Viva the Villa! Roll out the rugs

Salt Lake Tribune, 23 May 2004
Although he has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, Hamid Adib's real passion is for fine craftsmanship, beauty and elegant antiques.
He enjoys selling hand-woven rugs from all over the world. He now is striving to make a showplace out of a Salt Lake City landmark: the defunct Villa Theatre, 3092 S. Highland Drive.
Adib, owner of Adib's Rug Gallery, 3142 S. Highland Drive, bought the Villa for an undisclosed price from Harmons grocery stores. He plans to restore the building to its former splendor and move his business there. The Villa is the perfect place, he says, to showcase a different kind of art -- the making of rugs.
Adib and his family frequented the Villa after he came to Utah from San Francisco more than 18 years ago. "We have such a fantastic group of memories," he said Saturday.
"When we heard they were looking into demolishing it . . . we were very upset. It is a landmark. It is something we have taken so much pleasure from."
After looking into whether he could restore the building, which is three doors down from his business, he made Harmons an offer.
"I thought, 'You know, the theater is all about history, character -- it's all about elegance,' " he said. "And that's what I do."
Adib said he assured the Utah Heritage Foundation -- which has fought since the theater's February 2003 closing to save it from the wrecking ball -- that he intends to restore the building.
He doesn't know how long that might take. "This place, they haven't taken care of it," Adib said. "The ceiling is damaged. The water is sitting in there -- it's coming off the roof. Nobody really paid attention."
He is working with architects and interior designers on the restoration and wants to take the time to do the job properly.
"Everybody that I talk to, they have such a fabulous memory" of the Villa, he said. "Somebody was telling me, one of the first movies he saw there was with the person that he got married to 40 years ago. I hear so many of those."
Harmons bought the then-53-year-old theater in February 2003 as an investment, saying it would resell the 3.3-acre property. The grocery chain offered to lease the Villa back to Carmike Cinemas, which had run it since 1994. But Carmike, which declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 1999, declined.
Attempts to contact Harmons and the Utah Heritage Foundation were unsuccessful Saturday.
Adib said he has received a number of calls and e-mails from members of the community who support his plan. One of those, he said, was from Grant Smith, a fan of the Villa who operates
Smith told Adib that while he is disappointed the Villa will not return to showing movies, he liked the idea of an Oriental rug gallery much more than a nightclub or other development, Adib said.
"I always say, I am where I am because of this community," Adib said. "I want to be a part of it. If we can preserve the building that has so much memories and so much value for the community, and at the same time is so suitable for what I do, I want to do it that way."