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Utah’s Capitol Theatre finishes $33 million renovation, gets rid of seats — and possibly a ghost

‘There has been talk through the years that there is a ghost here. I have not had any experience with the ghost, and it’s not something we usually highlight when we talk about Capitol Theatre.’

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After a six-month renovation, Salt Lake City’s Capitol Theatre reopens to the public on Saturday, Oct. 12.

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SALT LAKE CITY — They claimed it was haunted. 

On an episode of SyFy’s “Paranormal Witness,” staff members at Salt Lake’s Capitol Theatre shared stories of slamming doors, lights turning on and the unexplained smell of smoke. Some believed it to be the ghost of 17-year-old usher Richard Duffin, who died in a fire at the theater in 1949. 

But that episode aired seven years ago, and Cami Munk is certain the hauntings are a thing of the past. 

”There has been talk through the years that there is a ghost here. I have not had any experience with the ghost, and it’s not something we usually highlight when we talk about Capitol Theatre,” said Munk, the communications manager for Salt Lake County Arts and Culture. “But I don’t think that he’s with us anymore.” 

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Patrons enjoy a show at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City. After a six-month renovation in 2019 — the second part of a $33 million project — the theater reopens to the public on Saturday, Oct. 12. 

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What Munk does like to talk about is how the artistic landmark in Salt Lake City continues to thrive 106 years after opening its doors. The Capitol Theatre has just undergone the second part of a $33 million renovation project — a massive undertaking that required the building to close for six months. On Oct. 12, the theater reopens to the public and Utah Opera’s “La Traviata,” which runs through Oct. 20, welcomes guests to the new-and-improved space.

In the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, the Capitol Theatre has hosted more than 100,000 guests each year since 2013, according to information provided by Salt Lake County Arts and Culture. Performances from Ballet West, Utah Opera and JazzSLC, as well as graduations, meetings and community events, have made the theater a staple in Utah, Munk said. 

“Everybody knows the Capitol Theatre. We refer to it as ‘the grand dame’ of theaters,” she said. “People’s memories of it go back 30 and 40 years, going to ‘The Nutcracker’ with their grandparents … or seeing their first opera at the Capitol Theatre. And even further back, people remember going to vaudeville or movies. … It’s a beautiful building and it’s recognizable.”

With the theater’s latest renovation, Munk hopes more people will make the Capitol Theatre a part of their lives. Updating the theater to meet American Disability Act guidelines was a priority during this revamping — previously, only rows on the front and back of the theater’s main level were compliant with the ADA. Munk said 178 seats were removed to make way for a center aisle that opens up more seats for ADA patrons and makes exiting the theater more efficient. 

The renovation also involved expanding the seat widths by several inches, Munk said. When the Capitol Theatre opened in 1913, the seats were 16 and 17 inches wide — standard seat width today is between 18 and 22 inches. Other updates to the historic theater include a new roof, new boilers to increase the building’s energy efficiency, plumbing and pipe upgrades, reconfigured work spaces in the basement, the reinstallation of the restored original terra cotta roof facade and a new sound system. 

“That required a lot of demolition,” Munk said, adding that the new sound system is on par with the systems at Abravanel Hall and the Eccles Theater and provides a “cleaner, sharper sound” that reaches all parts of the theater. 

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The movie “I Met Him in Paris” screened at the Capitol Theatre in 1937. Note the vintage cars on 200 South.

Utah State Historical Society

It’s the fifth renovation in the theater’s history. But for all of the changes, the theater’s purpose remains the same: bringing people together to appreciate the arts. 

Which is why Munk doesn’t look at nearby, newer venues like Sandy’s Hale Centre Theatre as bad for business. She welcomes the competition.

“When new theaters come on, it’s good for everyone,” she said. “Any new facility that opens is great because it shows Salt Lake County’s commitment and love of the performing arts. And I feel like Capitol Theatre has a special place because of the types of shows we have. Everyone loves ‘The Nutcracker.’”

Kicking off a new era for the Capitol Theatre, Utah Opera plans to match the theater’s progress with a creative take on one of the most popular and frequently performed operas in the world.

In its production of “La Traviata” — the opera that moved Julia Roberts’ character to tears in “Pretty Woman” — Utah Opera is shaking up a traditional art form with some movement from the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, another fixture in Salt Lake’s arts community. 

“Salt Lake County has an amazing array of performance venues,” Munk said. “And the audiences that support it, that’s the even more amazing part to me.” 

If you go … 

What: Utah Opera’s “La Traviata” 

When: Oct. 14 and 16, 7 p.m.; Oct. 18, 7:30 p.m.; Oct. 20, 2 p.m.

Where: Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South

How much: $14.50-$106

Web: utahopera.org