Villa Theatre
3092 Highland Drive
Salt Lake City, Utah


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 Home  »  History  »  Use of the Villa as a Theater

Use of the Villa as a Theater

By Grant Smith, 27 August 2003

"Saving" the Villa Theatre means different things to different people.  For me, it is set of four options, in a preferred order:

  1. Re-open the Villa to show first-run movies, preferably using the Cinerama screen.
  2. Re-open the Villa as some form of theater, possibly using the stage for live entertainment.
  3. Convert the Villa to an alternate use, but in a way that could allow it be used again as a theater later.
  4. Save items, such as the Cinerama curtains and screen frame, and re-use them in a different location.

As I've worked on the web site over the last couple years I've always kept a close watch on my e-mail, hoping that some day I would get a message from someone who wanted to buy the Villa and keep it open as a theater.

That very thing happened on 4 February 2003.  I got an e-mail from a film collector who was looking for a “well-preserved old theater” to buy.  For the next couple days I answered his questions about the theater.  My last message from him was on Friday, 7 February 2003.  When I went home for the weekend I was excited that something good might finally happen for the Villa.

On Monday I got an e-mail from a former employee at the Villa.  The subject line read “Farewell” - the theater had been sold and would close.  My hopes from just a couple days before were immediately dashed.  The film collector who had contacted me was only in the thinking stage, and I wasn't even sure if he would decide to try to buy the Villa.  The buyer had to be someone else.

On 19 February 2003, the day after the Villa closed, I got an e-mail from a group that wanted to restore the Villa to its 1950s glory.  The theater would show classic movies, live entertainment, and maybe even Cinerama.  They had actually been making plans around the Villa for some time but only became aware of my web site after the news broke of the theater’s closing.  Harmons Grocery announced they were the new owners of the Villa and it was said that they were willing to work with the Utah Heritage Foundation on "re-use" options for the theater.  Once more my hopes went high.

But trying to save the Villa Theatre is nothing but a series of ups and downs.  On 1 March 2003, I got an e-mail from yet another group interested in the Villa.  Unlike the others, this group wanted to convert the Villa into a private club.  My contact with this group was excited about the Villa building and seemed to appreciate the historical value of the theater.  Even though I disliked the idea of the Villa becoming a night club, I answered their questions about the building as best I could - after all, they fall into the third position on my list of options for saving the theater.

I still kept trying to find someone who would run the Villa as a theater.  I sent an e-mail to a theater chain that I thought had a good chance of operating the Villa profitably for first-run movies.  I thought I might not get a reply (that's the typical response I get when I try to contact someone about the Villa), but to my surprise I got an e-mail saying that they had already been trying to contact Harmons about the Villa.

I later heard from someone in the industry that this theater chain was negotiating with Harmons to re-open the Villa.  I thought things were going well and went back to work on some other personal projects that I had been neglecting.  Some time passed and I had no news, so finally I contacted this theater chain again and was amazed to hear that no-one had ever returned their calls about the Villa.  There was no negotiation taking place.

I eventually found out that a sale was already in progress on the theater.  The night club group, having lost the previous location they had planned on, was ready to buy - while the other groups were still in the early planning stages.  Those interested in re-opening the Villa as a theater never even got the chance to try.

If the current sale on the theater is ever finalized (the date keeps getting pushed back), then I wish the new owners the best of luck and I hope that the Villa becomes the entertainment hot spot they envision. 

But for me, a sore spot will always be the fact that the Villa never even got a chance to return as a theater.  On July 28th I got an e-mail from a theater organ collector from Florida.  He was looking to buy an old theater with a stage and enough room to pursue his favorite hobby.  I'm sure that if we gave these groups a chance that one of them, or a combination of them, could find a profitable use for the Villa as a theater.