Brigham Young University announced 13 May 1975 the sale of its lower campus, including the original Academy Building (1892), College Building (1898), Training Building (1902), Arts Building (1904), and the Women's Gymnasium (1912). Academy Square Associates, a group of creative property improvment developers, planned to renovate the buildings into a specialty shopping and entertainment center with a nostalgic atmosphere, similar to Trolley Square in Salt Lake City. The new development, occupying a full city block, was to be known as Academy Square.
For over a year, the university examined various proposals and chose Academy Square as the most promising for preserving the property and promoting the interests of the community and the university. BYU President Dallin H. Oaks said, "We see the Academy Square program as the answer, not only to saving these buildings, but also to give them a new life. The University has required the buyers to agree to maintain the structural integrity of the buildings."
Academy Square Associates planned to expand the existing 100,000 square feet of floor space to 150,000 by constructing a glass envelope over the entire courtyard space and a masonry structure between the Training Building and the Arts Building. All levels of all buildings would be linked so patrons could circulate easily from building to building. Two elevators and additional ramps and stairs would facilitate movement between the three stories.
"In addition to two movie theaters and a live theater, the associates contemplate historical entertainment of turn-of-the-century type. College Hall, scene of hundreds of dramas, assemblies, and conferences, will become a dinner playhouse with live entertainment on the stage, providing Provo with a new kind of entertainment."
Possession of the property was to be given in the summer of 1976, with the first 50,000 square feet of space available for business in the summer of 1977.
A "Grand Opening" advertisement for Dracula at the Academy Square Theatre appeared in the Daily Herald on 5 November 1981. An aproximate address of 550 North 100 East was given.
An advertisement "Introducing the Academy Square Cinema" appeared in the Daily Herald the day before the theater opened on 22 October 1982. The opening feature was Oliver!, with all seats $1.50. The ad used the slogan "For the FINEST in Classic Movies," and identified the theater as being "located in the old Academy Square" with an address of 555 North 100 East and used the slogan, "For the FINEST in Classic Movies." Later ads described the cinema as being on the "east side of the Old BYU Academy."
On 22 March 1983, the name changed to Academy Square Twin Cinemas and advertisements dropped the slogan, "The finest in classic movies." A second auditorium opened 25 March 1983, with Cinema I showing second-run double-feature and Cinema II showing classics. By June 1983, movies were only showing on one screen and the name reverted to Academy Square Cinema. It's likely after the new auditorium came into use, the other switched to live performances.
A stage version of Charly by Jack Weyland opened 11 May 1984 at the Academy Square Theater. Director Ben Lokey described the theater as very small. The stage had to be doubled and the lighting system imported. With no wing space, changing props was difficult. Plans called for Charly to play in Provo for several months before moving to the Salt Lake area.
The most likely location for movies or stage plays at Academy Square is the assembly room on the top floor of the College Building, which underwent a complete transformation in 1930. Sloped seating was added by raising the floor at the rear of the auditorium a foot and a half and adding an extra stair to the stairway in the hall outside. A permanent proscenium arch was added to the stage, with doorways on each side and new curtains. Heavy velour drapes covered the windows, making matinee dramas and daytime moving pictures possible.
Although the location of the second cinema at Academy Square is unknown, the original developers anticipated have two movie theaters without using the using the assembly room in the College Building, the third-floor mens gymansium in the Training Building, or the Women's Gymnasium on the west side of University Avenue.
The original plans to develop Academy Square into a historic shopping center were never realized. The property changed hands nine times after its sale in 1975. When Provo City acquired Academy Square in March 1994, the buildings had deteriorated to the point of being a liability. Portions of the floor and roof were collapsing. Brickwork was crumbling. The old buildings were considered such a hazard that the fire department said it would let them burn rather than endanger firefighters. Bulldozers were in place when the Brigham Young Academy Foundation persuaded the mayor to consider preservation if sufficent funds could be raised. By the 30 June 1997 deadline, over 2,000 donors contributed $5.4 million.
The College Building, Training Building, and Arts Buildings were demolished to make room for parking. The Academy Building was rededicated as the Provo City Library on 8 September 2001.
1. "Lower Campus Sold by BYU", Daily Herald, 13 May 1975, page 1, 5
2. "Advertisements", Academy Square Cinema (Provo)
3. "Dancer Is Also a 'Director-Type'", Daily Herald, 11 May 1984, page 23
4. "Renovation of College Hall Is Completed", Daily Herald, 29 August 1930, page 1
5. "Restoring a Dream: The Miracle at Academy Square", BYU Magazine, 1 June 2001