to Start Business], Garfield County News, 30 May 1924, Page 1
8. [New Musical Instrument Soon for Kinema], Garfield County News, 20 June 1924, Page 1; "Will Install Wurlitzer Organ and New Machines", Garfield County News, 04 July 1924, Page 1
9. "Change in Name Only", Garfield County News, 20 April 1928, Page 1
10. "Talkie a Success", Garfield County News, 14 February 1930, Page 1
11. "Panguitch to Have Talkie", Kane County Standard, 10 January 1930, Page 1
12. [McIff Takes Over Management of Casino Theatre in Gunnison], Garfield County News, 19 December 1930, Page 4
13. [McIff Family Moves to Gunnison], Garfield County News, 13 March 1931
14. "Reopening of Hub Theatre", Garfield County News, 13 March 1931, Page 1
15. [Whitaker Gives Up Management of Hub Theatre], Piute County News, 27 April 1934, Page 3
16. "Hub Theatre Under New Management", Garfield County News, 20 April 1934, Page 2
17. "Gem Theatre Has New Sound Screen", Garfield County News, 27 July 1934
18. "Gem Theatre Adds Many New Fixtures", Garfield County News, 21 June 1935
19. "New Gem Theatre Will Open Sunday", Garfield County News, 12 May 1938
20. "Improvements Are Made at Theatre", Garfield County News, 15 August 1940, Page 1
21. "Reels Catch Fire at Gem Theatre", Garfield County News, 29 June 1934, Page 1
22. "Chapter 12: Garfield County at Mid-Century", A History of Garfield County, by Linda King Newell and Vivian Linford Talbot
23. The Gem Theatre was listed in the Southern Utah Telephone Directory from 1966 to 1971, and then again in 1986 but not 1988.
24. "Historic Gem Theatre - From Then to Now", Casino Star Theatre, August 2011