Deseret News, 20 February 1997, page C1:
Villa Isn't Perfect, But It's Trying
By Dennis Lythgoe, Columnist
I'm turned off by the modern trend of building tiny movie theaters with
flimsy seats and walls of corrugated cardboard. That's why
the Villa, located at 3092 Highland Drive, has been a traditional favorite
It opened in 1949 with state-of-the-art technology and a colorful curtain
that mysteriously lifted off the floor of the stage and rose majestically.
There were some unusual artistic touches. The lobby displayed
a mixed montage of Utah scenery, and the auditorium walls had elaborate
hand-painted murals done in French impressionistic style.
The Villa screen, 35 feet high and 91 feet wide, was famous as the largest
in the Mountain West. It curved a full 180 degrees, partially
enclosing the seats at the front of the theater.
Today, the Villa remains the only big-screen, single-auditorium theater
in Salt Lake City to show first-run films. No more do we get
to choose between the Uptown, the Lyric, the Capitol, the Rialto, the
Utah or the Centre.
They're all gone, along with their crystal chandeliers, rich carpets,
marble wainscoting and Greek columns. We traded those elegant,
flashy movie houses for the feel of a warehouse in multiscreen complexes
tied to shopping malls.
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.
Fearing the Villa was a legend about to come crashing down, I talked
to the manager and to officials of Carmike Cinemas about the Villa's future. They
assured me there were no plans to close the theater - but they were vague
about its future.
Last May, I was happy to hear that theater officials had completely refurbished
and restored the Villa to its former splendor. They announced
that the marquee had been restored, the screen refurbished, a new digital
sound system installed, the seats replaced with state-of-the-art models
- and the number increased from 860 to 1,000.
The lobby and concessions stand were refurbished, the carpet replaced,
the box office doubled in size, the main floor equipped with new track
lighting and the loge with step lighting.
When we went recently to see "Evita," we were initially pleased
with the new elegance of the Villa. Unfortunately, it's not perfect.
The seats are individually comfortable to sit in, but there are too many
of them. The rows are too close together, meaning leg room
is nonexistent. I sat with my knee cap wedged against one of
the new drink holders.
|Sometime after this article was written, Carmike
installed french doors to separate the lobby from 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.
As for the parking lot and the crummy little restrooms? The
Carmike people promise to take care of that.
Even though the job is not yet finished, I congratulate Carmike Cinemas
for recapturing the unique ambience of the last great Salt Lake theater.
And to future patrons, I suggest trying for the first row of the massive
balcony. It has the best seats in the house, with the only
clear, unobstructed view - and leg room.