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Eccles Theatre keeps the Athens of Utah alive

Published: Friday, February 15, 2002

Updated: Monday, August 9, 2010 15:08

Eccles.jpg

Jessica Archer

The Ellen Eccles Theatre on logan´s Main street sits where the thatcher Opera House once stood. The theater offers a wide range of cultural events for Cache Valley.

A local landmark provides Cache Valley with culture and opportunities unavailable in other cities.

The Ellen Eccles Theatre, located at 43 S. Main St., has been a prominent venue for many events since 1923.

The theater is actually the second of its kind in Logan. It was preceded by the Thatcher Opera House which used to be located on the corner of Center Street and Main Street, the current location of the Wells Fargo bank.

The 800-seat opera house was destroyed by fire in 1912 on the same day the Titanic sank, Julie Hollist, director of marketing and communications, said.

Later, the decision was made to build another theater in the location it is at right now, Sarah Anderson, box office manager, said. The Capitol Theater was opened in 1923 for concerts and theatrical performances.

According to information provided by the theater, the new facility boasted a new fly system, excellent acoustics and a lavish auditorium.

"Named for its rival in Salt Lake City, the Capitol Theater contributed to the image of Logan as 'the Athens of Utah,'" according to the information reported.

In past years the Capitol Theater has been the host for entertainers from around the country including: George Burns and Gracie Allen, the Marx Brothers, Abbot and Costello, and John Philip Sousa.

Anderson said eventually the popularity of the theater diminished as people started watching more television and films.

"In the 1950s they started showing movies along with the other entertainment," she said.

The movies continued through the years into the 1980s while the theater itself became more run down, Anderson said.

"I remember coming here when I was young and there were holes in the carpet and stuff hanging from the ceiling," she said. "Their walls were painted green and looked like they were falling apart."

According to the report from the theater, "The ornate plasterwork had been painted industrial green, burlap sacks covered the stunning murals

portraying the mythical phoenix bird and the stage was blocked by a massive plywood wall."

Anderson said, the theater was closed for five or 10 years because it just wasn't popular anymore.

"I think the last movie I saw here was Pee Wee's Big Adventure," she said.

In the late 1980s it was decided to destroy the theater for the possible construction of a new parking lot, but a few citizens ventured to restore the theater to its original condition.

The $4.3 million restoration project didn't go exactly as planned though. Three fires impeded the project resulting in almost $600,000 in damages, Hollist said.

The first fire cost the most and was the most devastating, but it actually helped in the future plans for the theater, she said.

"The first fire caused enough damage that they redesigned this part of the facility and linked the Bullen Center with the Ellen Eccles Theatre," Hollist said.

The restorers were able to get the theater to look exactly like the old Capitol Theater.

"If you look at a black and white photo now and one from when it was first built, you wouldn't be able to tell a difference between the two," she said.

The Bullen Center is adjacent to the theater and is home to the theater offices, ballet floors for teaching and other arts like ceramics and painting.

The theater today is a great symbol of the culture of Logan, Anderson said, but, unfortunately it appeals mostly to the older audiences. Many modern artists like the Utah Symphony, Ballet West and the Smothers Brothers have performed there in the past year.

"I love coming to a performance and see the magic happen," she said. "I grew up going to the Kent Concert Hall, at Utah State and that's where I learned to love theater and music. It would be great for kids in the community to take advantage of the opportunities they have here at the Eccles Theatre."

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