Facebook Twitter



Tomorrow the city of Ogden is holding a bond election to decide, among other items, whether $2 million should be allocated to restore the Egyptian Theater on Washington Boulevard.

I recently toured the theater, a magnificent building that is structurally solid, and I hope voters enthusiastically approve.The Egyptian Theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the American Institute of Architects has called it "a landmark treasure" and "a community, regional and national asset,"meaning that it is unique and irreplaceable.

From 1910 to the late 1920s, picture palaces were created around the country designed to make the place where movies were shown as exciting and memorable as seeing the movie itself. This was part of the "City Beautiful" movement, spawned by the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, which sought to improve the urban environment by creating parks and open spaces, widening streets, erecting classical edifices, and building thoroughfares.

There was a feeling that magnificent buildings and open spaces should be designed to help the common man feel like John D. Rockefeller. Blue-collar workers could pay 25(CT) to see a movie in a magnificent building, thus gaining appreciation for beautiful things.

Such motifs as Art Deco, Egyptian, Chinese, Byzantine Baroque, Gothic, Mayan, American Indian and Spanish Mission were used in the construction of these theaters. People bought tickets to the theater as well as to the movie.

The common man in those days attended a theater to escape the cares of the world. Some were atmospheric theaters that created a whole new environment.The lights dimmed, the stars above twinkled, neon lights created sunsets, and music from the Wurlitzer organ set the stage for the movie to follow.

Ogden's Egyptian Theater was built at the height of the nationwide construction boom of movie palaces. The Egyptian-Revival style of architecture emerged from the discovery of the tomb of King Tutankhamen in Egypt in 1922. Probably the most famous was Grauman's Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, Calif.

Letitia H. Peery and her sons, Louis and Harmon, together with the architects, Leslie S. Hodgson and Myrle A. McClenahan, carefully researched the Egyptian style before proceeding. At a cost of $250,000, the project was completed in one year.

On July 3, 1924, Ogden celebrated the gala grand opening for the Egyptian. Tickets could be purchased for $1.00 plus war tax. Ticketholders were greeted by the ornately austere facade of the building, which included two sculpted Egyptian deities and nobles, sitting in the lotus position on the roof. From the lobby, patrons entered the auditorium, where they were afforded an excellent view of the proscenium from any seat in the house.

The auditorium, seating 1,000, was designed to replicate an Egyptian temple courtyard circa 1350 B.C. The walls and foyer included beautifully colored hieroglyphics and other Egyptian and Roman symbols. (Harmon Peery was believed to have had a drinking problem, and some workers managed to slip him in as a stick figure with a hat leaning against a lamp post.) There were two large pillars on each side of the stage and a cross-legged Egyptian king and deity figures with baskets from which steam rose to the ceiling.

The screen was covered by a beautiful multicolored drapery. A balcony was located on each side of the theater, immediately before the stage area. Centered above the proscenium was an Egyptian goddess within a sunburst. At the rear, on one side of the auditorium, was a large, posh "gentlemen's smoking room," a truly chauvinistic touch. On the other side was a smaller, spartan "cry room," restricted to mothers and young children.

Everyone agreed that the theater's most memorable characteristic was its atmospheric sky. Small electric lights on the dome-roofed sky appeared as stars, with indirect lighting creating the illusion of the daily cycle, beginning with dawn and progressing to darkest night. Even clouds wisped by.

Mayor P.F. Kirkendall said, "I hope that it is the first step toward a city beautiful," and the Ogden Standard-Examiner compared its patrons to people "on the broad highway of dreams, marching on toward the Ultimate."

The same reasons that were applied to the palace movement in the 1920s seem appropriate now for revitalizing Ogden. As Ogden enriches its downtown, the Egyptian, located in a prime spot, can be a showcase, serving the entire community in a unique way. As redevelopment expert, William Burke said, the Egyptian should become "the focal point" in the rebirth of an economically blighted block of Washington Boulevard.

The only other existing atmospheric theater in De Kalb, Ill., has already been restored with smashing results. It should happen in Ogden.