The creation of the Salt Lake Theatre was led by Brigham Young and supported by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1862. The Theatre was the most decorated building in Utah territory before the Salt Lake City Temple and Tabernacle were constructed. Its 66-year run brought entertainment and enjoyment to early Utah settlers.

Early LDS church leaders were fond of artistic expression to bring culture, entertainment, and refinement to the Salt Lake Valley. In 1852, just a few years after settling in Utah, Brigham Young decided it was time to bring theater back into the lives of the saints, forming The Deseret Dramatic Association. These Saint-actors performed at the Social Hall for five years, marking a vital advancement to society in the West. Unfortunately, the Utah War made the stage go dark for a few years. It returned when Phill Margaretts created The Mechanics Dramatic Association in 1859, which sponsored plays that were not affiliated with the church. In response, Brigham Young decided it was time to create a permanent stage where he could control the actors, scripts, and overall impression of the theater.

It was the perfect timing in Utah History for the construction of a gathering place to enjoy the arts. Initially, Brigham Young intended to build a dance hall. Instead, he determined to create “a model playhouse for producing professional theatre.” Construction of the Salt Lake Theatre began in July 1861 and was completed by March the following year at a cost of around $100,000. The architect was William H Folsom, with E. L. T. Harrison designing the interior. The theatre had room to hold an audience of 1500. Throughout Utah’s territorial history, the LDS church and the growth of Utah’s economy went hand and hand. The theater was just one of many buildings and ventures that were sponsored by the church. Because Young used church funds to finance the Salt Lake Theatre he guided its operation.

A dedication was held to honor this “temple of drama,” built to bring wholesome amusement and moral guidance to its patrons. The theater became a huge success. Thomas Lyne, a professional actor who had joined the church and promoted theater in Nauvoo, was instrumental in the popularity of plays presented there. The success of The ‘Mormon theater’ sparked the interest of many famous actors and drew them to Utah throughout its 66-year run. Several famous actresses, including Maude Adams, who later pioneered the role of Peter Pan on Broadway, played their first roles in Salt Lake City. The building was used not only for local arts but it hosted political events and eventually touring performing groups coming through Salt Lake City. Despite Young’s original vision, over time the theater welcomed people of all religious backgrounds and secular attitudes. Throughout its history, the theater played a significant role in the culture of Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, the creation of many new vaudeville theaters and Utah’s economic downturn of 1920s drove the theater into deep debt. People desperate for basic needs could not afford to attend shows. In addition, the building needed renovations. The president of the Church, Heber J. Grant, closed the theater and sold the building. In 1928 it was demolished–a great loss of a cultural icon to Utah and the United States.

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Mikenzie Moon, Brigham Young University, “The Salt Lake Theatre: Brigham Young's Love Letter to Theater Out West,” Intermountain Histories, accessed April 14, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/779.