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Morgan Opera House
4 North State Street
Morgan, Utah
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Browne Hall
Vernal, Utah

Social Hall, also known as Browne Hall, was built by a group of investors led by S. M. Browne, a saloon owner and first mayor of Vernal.  Mr. Mease and Mr. Sheldon opened the Electric Theatre in the Social Hall on 4 May 1908, showing moving pictures and illustrated songs with piano and vocal accompaniment.  In 1910, the Social Hall was sold to the Woodard family for use as a furniture store.

 
 
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Morgan Opera House
(Peoples Opera House, Morgan Theatre)
 
4 North State Street
Morgan, Utah
 
Status:
Closed 
Open:
1908  
Closed:
1970  
 

On 26 March 1906, a group of county residents organized the Peoples Opera House Company. George Hogg, a mason, received the contract to build the opera house, which was to be used for "theater, exhibitions, lecture, public parties, and all kind of amusements”.1 On 1 January 1908, the capital stock of the company was increased from $10,000 to $15,000 in order to complete and furnish the interior of the building.

The Morgan Opera House was located on the corner of State Street and Young Street, adjacent to the county courthouse and the LDS Tabernacle. The building was 100 feet long by 50 feet wide, built with gray sandstone and trimmed with red sandstone. The foundation was limestone. The first story held the theater, which had a sloped floor, a large stage, dressing rooms, a front foyer, a ticket office, and a room for checking coats and hats. Four metal posts in the seating area supported the floor of the second story.1

A stairway on the right side of the foyer lead up to the dance hall on the upper floor. The dance hall had a hardwood floor, with a raised seating area six inches high and four feet wide for spectators. On the east end was a three foot high orchestra stand. The ceiling was unfinished. Before the high school gymnasium was finished, league basketball games were played in the ball room. The dance floor was covered with a canvas and players would shoot baskets through the white-painted rafters.1

The Morgan Opera House had gas lamps until electricity was installed about 1915. Indoor rest rooms were added after city culinary water was available.1

By 1920 the Morgan Opera House was suffering from declining use and its income did not justify its continued operation. Other buildings had been constructed to accommodate school, social, and athletic activities. In the area of entertainment, the Morgan Opera House faced competition by the Como Springs resort and the use of automobiles for pleasure. 1

On 15 March 1924, the People's Opera House Company deeded the Morgan Opera House to the Morgan LDS Stake and the South Morgan LDS ward. Money generated by renting the building helped pay for maintenance and janitorial services.1

The church contracted with William (Bill) Warman of Salt Lake City to produce a weekly Wednesday evening picture show. Some minor remodeling was necessary to provide a projection booth and screen. The first film to be shown in the Morgan Opera House was “The Birth of a Nation”. Sound was added in 1929.1

After several years, the church took over management of the picture show business.1 This may have been in 1932, when the Morgan Stake purchased a “Western Electric sound motion picture machine"2

When the competing Vallis Theater opened in 1937, LDS Church members were asked to support the church-sponsored theater and to avoid attending movies at the commercial showhouse on Sundays.2

By the early 1940s, it became impossible to operate the Morgan Opera House without financial loss. In the mid-1940s the Morgan Stake remodeled the Tabernacle and built a new building to handle the recreational and social activities of the church. The Opera House stood idle for several years.1

In 1948 Alva and Cecil Dearden purchased Morgan Opera House from the LDS Church in 1948.  On 12 August 1949 they closed the Vallis Theater and opened a modern theater in the Morgan Opera House.3

In 1948 Alva and Cecil Dearden purchased the Morgan Opera House and began a major renovation. The second story was removed and the floor of the theater was sloped. A new foyer was built, with a ticket office, concessions stand, and projection booth. Other improvements included new heating, lighting, seats, and a larger screen. On 12 August 1949 the Deardens closed the Vallis Theater and opened modernized Morgan Theater.1 & 3

The renovated theater was very successful, showing movies four nights a week and never on Sundays. The popularity of movies decreased after television was introduced and the Morgan Theater was finally forced to close in 1970.1

The theater was idle for several years before it was purchased by Sherdon Woolstenhulme and remodeled into a restaurant called The Spring Chicken Inn. The building and business was later purchased by Larry Wiggill.1


1. "Chapter 11: Morgan Cultural and Social Life", A History of Morgan County, by Linda H. Smith, Utah State History Suite CD-ROM
2 "Chapter 8: Morgan County Religious Institutions", A History of Morgan County, by Linda H. Smith, Utah State History Suite CD-ROM
3 "Chapter 6: Commercial Activities and Services", A History of Morgan County, by Linda H. Smith, Utah State History Suite CD-ROM