I’d be willing to bet that most people in Utah have no idea that we have our very own, honest-to-goodness genuine Pantages Theater sitting in ruins here in Salt Lake City. If that name means nothing to you, I’d encourage you to go read up a bit on the master impresario, exhibitor, vaudeville and film producer Alexander Pantages. Crazy, right? Why is this place not a cultural anchor for the downtown area?
It’s not like information about the theater is hard to come by. There’s a solid rundown of it’s timline over on UtahTheaters.info. Even though this gem has been decaying under our noses since 1920, people pass by it every day having no idea it even exists.
See for yourself…
Here’s a quick set of photos showing construction of the facade in 1919, then the finished entrance in 1920 and finally, what it looks like today.
I learned of the Utah, formerly the Orpheum, formerly the Pantages Theater about 4 years ago. I truly don’t remember how I found out about it… I think I was trolling the historical society website and saw a blurb about it. I did some searching and found a bunch of great old photos the Utah Historical Society makes available on their website. I became, as I do, totally enthralled and mildly obsessed about the story, the history and the possibilities around this beautiful movie palace. I spoke to some folks who knew about the current state of things, and I dug a bit for the rest of the story on it. I even spoke to the (then) owner who informed me he was looking for offers on it. He didn’t want to destroy it, but it was just not commercially feasible for him to take on the restoration estimated at $45 Million.
So I daydreamed about this place between real life, business and everything else. Slowly it drifted to the back of my consciousness. That is until last year or so when I saw a news report of a few groups rallying, and trying to make this the site of the new Utah Performing Arts Center. That didn’t work out, for a lot of reasons, but my fire was lit once again on the subject. Life took me a totally different direction though, so I had to let it go. Thankfully, the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake bought the building and saved it from the wrecking ball. It’s now just sitting until someone comes along that can make something good happen with it.
Fast forward to last week. I ran across a little note on the Utah Historical Society website that tours of the Utah Theater would be offered. As luck would have it, the last one was happening on Saturday! My little family trucked down to SLC to give the old girl a look.
A diamond in the rough
Here’s a quick then and now comparison of the main auditorium. You can see where the floor was put in at the balcony level splitting the auditorium in two (piggybacking).
She’s in really rough shape… but her beauty shines through.
They sure don’t make them like the used to.
A bunch more eye candy
I’ve tried to set these together in before/after style. Sorry for the bad modern photos, I only took my phone with me on the tour.
So… I’m scheming on how I can contribute to bringing this beautiful theater back to life for a modern audience. Who’s with me?
Historic photos courtesy of Utah State Historical Society