The ceiling of the lobby. - , Utah
Grant Smith, 23 October 2010
Utah Pantages Theatre
(Pantage's Theatre, RKO Orpheum Theatre, Utah Theatre, Penthouse Theatre, Utah I Theatre, Utah II Theatre, City Rep)

148 South Main Street
Salt Lake City, Utah 84101
(1920 - 1992)

The Utah Theater opened on 1 December 1920 at an estimated cost of $2,250,000.  The Pantages Theater, with Ed S. Diamond as manager, moved to the theater from its previous location at 44 East Broadway.

The auditorium of the theater was built in the center of the block.  Access to the theater from Main Street was provided by a long hallway through an existing building, which was leased by Alexander Pantages for 50 years.

The original building was built in 1872 or earlier, and has been used by the Masons, Auerbach Brother's Department Store, Shipler Photo, Cox Brothers Billiards, and Shapers Travel Goods.  It originally had a third story, but it was removed in about 1937.

In 1929, Pantages Theater Co. assigned its lease to Radio-Keith Orpheum and the theater was renamed RKO Orpheum Theater.  In 1937 the theater received its current name, the Utah theater.

Utah's First Twin Theater

In April 1968, Intermountain Theatres announced that architectural drawings and plans had been completed for dividing the Utah Theatre into a two-level complex with two separate motion picture theaters.[1]   Although found in several cities around the country, the Utah Theatre was the first in Salt Lake City to use the piggyback theater concept.  The design allowed management to “realize added revenue from ticket sales, while still having relatively the same upkeep.”[2]

The Utah Theatre closed for remodeling on 8 May 1968.[3]  Henry George Greene, a “pioneer of this type of project,” drew up the architectural plans.  Jacobson Construction Company was the contractor.  The project was made possible by a new long-term lease between Intermountain Theaters and Triple Annuity Corp.[1][4]  The first stage of the project represented an investment of $250,000.[5][6]

The original auditorium, which seated 1765,[1] was divided by adding a floor from the balcony to the proscenium arch.[4][3]  The upper level, the Utah Penthouse, seated 637.[2]  The theater on the main level, still known as the Utah, seated 807.[5][2]  An escalator was added to provide access from the mezzanine level of the lobby to the original rows of balcony seating, now in Penthouse.[1][3]  Despite the addition of new seating area floorspace, the combined seating capacity of the new auditoriums was only 1,444.

The remodeled Utah auditorium opened on 12 June 1968 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a benefit premiere of the 70mm Todd-AO production of “Doctor Dolittle.”[5][6]  The screen of the new auditorium was set against the back wall of the former stage.[1][4][3]  The box seats and orchestra pit were removed and walls covered with sound absorbent draperies.  A new projection booth was added at the rear of the auditorium.

The Penthouse Theatre opened on 12 July 1968, with “Rosemary's Baby” starring Mia Farrow.[1][7]  The upper auditorium's screen was installed in front of the proscenium arch.[3]  The ceiling of the original auditorium remained largely untouched.  The Deseret News observed, “A unique feature of the Penthouse is the old ceiling, having a colorful antique motif, lending charm to the theater in contrast to the modern luxury of the seats, drapes, etc.”[2]

The twin theater featured one box office and a newly designed concession stand.  Both the Utah and Penthouse auditoriums were to be equipped with “modern 70 and 35 mm equipment capable of projecting all scopes of film attractions.”[1]  New carpeting, seats, fixtures, and other furnishings were installed throughout.[1][4]

The Deseret News described the remodeled showhouse as “a theater unique in the West.  The idea of having two theaters in one building is new in showhouse operations.  Large theaters are expected to adapt well to the new piggyback concept.”[4]

City Rep

The Salt Lake Repertory Theatre, nicknamed City Rep, celebrated its move to the Utah Theater with a benefit performance of “City Lights” on 21 April 1988.  Performers, orchestra, and production staff donated their services for three performances, with proceeds benefiting the Theatre and Sustaining Fund.[8]

"We're thrilled to have a home a place where we can house the stages, the costume and prop areas, the offices and the shop all in one location," said Joanne M. Parker, Artistic Director. "We've looked into the small nooks and crannies of this grand old building for some inspiration and imagination for this performance, and I'm sure we've found it."[8]

James F. McCrea, a retired restoration architect for the LDS Church, accepted a two-year assignment to serve as architectural consultant in refurbishing the Utah Theatre.  Volunteers, including season ticket holders, theater buffs, and youth groups, spent hours cleaning and polishing to ready the theater for its reopening.[8]

"I'm excited about the prospects of refurbishing this facility," McCrea said. "In a city where many of the downtown historic buildings have been destroyed, it is wonderful to see one that is being saved and even being used for the purpose it was originally intended."[8]

City Reps’ plans for the new location included “a children's theater school to help children develop their talents, especially those who plan to pursue work in theater.”[8]

In 1992, the Utah was sold to a Park City writer that planned to restore the theater as a performing arts center for live concerts.  In 1995, Howa Construction bought the theater and began restoration work in hopes of using the property as a dinner theater or private club.

1. "Utah Theatre Restyled To Twin-Deck Cinema", Salt Lake Tribune, 17 April 1968, page A7
2. "Penthouse Premiere", Deseret News, 11 July 1968, page A18
3. "Utah Closes, To Remodel", Deseret News, 8 May 1968, page C6
4. "'Dolittle' Set at 'New Utah'", Deseret News, 19 April 1968, page B5
5. "Utah Theatre Rites Today", Salt Lake Tribune, 12 June 1968, page B10
6. "'Dolittle' Delights Capacity Audience", Salt Lake Tribune, 13 June 1968, page 4B
7. "Twin-Theatre Schedules Opening Date", Salt Lake Tribune, 4 July 1968, page 24
8. "'City Lights' Celebrates the City Rep's New Home", Deseret News, 20 April 1988, page B3