(Apollo Theater, Avalon Theatre, Children's Theatre)
3605 South State Street
South Salt Lake, Utah 84115
Michael Andrew and Alice Tripelas Siouris began construction of the Apollo Theatre about March 1946, on property just south of the 12-unit Frontier Motor Lodge, which the family owned and operated since 1939. The 650-seat theater was expected to be completed in 60 days, at a cost of $50,000, but its opening was delayed by seven months.
The Apollo Theatre opened on New Years Eve, 31 December 1946, with Errol Flynn and Alexis Smith in "San Antonio". Ticket prices were 45 cents for adults, 14 cents for children. A classified ad for ushers required that job applicants provide references and be “neat appearance and personality.”
Two weeks after opening, the County Fire Chief ordered the theater to install temporary safety releases on the two rear exit doors, until the ordered panic locks arrived, or close the theater. A year later, the State Board of Health demanded steps be taken to correct a drinking fountain that was installed in violation of the state plumbing code and in “utter disregard for recognized sanitary practices.”
On 8 January 1948, a “neatly dressed bandit” ordered Apollo Theatre cashier, Gladys Siouris, the 18-year-old daughter of Mrs. Alice Siouris, to turn over $70 in theater receipts. The gunman held up three service stations on the same evening, taking in more than $300.
Another gunman attempted to rob the theater nearly four years later. On 1 November 1951, a man nervously paced in front of the theater, standing by the ticket booth at one point to examine picture posted there. When the cashier, Velma Woodard, 17, finished talking with a friend by telephone, the man pulled a gun out of his pocket and demanded the money. “I was scared,” Woodard explained. “I just sat and screamed. I screamed twice and he ran.”
An overheated pipe caused a fire in the rear of the theater on the afternoon of 3 March 1950. The building was vacant at the time and Salt Lake County's new 1500-gallon water tanker was credited with limiting damage to only $4,000.
The first event for children at the Apollo may have been the 5th birthday party for Michele Siouris, daughter of the theater's owners. On 10 September 1949, any child in the city was invited to the 600-seat theater for a free movie, cake, and refreshments. Although Michele's birthday was on September 7th, the party was held on Saturday so “youngsters in the neighborhood will not be tied to school books.” The event was repeated on 9 September 1950.
Alice Siouris sold the Frontier Motel for $90,000 in February 1955, in what the Salt Lake Real Estate Board termed the “sale of the week.” She retired as manager of the Apollo in 1959, although her family retained ownership of the theater. Dan Valentine, a columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune, crowned Mrs. M. A. Siouris “Utah champion lemon-pie baker” in June 1960. Alice Siouris, “well-known Salt Lake businesswoman,” died of natural causes on 18 November 1962 at the age of 52. She was survived by her husband, Michael Siouris.
The last advertisement for the Apollo Theatre in the Deseret News was on 2 February 1963, less than two months following the death of Alice Siouris. On 28 February 1963, Art Proctor reopened the Apollo as the Avalon Theater, with “Taras Bulba” as its first feature. He chose the name “Avalon” because it only required changing three letters in the theater's marquee.
Art Proctor received his first projector when he was ten years old and charged neighborhood friends a nickel to watch a film on his basement wall. He later worked for 11 years in the film department at Channel 2. “I just loved movies. I don't know why,” he said. “I must have had it in my blood from the pre-existence.”
On 26 January 1972, the Avalon began a new policy of showing classical movies. Art Proctor made the decision after attending screenings of new films with other theater managers and being appalled by the increase in profanity, nudity, and violence.
“I can't stand to run a theater and face people when the shows are dirty. It's worth being able to look people in the eye when they leave at the end of the night.” (Art Proctor, 2005)
The first classics to play at the Avalon, “Mutiny on the Bounty” and “San Francisco,” were so popular that they were held over for a second week.
“People said, 'Oh, you'll never make it,' but guess what happened? We filled the house. People came because they knew we played good movies,” Proctor related. “We had to turn people away. It broke my heart to say, 'You'll have to come back another night.'”
On 18 October 1972, Art Proctor expanded his showings of classic films by reopening the old Cinema Art theater as The Blue Mouse. “I wanted to run those movies at the Avalon,” he said, “but we were just too booked.”
“We play the old classics and have a clientele that like them. They don't want to be insulted by all the trash in the movies . . .” (Art Proctor, 1993)
“It never used to be so hard to find product, but it seems like Hollywood doesn't have any interest in making good, clean movies anymore.” (Art Proctor, 1997)
In 1980, Art Proctor started a video rental business in one of the storefronts in the theater building. The store had over 5,000 videotapes by the time it closed in 2006. All were of old, classic films and most were out of print and unavailable on DVD.
