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The Aftermath of Hasty Destruction of Pantages Theater on Downtown Salt Lake Main Street

Downtown Salt Lake City at the site where the Pantages Theater once stood at 144 S Main Street. The former Pantages Theater property sits vacant, with no construction activity in sight. Was its destruction a bit too hasty?


SALT LAKE CITY — Much to the dismay of vintage moviehouse fans, the Utah Pantages Theater that graced this city’s Main Street for more than a century met its demise in April 2022 at the hands of demolition crews.

Preservationists had unsuccessfully battled its destruction in court, suing Salt Lake City’s Redevelopment Agency in hopes of blocking a developer’s plan to clear the land and erect a high-rise apartment building in its place.

Once part of the 1920’s-era Pantages theater circuit in dozens of cities throughout the US and Canada, three of the architecturally notable structures still functioned in Hollywood, Minneapolis and Tacoma in 2020. 

Too costly to save?

According to RDA documents, Salt Lake City first acquired the Utah Pantages Theater in 2010, and spent several years researching how much its preservation would cost.

But by 2019, Salt Lake City’s Redevelopment Agency had struck a deal with Hines, a global real estate development company, to sell the property — then valued at $4 million — for $0 in exchange for Hines including several public benefits in its 400-unit, 31-story project in the heart of Salt Lake City’s downtown.

Those amenities included a mid-block walkway, a family-friendly park, and an entertainment venue for public use. Also, at least 10 percent of its 400 housing units would be available below market rate to households earning 60 to 80 percent of the area median income. 

Recent attempts to reach Dusty Harris, who directs Hines’ work in Utah and Oregon, have been unsuccessful. 

But Joel Lasalle, who owns land at 160 S. Main Street that Hines intends to purchase and include in the high-rise project, blamed the economy for the lack of development progress. 

As he understands it, Lasalle said that Hines’ financial partner — in light of interest rates and other factors — “backed out of the deal and they’re in the process of re-upping with another joint venture partner.” 

The Boomerangs Down Under bar and Gandolfo’s sandwich shop continue to operate on Lasalle’s parcel.

According to an April 1, 2023 Salt Lake Tribune story, the project’s timeline still remains in question, but Hines underscored its commitment to make it happen. 

Main Street in Downtown SLC near the site of the former Pantages Theater.

Intense court battle

While litigation often spans several months or years, the lawsuit to try to save the Theater from the RDA and developer’s plan occupied a brief but blazing two months in early 2022. 

In late February 2022, the nonprofit Friends of the Utah Pantages Cinematic Theater sued Salt Lake City’s RDA, and by early March sought a temporary restraining order to block its pending demolition. 

Although they’d been taking steps to give the timeworn relic a safe haven by getting it placed on the National Historic Register, Friends needed more time to complete that process.

But in early March, Third District Court Judge Robert Faust ruled against Friends’ request, saying they lacked standing in the case. And by April 19, the Theater’s teardown had begun.

According to a Salt Lake Tribune account, Harris (of Hines) maintained that demolition delays could cost his company up to $100,000 per day. But Friends’ attorney Karthik Nadesan estimated those costs much lower at about $20,000. Judge Faust leaned in Hines’ direction, putting estimates at around $80,000.

And now the former theater property sits vacant, with no construction activity in sight.

Can it rise again?

But one theater devotee continues to fight on its behalf. 

Michael Patton, aka Mike Valentine, intends to run for Salt Lake City mayor against incumbent Erin Mendenhall this year, in hopes of not only avenging the theater’s demise, but also to take steps to rebuild it to its former glory.

“They rushed to destroy the theater last year to block our lawsuits and just get out in front of it,” Patton said. “We were about to put the theater on the (historic) registry and I think they were never really close to being ready to build.”

To Patton, his vision of rebuilding the Utah Pantages Theater seems entirely doable.

“We have all the blueprints for the theater and I have architects lined up already,” Patton said. “When Hines destroyed it, they took the historic skylight out and a lot of artifacts — a big chandelier and all sorts of things.” Patton believes that under the right leadership, the moviehouse could rise again to form a vibrant historic theater district in tandem with the old Eccles and Capitol Theaters nearby. 

“It sounds kind of crazy, but saving the theater was the first part, building a place for cinema and restoring it was the second part. And we can still do all that,” Patton said.

But Lasalle, the Theater’s longtime neighbor, disagrees.

“Long before the court battle, there was a huge effort to save the Theater and there was more than one study that said it was not realistic,” Lasalle said.


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