The front facade of the Casino Star Theatre in 2013. - , Utah
Grant Smith, 19 January 2013
Casino Star Theatre
(Casino Theatre, Star Theatre)

78 South Main Street
Gunnison, Utah 84634
435 528-7020

The Casino Star Theatre opened to a sellout crowd on 13 January 1913 and was described as “one of the most attractive amusement halls outside Salt Lake City."[1]

The Gunnison Gazette offered the following advice for showgoers attending silent movies at the Casino Theatre: "To patrons we would suggest that the Casino is not a beginners' school. Read to yourself, if you want, the explaining sentences thrown on the screen and don't annoy, by reading aloud, others who can read for themselves. And when you are required to make room for another to pass by, just tip back the seat you occupy and....When you leave, go: don't make a church-handshake time of it."[1]

The Casino Theatre was built by Sims M. Duggins, who was born in Provo in 1861 and attended school in Provo. He was the first person to bring whiskey to Provo and used profits from his saloon to finance his other businesses. Duggins moved to Gunnision in 1911 as manager of the Gunnison Power Company, which he established with partner Maurinus Beauregaard. After the theater was built, he lived with his wife in an apartment on the second floor. He died on 30 December 1927.[2]

The Casino Theatre was not fully completed when it opened in 1913. Improvements were over the next few months, including installation of chandeliers and other lighting.[2]

An ornamental facade was added to the Casino Theatre by July 1915. “Its symmetrical facade is elaborately decorated with Beaux Arts features, including large fluted columns supporting arched pediments and a heavy, decorated cornice featuring bas-relief cherubs and floral motifs. Over the years two Winged Victories and other minor decorative elements were removed from the facade.”[2]

About 1918 to 1919, a rear addition was added to expand the stage for live performances. The area below the stage was excavated to provide dressing rooms for the actors.[2]

Otto E. McIff took over management of the Casino Theatre on 21 December 1930, after running the Gem Theatre in Panguitch for over sixteen years.[3]

The Casino was renamed the Star Theatre in 1936.[2]

The Star Theatre closed for a time following the death of it owner, C. E. Anderson, early in 1974.[4]

In the late 1980s, the Star Theater was put up for sale. Lori Nay and Diana Spencer helped form “Save Our Star” (SOS) with the goal of purchasing the theater, but it was sold to another buyer.[5]

When the theater placed on the market in 2004, Nay and Spencer formed a nonprofit organization, paid earnest money, and then purchased the theater with an $8,000 down payment. They renamed the theater “Casino Star” in recognition of its entire history.[5]

2007 Closure

On 16 November 2007, the Casino Star Theatre was forced to close because of toxic fumes resulting from a leaking underground storage tank at the Top Stop gas station.  A 12,000-gallon underground tank sprung a leak along a corroded seam and fumes spread to the theater through a series of tunnels under Main Street.[4][6]

Efforts to vent the fumes increased their levels instead. Although the Utah Department of Environmental Quality had found no evidence of an immediate health threat to theater patrons, Lori Nay said, "There's no way we can be open with any good conscience."[7]

John Hales, in an article for the Deseret News, reported, “Within two steps of the open doors of the Casino Star Theatre in Gunnison, the smell of gas is so pungent that one pauses, momentarily but abruptly, before stepping the rest of the way into the building.”[8]

During a press conference in the theater's lobby, the gas fumes caused light headedness after fifteen minutes, followed by “a metallic taste and tingling sensation in the mouth.” Air tests revealed that levels of benzene in the building had quadrupled in two days and were approaching safety-standard limits.[8]

2008 Renovation

During the closure, the theater come under the scrutiny of the Sanpete County Buiding Inspector. The theater's exquisite rose-colored silk curtains and other drapes had to be replaced because they were not fire-retardant. The ceiling, which had crumbling plaster and exposed lathe, was repaired from backstage to the lobby. Replicas were made to replace old broken light fixtures.[9]

“We had intended to begin with the façade and work inward,” Diana Spencer explained, “but the fumes in the basement turned our plan inside out—literally.”[9]

The most expensive improvement was an air system which heats or cools fresh air from outside and then circulates it through the theater, without ever contacting basement air. Any fumes resulting from the rise and fall of the water table will be vented outside without passing through the rest of the building.[9]

The Casino Star Theatre reopened with “High School Musical 3” on 14 November 2008, two days short of a year from the time it closed. Over a hundred visitors toured the theater during an afternoon open house. Advance tickets for the opening midnight showing of “Twilight” on 21 November 2008 sold out within two days.[10]

Other Sources[11][12]

1. Gunnison Gazette, 17 January 1913
2. "Entrepreneur S. M. Duggins Built Gunnison’s Casino Theatre", The History Blazer, February 1996, Utah State History CD-ROM
3. "[McIff Takes Over Management of Casino Theatre in Gunnison]", Garfield County News, 19 December 1930, page 4
4. "Casino Star Theatre ClosedTemporarily!", Casino Star Theatre, 29 November 2007
5. "Duo get to save theater finally", Deseret News, 9 January 2007
6. "Gas leak a disaster for Gunnison", Salt Lake Tribune, 9 November 2007
7. "Leak means it's curtains for theater", Salt Lake Tribune, 17 November 2007
8. "Gas leak forces historic theater to close", Deseret News, 18 November 2007
9. "Casino Star Theatre to Re-open in November", Casino Star Theatre, 25 October 2008
10. "The Casino Star Theatre Is Back!", Casino Star Theatre, 16 November 2008
11. "Chapter 14: From Homesteading to High Technology", A History of Sanpete County, by Albert C. T. Antrei and Allen D. Roberts, Utah State History CD-ROM
12. "Going to the Movies: A Photo Essay on Theaters", Utah Historical Quarterly, Volume 67, Number 2 (Spring 1999), Utah History Suite CD-ROM