To supplement his movie business, Art Proctor removed 100 seats and built a stage in front of the movie screen, reducing the Avalon's capacity to 495. Some seats from the Avalon were used in the new Pages Lane Theatre in 1990.
On 13 March 1993, Benjamin Vandermeide, "Europe's Fastest Hypnotist," held his first show at the Avalon Theater. After three years, Vandermeide moved to the larger Murray Theater and Proctor replaced him with Don Spencer. Spencer performed 100 consecutive weeks of sellouts performances at the Avalon before moving to the SCERA Showhouse II in 1998. John Daughters staged regular hypnotism shows at the Avalon Theater in 1999.
Weekly hypnosis shows drew audiences of a few hundred and the Avalon would have gone out of business without the extra revenue. “It's another way to use the theater,” Art Proctor said in 1997, “and it's worked pretty good for us so far.” Speaking of hypnotist shows in 2005, however, he said, “in the end, they caused more trouble than they were worth.”
Business was good at the Avalon through the 90s, but dropped after “the big multifeature theaters moved in.” Proctor showed first-run and second-run movies, both mainstream and art-house fare, for several months in 1996, then returned to classics for the holiday season. On some weeks, Proctor would show a classic movie rather than settle for whatever movies are available at the time. As an annual tradition, the Avalon showed the Albert Finney version of “Scrooge.”
In letters to the editor in 2000 and 2001, Howard Sager of Midvale lamented the lack of public support for classic movies, and warned that film series at the Avalon Theater and the Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons were in danger of being discontinued. “These two businesses should be a slam dunk success in this community instead of struggling for survival. ... They need and deserve our support.” “ …for moviegoers like me, losing these great classics on the big screen will be a tragedy… ...please put your money where your mouth is and support these two theaters and the classics so as a community we won't lose this wonderful entertainment.”
The Avalon stopped showing movies on a regular basis about 2002. The theater still opened three or four times a year to show old films and the occasional, morally clean, new release.
Offers to sell the Avalon had tempted Art Proctor as early as 1997. By 2005, the building was on the market. “I'm 74, it's time I get out,” he said. “I want to retire — go fishing and go on a cruise.” Corey Adams and a partner bought the building in February 2006.
Proctor was described as “the elder statesman among Salt Lake theater owners” and “the Salt Lake Valley's patron saint of old movies.” His family called him the "grandfather of cinema" and often heard him whistling and singing familiar movie tunes and repeating the line, "Good movies like good books never grow old."
“Through good times and bad, Art stayed true to his convictions, and the result is that many, many people have their own Avalon memories today, favorite films they shared with friends and loved ones.” (Chris Hicks, former Deseret News movie critic, 2006)
“Art was the city's single greatest influence for the preservation of classic movies... Unlike most film buffs, he didn't just talk about old movies — he showed them on the big screen in his theaters week after week for years. Then, when VHS movies came on the scene, Art opened a video store and rented those same golden oldies. I'm sure he had the largest collection of classic films in the state, and he loved to share them. His contribution to the local movie scene really can't be measured." (Chris Hicks, 2009)
Corey Adams and Jimmy Parks bought the Avalon Theater in February 2006 and turned it into an all-ages concert venue and community church. Adams had been in concert promotion for 15 years and was also part-owner of Saltair, a concert venue on the south shore of the Great Salt Lake. As the Avalon Community Church, the theater hosted “a few different religious groups on Sundays.”
On 27 October 2006, South Salt Lake Fire Marshal Bruce Shoemaker shut down the Avalon because attendance at a concert exceeded the theater's maximum occupancy of 500 by 328 people. The seats, which dictated the occupancy, had been removed to open up a general admission floor. Since raising the occupancy level would require expensive upgrades with fire sprinklers and a smoke-control system, Shoemaker asked that the seating be returned. The seats had been discarded, so Adams installed plywood benches. City inspectors also complained that the building had no heat after Adams removed a non-functioning furnace.
Adams said that four times he complied with renovations required to get the venue up to code, and each time South Salt Lake officials came back with another list. He estimated the business had lost $50,000 by June 2007.
“Every time they come in here, they put new things on the list,” Adams complained. “It's a merry-go-round. We've complied with every request they've given us. They are running us out of business, and I would love to know why.”
Adams claimed that South Salt Lake was trying to force him out because they didn't want a place where youth would congregate at night, even though the alcohol-free venue had never had a fight or an arrest.
