Villa Theatre
3092 Highland Drive
Salt Lake City, Utah


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 Home  »  History  »  1996 Renovation  »  "Villa Isn't Perfect, But It's Trying"

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 of mine.

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.