1996 Renovation

Going against all the trends of the movie theater industry, Carmike Cinemas closed the Villa theater in 1996 and restored the theater to much of its former splendor.  Like most old theaters, the 46-year old building was starting to show its age. 

Dennis Lythgoe, a columnist for the Deseret News, wrote, "More than two years ago, I complained in print about the scary evidence of decay at the Villa.  The seats were unsittable, the murals had faded, the walls were scarred, the carpet worn and the concession stand was falling apart.  The restrooms were not only inadequate, they were barely sanitary.  Outside, the marquee was dilapidated and only partially lighted.  The parking lot was a mess."[1]

While other theater chains would have closed the theater, Carmike Cinemas showed their commitment to the Villa by renovating almost the entire building.  To make the remodeling even more atypical the main auditorium was not split, no additional auditoriums were built onto the side of the theater, and the huge curved screen was not replaced with a flat screen.

Perhaps the most important upgrade was replacement of all the theater's seats.  The Villa had 1300 seats when it opened in 1949, but after the Cinerama was installed in 1961 the seating dropped to about 1000.  By 1996, the number of seats had dwindled to 860, most of which were worn-out and considered "unsittable" by some.

Carmike installed news seats and restored the number to 1000.  Although the seats are much more comfortable, the style of the seats makes the theater seems more cramped.  Cup-holders attached to the back of the seats cause an obstacle for moviegoers as they walk along the row.  Because each row is its own flat surface, with a slight rise between each level, the distance between rows could not be increased.

The theater's sound system was replaced with a new Dolby Digital system.  The six sets of original surround speakers were removed and replaced new speakers that more completely envelop the auditorium.

The entire theater was recarpeted and the lobby and concessions stand were refurbished.  The box office was enlarged to allow for a second ticket window.  The marquee was restored and new neon poster cases were install at the front entrance.  The parking lot was repaved.  Wheelchair seating was added in the lower section in the auditorium and a handicap restroom was added in the lobby.

In his 1997 article, Dennis Lythgoe complained of noise levels in the lobby carrying into the auditorium.  "More distracting is that any talking in the lobby, even in low tones, is carried into the auditorium and easily heard above the sophisticated new sound system.  That is because there are only two flimsy curtains separating the lobby from the auditorium. There is a compelling need to replace the curtains with solid doors."[1]

Sometime after this article was written, Carmike installed French doors in the halls leading into the auditorium to keep noise from the lobby from interfering with the enjoyment of the movie.

The last modification to the theater came on 27 September 1998, when a traffic accident on Highland drive sent a motorcycle crashing through the front doors of the theater.  The six huge herculite doors with their "sashes of stainless steel" were shattered by the impact.  The theater was closed for the day and all six glass doors were replaced.[2]

1. "Villa Isn't Perfect, But It's Trying", Deseret News, 20 February 1997, page C1
2. "Motorcycle Crash Seriously Injures 2", Deseret News, 27 September 1998, page B3