The Egyptian Theatre: A Centerpiece of Culture

Located in Park City, the home of the Sundance Film Festival, the Egyptian Theatre is a testament of creativity and culture along the Wasatch Front. Inspired by the Egyptomania of the 1920s, the theatre has survived fires and snowstorms to become the artistic center of Utah’s famous ski town.

Founded in 1869 as Parley’s Park City—after LDS apostle Parley P. Pratt—the historic mining town has always valued the arts. Today, Park City is ranked one of the top ten ski resorts in North America and is best known for its slopes and independent films. As the host of the Sundance Film Festival, the largest independent film festival in the United States, the town attracts famous Hollywood faces and up-and-coming filmmakers. Sundance moved to Park City in 1981, but the town’s association with the theatre—the predecessor of film—predates the festival by nearly a century.

In the late nineteenth century, the Park City Opera House attracted crowds to its live theatrical performances. On June 19, 1898, the “greatest fire in the history of Utah” consumed the town’s commercial district, destroying more than 200 homes and businesses and causing a million dollars’ worth of property damage. The disaster turned Park City into a “fiery furnace” and “practically wiped [it] out of existence.” Residents could not prevent the blaze from reaching the Opera House, but a new artistic venue rose from the ashes. The following year, on the same site, the Dewey Theatre opened its doors. However, in 1916, its roof collapsed under record-breaking snowfall. In 1922, Park City residents constructed a new theatre. Captivated by the Egyptomania that reignited after the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, property managers hired Egyptologist C.R. Berg to supervise the decorations based on scarabs, lotus leaf motifs, and hieroglyphics. It was christened the Egyptian Theatre when it opened on Christmas Day in 1926.

In 1981, two decades after Park City had reinvented itself as a ski resort town, the theatre became home to the Sundance Film Festival. According to public tax returns, the Egyptian Theatre’s gross revenue exceeded $2.35 million in 2013. Park City’s Egyptian Theatre has withstood snowstorms, the Great Depression, and the exodus of the town’s original mining residents to become a centerpiece of culture in the Intermountain West. Utahns are proud of the artistic contributions the theatre has made throughout the years. For that reason, it is a cultural icon in its own light, a place where films are premiered and stars are born.

Images

Park City Residents Among Ruins of Main Section of Silver Mining Town Shortly After the 1898 Fire
Park City Residents Among Ruins of Main Section of Silver Mining Town Shortly After the 1898 Fire Source: L. Tom Perry Special Collections, BYU Library. The George Beard Collection. Call Number MSS P-3 # 166. Available at http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/GeorgeBeard/id/163/rec/5.
The Moment Carter Opens the Tomb
The Moment Carter Opens the Tomb Howard Carter (kneeling), an Egyptian workman, and Arthur Callender at the doors of burial shrines in Tutankhamen’s tomb. This discovery sparked a new wave of Egyptomania that led to the naming of the theatre when it was opened in 1926. Source: Burton, Harry, from Wikimedia Commons. “The Moment Carter Opens the Tomb,” available at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Moment_Carter_Opens_the_Tomb.JPG.
Sundance Film Festival
Sundance Film Festival The Egyptian Theatre during the Sundance Film Festival. Source: Wise, Travis, from Flickr. “Sundance Film Festival,” available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/photographingtravis/18118961764.

Location

Metadata

Marc Jonathan Wein, Brigham Young University, “The Egyptian Theatre: A Centerpiece of Culture,” Intermountain Histories, accessed February 24, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/207.