Local residents said their goodbyes Tuesday night Feb. 18 to the nostalgic Villa Theatre, Salt Lake’s largest movie venue.
“It’s sad to see it go,” said John Stockton, a point guard for the Utah Jazz who attended the theatre that night with his family.
Hundreds of people filled the area around the theatre waiting to be let in for one final time.
Grandparents with children and grandchildren took pictures as they revisited their fondest memories.
“I use to come here on dates back in the ’60s,” said Wendy Nagao, 54, of Centerville, Davis County. “It was the thing to do.”
The 53 year-old, single-screen theater opened on December 23, 1949, showing “Prince of Foxes” on a 26 feet by 20 feet screen.
“It use to be a good theatre, but it isn’t any more,” said Carol Karren, 68, of Salt Lake City, who has been attending the theatre with her husband for more than 20 years. “It should’ve been remodeled.”
On its last day of operation, the theatre used a 78 feet wide, floor-to-ceiling curved screen.
The screen, however, was too large to be adequately lit by a 35 mm print, and the curvature of the screen caused distortions in the projected images.
While the theater has outlived all other first-run, single-screen theaters in the Salt Lake area, its future is yet to be determined.
Carmike Cinemas, owner of the Wynnsong Cinemas on Edgewood Drive in Provo, which has owned the Villa since 1993, filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy on Aug. 8, 2000.
According to America’s Bankruptcy Courts, this chapter of bankruptcy allows the debtor to continue normal business activities while adjusting its finances, so it can pay employees, minimize obligations to creditors and produce a return for stockholders.
“I don’t care about being out of a job,” said Villa Theatre manager Christian Green, 20, of Sugar House, Salt Lake County. “I don’t care if they close it. I just want it to stay standing.”
Rumors of the theatre being torn down have been circulating the area, said Green, who has worked at the Villa for approximately four years and attended it frequently with his childhood friends.
“I’ve been here so much,” Green said. “It’s a part of me.”
On Wednesday, Harmons grocery stores announced the purchase of the property, at 3092 S. Highland Drive.
A rally held by the Utah Heritage Foundation on Saturday, Feb. 15, in front of the Villa, gathered 250 names of supporters who want to keep the historic theatre intact.
According to Harmons, demolition is not in the Villa’s future. They plan on reselling the 3.3-acre property.
Harmons offered to lease the theatre back to Carmike Cinemas, but Carmike declined.