“Our biggest concern,” explained Deputy City Attorney Janice Frost, “is that we need to have a safe venue for the kids to go to. We do not want a reoccurrence of what happened in Rhode Island” when nearly 100 people perished in a fire at a heavy-metal concert. “He's kind of put the cart before the horse: doing the work and then wanting the city to approve it.”
Since 1985, the Children's Theatre had never obtained a long term lease or owned a building. After searching for a permanent home for over three years, the Children's Theatre announced in June 2011 that it had purchased the Avalon Theatre in South Salt Lake. “We had not expected to find a location and building that would fit the needs of our organization so well. With its central location and easy access, the historic Avalon is a diamond in the rough.”
The new home of the Children's Theatre will feature a 185-seat auditorium with carpeted aisles, stadium seating, a thrust stage, and 17-foot high ceilings. Space at the front of the building and behind the stage will serve as studios. The theater's triangular marquee will be restored. Parking lots on either side of the building provide 50 parking stalls.
1. "New Theater", Salt Lake Tribune, 7 March 1946, page 9
2. "Motel Transaction Named 'Sale of Week'", Salt Lake Tribune, 27 February 1955, page D11
3. "Death Takes Business Woman, 52", Salt Lake Tribune, 18 November 1962, page D9
4. "Obituary: Beulah Siouris Simmons", Deseret News, 21 December 2006
5. "Advertisements", Parker Theatre (South Salt Lake)
6. "Help Wanted - Men", Salt Lake Tribune, 4 December 1946, page 17
7. "Issue Safety Order", Salt Lake Telegram, 16 January 1947, page 16
8. "Board of Health Orders Water Fountain Change", Salt Lake Telegram, 2 April 1948, page 21
9. "Tricky Bandit Nabs $300 in 4 S. L. 'Jobs'", Salt Lake Telegram, 9 January 1948, page 1
10. "Girl's Cries Crack Nerve of Bandit", Salt Lake Telegram, 2 November 1951, page 25
11. "Granite Theater Damage Held Low by New Equipment", Salt Lake Telegram, 4 March 1950, page 3
12. "Michele Reaches 5; Free Movie Slated for 600", Salt Lake Tribune, 9 September 1949, page 26
13. "Free Birthday Part Set at Apollo", Deseret News, 7 September 1950, page F3
14. "Dan Valentine's Nothing Serious", Salt Lake Tribune, 22 June 1960, page B1
15. "Theater that ran old films holds grand memories", Deseret News, 10 February 2006
16. Conversation between Grant Smith and Art Proctor, April or May 2003
17. "Avalon sticks with good clean classics", Deseret News, 30 December 2005
18. "Old Classic Movies Prove Popular", Deseret News, 26 October 1972, page D3
19. "Classical Films Set For Avalon", Deseret News, 26 January 1972, page A14
20. "Bogart Film to Open Theater", Deseret News, 17 October 1972, page A9
21. "Hypnotist Will Present Special Halloween Show", Deseret News, 27 October 1994, page F3
22. "Vanishing movie houses", Deseret News, 7 November 1997, page W1
23. "Video Manager Still Likes a Night at Movies - Even After 4,000 Films", Deseret News, 17 January 1989, page B2
24. "Will Centerville Theater Be Ready On Time? A 'Dozen' Hopes So", Deseret News, 11 November 1990, page E8
25. "Art Proctor, owned Avalon Theatre for 43 years", Salt Lake Tribune, 17 September 2009
26. "Hypnotic Attraction: Local Hypnotists", Deseret News, 28 February 1997, page W1
27. "Spencer the hypnotist taking his show to Orem Feb. 20", Deseret News, 13 February 1998, page B3
28. "Hypnotism: therapy or heresy?", Deseret News, 6 November 1999, page E1
29. "Provo act is hypnotic", Deseret News, 16 June 2004
30. "Avalon Showing 'Golden Oldies' for the Holidays", Deseret News, 8 December 1996, page E19
31. "Film showings merit support", Deseret News, 3 July 2000, page A8
32. "Classic movies need support", Deseret News, 26 March 2001, page A8
33. "Theater woes", Salt Lake Tribune, 28 December 2006
34. "Art Proctor, 'grandfather of cinema' in S.L., dies", Deseret News, 17 September 2009
35. "Avalon and On", Salt Lake City Weekly, 7 June 2007
36. "Children's Theatre Moving in Fall 2011", Utah Childrens Theatre, 16 June 2011