The building began as the Orpheum Theatre, and when completed in 1913 was recognized as an architectural gem featuring some of the "highest standard acts and greatest stars of the stage."
The theatre housed from 1,800 to 2,000 seats and was built at a cost of $250,000. Capitalization of the project came from the Walker Estate in Salt Lake City. G. Albert Lansburgh, a 36-year-old San Francisco architect, with a degree from the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, designed the building with its tapestry brick, polychrome terra cotta and steel reinforcement. The only other major building in Salt Lake using the new terra cotta material on it exterior was the Hotel Utah. Harmony and high art keynoted the decor described by one newspaperman of the time as, "rich and restful without vulgar or gaudy display." The Orpheum was significant for introducing innovative architectural features in theater construction and the most modern mechanical contrivances of its time to the Intermountain West.
Vaudevillians entertained crowds twice daily; tickets sold for 10 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents and 75 cents (depending on the performance and the type of seat). In 1923, the Ackerman Harris vaudeville chain purchased the theatre. Vaudeville continued to reign as king-of-the-house and movies provided a sideline.
The theatre was again sold in 1927 to Louis Marcus, a much-respected mayor of Salt Lake City and Utah movie pioneer, who paid $300,000 for the theatre. Marcus enlarged the seating capacity to 2,260 and installed the "Wurlitzer" with Alexander Schreiner (the Salt Lake LDS Tabernacle organist) as its spotlighted musician. A sunburst set in the ceiling was fashioned, "from a pattern in the carpet used to cover the floor and staircase used in the Lyon cathedral in southern France."
When the theatre raised its curtain on September 29, 1927, it had a new name. The Orpheum was now Capitol Theatre. The "all-talking" picture was introduced to Capitol Theatre in 1929 when On Trial, a Warner Brothers feature was projected on the screen with a Victaphone bringing the star's voice to the audience.
Capitol Theatre underwent another facelift in 1947. Movies continued to be the main attraction at the theatre with live performances staged as they became available. For instance, Stanley Holloway played in a run of My Fair Lady, Judith Evellyn played in A Streetcar Named Desire, and Frank Fay played in Harvey.
It was December of 1975 when Salt Lake County residents passed an 8.6 million dollar bond to renovate the old Orpheum into a performing arts center as part of the Bicentennial Celebration. On October 18, 1978, the curtain at Capitol Theatre rose again ushering in a new era of performing arts in Salt Lake County.
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