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Saving Utah’s Pantages Theater from Demolition and Corruption

In a recent podcast, Michael Valentine, who fought to save the Pantages Theater, discussed with Richard Markosian, the development deal and the ongoing battle to reclaim the land and restore the theater. The theater, more extensive and opulent than the nearby Capitol Theater, featured stunning elements such as stained glass windows and Tiffany skylights. However,…


In a shocking turn of events, the historic Utah Pantages Theater, located in Salt Lake City, was recently demolished and handed over to a wealthy development company for a mere dollar. The decision has ignited a fierce debate over the preservation of cultural landmarks and has resulted in multiple legal battles to seek justice for the theater’s destruction.

The Utah Pantages Theater, once a grand venue for entertainment, held around 2,300 seats and boasted an opulent interior that rivaled the nearby Capitol Theater. Its ornate stained-glass windows and grand design were a testament to its glorious past. However, the theater had fallen into disuse over the years, prompting the city’s Redevelopment Agency (RDA) to acquire the property about a decade ago.

The controversy surrounding the theater centers on the alleged violation of state and city historic preservation laws during its demolition. Michael Valentine, a passionate advocate for the theater’s preservation, brought attention to the matter. He claimed that proper procedures were not followed when dealing with a historically significant property like the Pantages. According to Utah law, any city agency handling a historic property must adhere to specific guidelines and notify the State Historic Preservation Office (Shippo), a step that was seemingly bypassed in this case.

“Heinz took out all the ornate ornamentation, all the historic artifacts, so it’s in a warehouse somewhere, and our fight still rages on. So the theater was destroyed in April of 2022. They rushed in, rushed to destroy the theater because we had about three lawsuits in place. One of them was about to go in front of the state Supreme Court of Utah, and now we’re fighting to get the land back and see the historic artifacts returned,” Valentine said. 

Furthermore, it was discovered that the city’s own preservation law, passed in 2012, was violated during the theater’s demolition. This law outlined procedures for protecting historic buildings from destruction and reportedly should have prevented the demolition of the Pantages.

The circumstances surrounding the demolition raised eyebrows as the theater was given away to Heinz, a prominent real estate conglomerate, without a proper exchange of funds. The theater’s estimated value was around $20 million, yet it was handed over to Heinz for free. The deal’s timing became even more suspicious when it was revealed that the theater was on the verge of being listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, which would have provided additional protection against demolition.

The involvement of city officials, including Mayor Erin Mendenhall, added another layer of complexity to the controversy. Michael Valentine accused Mayor Mendenhall of having close ties with the developers and suggested that she had a role in the theater’s questionable transaction. However, Mendenhall denied any wrongdoing and maintained that the decision to demolish the theater was not hers alone.

“I’ve been fighting for four years to save this theater, and a lot of people just asked me to run because of the work we are doing here. And so we also set up a nonprofit for the theater. It’s called Friends of the Pantages and has ongoing fights to see justice here,” Valentine said. 

Despite the demolition, Michael Valentine and other activists are fighting relentlessly to seek justice for the Utah Pantages Theater. They are demanding that the historic artifacts, including a valuable Tiffany skylight, be returned and the land be reclaimed. Their ultimate goal is to rebuild the theater brick by brick, following the example set by the Carlton Tavern in England, which was rebuilt after being illegally demolished.

The controversy surrounding the Utah Pantages Theater has ignited public interest and raised questions about the proper preservation of historical landmarks. As legal battles continue, the fate of the theater remains uncertain, leaving many to wonder whether justice will prevail, and the theater’s glory will be restored for future generations to cherish.

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