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Charming but forgotten Panguitch theater restored to former glory


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PANGUITCH — A night at the movies is an American tradition, but one small town in Utah has been without its own theatre for decades. But now, moviegoers in Panguitch not only have their theatre back, but can also take a tour back in time.

As you step inside the Gem Theatre in Panguitch, you'll immediately feel the past. The original plaster and brick grace the walls, and the original projector used in the theater is still there.

Built in 1909, the theatre served the small town beginning in the day when movies were silent. There was live entertainment and over the decades, the Gem is where people in Panguitch saw some of the classic films of all time.

But in the 1980's, the screen at the Gem went dark.

"'Ferris Bueller's Day Off,' was the last movie they showed here in the early 80's and the locals will tell you that it hung on the marquee for several years and letters fell off over the years," said Theater Manager Jodi Henrie.

After 25 years, the theatre had become an eyesore along historic Highway 89. "It was a building that was close to caving in," she said. "It was very dilapidated, worn down very weathered."

The Gem Theatre now has an iced cream parlor in the lobby, a throwback to 50s styles.
The Gem Theatre now has an iced cream parlor in the lobby, a throwback to 50s styles.

But Mark and Heather Childs from Las Vegas saw something more than an eyesore — an opportunity to keep history alive. In 2010 they bought what was left of the building and restored it, decorating it in the original art-deco style and giving people in Garfield County a place to see a movie.

Now the theatre seats 125 people. In the lobby, a 50's style ice cream parlor where they make the ice cream right on site. A chance to taste and feel what a night at the movies was all about, in a place that will take you back in time.

Henrie said the Gem has become a big hit. "The people in the middle generation will say, ‘I used to work here in high school, it's so fun to have it back,' or ‘I have a poster, would you like that,' and they'll donate it back to us,"

The memorabilia in the Gem will take you on a nostalgic journey. A small museum of the theatre's history, can be just as entertaining as a movie, and then there are the stories the old timers can tell.

"They'll come in and reminisce and talk. We've even had a few tears from some of the locals, it's been really neat," she said."

A few tears and a few "eeks" as well. "They will tell you stories about rats running under their feet," she said. "In the 20's and 30's those are things they told us happened. Horrified us!"

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Sam Penrod

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