The Historic Gem Theatre - From Then to Now

Gem Theatre, 21 July 2011

The Historic Gem Theatre of Panguitch, Utah, has had a colorful past that spans over an entire century of movie history. Surviving multiple fires, name changes and new owners, after a twenty-five year rest this theatre is once again ready for lights, camera, action!

Built in 1909 by Myers and Henry, the Historic Gem Theatre was originally named the Kinema Theatre. The very first “picture show operator” was Otto E. McIff, or “Mac” as he was affectionately called by the folks of Panguitch.

The Kinema Theatre suffered its first serious fire on February 15, 1924, when one of the film reels became stuck in the projector and caught fire. Mac tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the fire, and there was not enough water in town to put the fire out. The Kinema slowly burned to the ground, leaving only the outer shell of the theater.

From the ashes, the Kinema Theatre was reborn and designed to be “as near fireproof as possible.” Sporting a more modern Mission-style building front, the Kinema reopened in May, 1924, but had to show movies without sound until a new organ arrived in July.

In 1928, the Kinema Theatre got a new name – the Hub Theatre. The Hub had the honor of being the first theater in southern Utah to feature a “talkie.” The first “Filmtone Talkie,” which stored sound directly on the film, was shown in January, 1930.

The end of 1930 found the Hub Theatre with a new owner and in need of a new manager – Otto “Mac” McIff took another job, and in his place came Millard Hatch. Mr. Hatch and new owner, C. Hawks, gave the Hub Theatre a complete makeover and a new name – the Gem Theatre.

Over the next three years, the Gem Theatre was remodeled for better sound effects. A new sound screen was installed, as well as more comfortable seating. The front of the building was remodeled and a balcony was built. Last, but not least, new projectors were installed with the latest “fire proof attachments.” As a result, one patron declared the Gem Theatre “the finest moving picture theater in southern Utah.” For a mere 15 cents, moviegoers could enjoy the latest feature in comfort and still have money left over for some penny candy!

Despite the efforts at fire prevention, the Gem Theatre suffered another projector fire in 1934. Thankfully, this fire was quickly extinguished and the movie was able to continue after a short delay.

Over the next twenty years, the Gem Theatre was run by several different families: the Talbots, the Allens and the Wilcoxs. The Gem began having trouble attracting patrons after the advent of television in the 1950s.

The Gem Theatre managed to stay open until 1984. The last picture shown was “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and the move name remained on the marquee for the next ten years as the theater sat empty.

Fast forward twenty-six years – the Gem Theatre, having once again been damaged by fire, has a collapsing roof and a “For Sale” sign in the window. The Childs family, residents of Henderson, Nevada, had fallen in love with Panguitch and had recently purchased a home in town.

Mark Childs, a contractor, and his wife Heather, a retired dancer, saw a lot of potential in the dilapidated Gem Theatre. In the spring of 2010, the Childs became the new owners of the Gem Theatre. They got right to work, doing research and consulting with the Utah Heritage Foundation to return the Gem Theatre to its former glory – and adding some new, modern touches as well.

As a result, the people of Panguitch have their theater back…and so much more! Inside the Historic Gem Theatre, movie patrons will find a fully restored, 1930’s art deco, 150-seat movie theater with an expanded stage ready for the latest movie, live stage productions and musical artists. The theater lobby has been transformed into Scoops from the Past, a vintage 1950’s ice cream parlor featuring hand-dipped, homemade ice cream made right on site. Also found inside the Historic Gem Theatre is a 1920’s era Penny Candy store, fresh popped popcorn and roasted nuts.

As guests make their way upstairs to the balcony they will find a 1980’s retro Internet Café with free Wi-Fi. For the big spenders, VIP balcony seating is available. Everyone will also want to pay a visit to the Historic Gem Theatre museum to see authentic Gem memorabilia. There is truly something for everyone inside the newly restored Historic Gem Theatre!