Brigham City Opera House

Brigham City, Utah

(Before 1906 - 1917)

The Brigham City Opera House was located on the Forest Street at the corner with First West, a property “recognized as one of the most valuable in this city.”  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints built the structure to house the Co-op store, which moved to that location from “a little old building.”  When the First National Bank building was erected, the Co-op moved again and its second home was converted into an amusement hall.[1]

The Opera House was 77 feet wide and 114 feet long.[1] The auditorium occupied the main floor of the building, with a piano in the orchestra pit.  The stage included a fly loft and, on the east side, dressing rooms.  A rear door and hallway provided access to the stage and to a staircase leading up to the dance hall.  Over the foyer of the dance hall was a balcony with a piano.[2]

The building passed from the Church into the hands of private individuals, who operated it for a number of years.  The Third Ward of the LDS Church then purchased the property and “the play house yielded a handsome revenue to that ward.”[1] The other three wards in Brigham City were later allowed to buy a fourth interest in the opera house.  The four wards only operated the Opera House for a short time[1] before leasing it to Messrs. Koford and Ryan.[2]

In October 1906, Nichols and Jorgensen were contracted to paint the Brigham City Opera House.  The interior was given “a neat coat of paint, the decorative work on the front of the balcony being especially fine.”   The outside woodwork was was given “a much needed covering of paint”, while the exterior walls looked “clean and attractive by a coat of tinted calcimine.”  The editor of the Box Elder News observed, “The Opera House has always been one of Brigham's creditable attractions, and it is gratifying to see that the present management is keeping it in up-to-date neatness and order.”[3]

On 13 July 1908, the Brigham City Opera House reopened with a program of moving pictures, including The Dreyfus Case of France and “a number of other interesting as well as historical pictures”.  The performance was well attended.  “. . . aside from a little trouble with the lights, the first performance was very good. . . . it can be truly said that these moving pictures are both entertaining and instructive, if they are the right kind.”[4]
In October 1908, D. P. Burt was manager of the Opera House and P. K. Koford was in charge of its motion picture shows.[5]

On 1 June 1911, someone threw a lighted cigarette out of the back stage door and ignited some paper in rubbish near the door.  When the fire was extinguished, it had just started to burn the corner of the step.[6]

In April 1913, improvements to the front of the Brigham City Opera House were completed.   “The front is really an artistic addition and dresses the otherwise somber building off in a way that gives to it a chic and natty appearance.  When Mgr. Koford gets his lights arranged and in place the front will be a blaze of light and the spacious portico will give it a more inviting appearance.  Amos Larsen has done some classy decorating on the walls which adds to the attractiveness of the place.”[7]

After Koford and Ryan decided against renewing their lease in 1917, the bishops of the four city wards considered operating the Opera House as a movie theater.  In November 1917, they gave orders to renovate the dance hall so it could be used for socials during the coming winter.[1][2]

On Sunday afternoon, 20 November 1917, a fire broke out in the dressing rooms on the east side of the stage.  A door into the building had been left unlocked to permit workmen to make repairs to windows in the dance hall.  Neighbors noticed children going in and out of the Opera House earlier that morning.  Speculation suggested that the fire was started by a live electrical wire, someone dropped a cigar or cigarette, or children were playing with matches.[2]

Most of the fire was concentrated on the flies of the stage, built of highly-flammable wood and cloth.  From there it spread upwards through the entrance and balcony of the dance hall into the attic.  Heat from the fire blistered seats and the paint on woodwork in the auditorium.  Water streaming down from the roof thoroughly soaked everything.  The piano in the dance hall was “baked to a frazzle”.  Damage was estimated at $6,000, with only $4,180 of insurance.  The original cost of the building to the four wards was $4,000.[2]

In March 1918, the bishops of the four wards decided to sell the Opera House since the amount of the insurance would not be sufficient to restore the building.[1] The Brigham City Fruit Growers purchased the property with the intent of building a shipping depot, but by February 1920 they concluded they could not carry out their intentions.  The four city wards again took ownership by returning the Fruit Growers first payment and paying them for the expense of tearing down the walls and removing part of the debris.[8]

In discussing the future of the property, “sentiment has been almost unanimous for the immediate erection of a modern theatre thereon, large enough to meet the requirements of this community for all time to come in the way of providing a first class opera house and moving picture theatre.  The tentative plans discussed also include a spacious dance hall over the theatre and a basement equipped with a gymnasium and swimming pool.  . . . it has been estimated that a magnificent building can be erected at a cost of from fifty to sixty thousand dollars.”[8]

The project met with “hearty approval” of the LDS Church general authorities and the Church Social Committee was assigned to assist local authorities.  On 5 March 1920, a meeting was held to determine “the kind of building to be erected and to lend every assistance to push the project to successful conclusion”.[9]

On 12 March 1920, the board of directors asked for bids for the demolition of the remainder of the Opera House.   “We are anxious to get proposals for the tearing down of the walls and removal of the material on the old opera house corner.   We desire the work to be done immediately and parties having propositions to make, may hand them to either Bishop Brigham Wright or Bishop T H. Blackburn.”[10]

1. "Opera House is Offered for Sale", Box Elder News, 1 March 1918, page 1
2. "Opera House Gutted By Fire", Box Elder News, 20 November 1917
3. "Opera House Improvements", Box Elder News, 4 October 1906, page 6
4. "The New Family Theatre", Box Elder News, 16 July 1908
5. "Opera House Program of 1908 Exhibited", Box Elder News, 2 June 1925, page 3
6. "Opera House Fire", Box Elder News, 1 June 1911
7. "Opera House Looks Better", Box Elder News, 24 April 1913, page 6
8. "Opera House for Brigham", Box Elder News, 27 February 1920, page 1
9. "Will Discuss New Opera House", Box Elder News, 5 March 1920
10. "Bids Asked For", Box Elder News, 12 March 1920, page 1