A historic Salt Lake theater turned decadeslong eyesore is finally coming down | News | Salt Lake City Weekly

A historic Salt Lake theater turned decadeslong eyesore is finally coming down 

Small Lake City

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They're finally demolishing that building. You know the one—right downtown, on Broadway (300 South), next to Rich's Burgers and Junior's Tavern. The one that's been vacant longer than many have been alive—boarded up, tagged, empty.

You probably knew it as the old Yardstick building. Not because you remember a fabric store there called the Yardstick, just because that was the only legible sign on the building for the past 30 years.

I prefer to think of it as the old Victory Theater, not because I ever saw a movie there—I haven't been alive long enough to have had that pleasure. It's just because I like theaters. That was the site of the first sound movie ever projected in Salt Lake City. They played The Jazz Singer in 1928, giving them that important distinction.

The building has a lot of history that's worth remembering as it's being torn down once and for all. The most historic event that happened there was likely the 1943 fire in the theater that killed three firefighters when the balcony collapsed on them as they fought the blaze on the ground floor. Naturally, the property owners—then the Auerbach family—had built the balcony (which was the only place where Black patrons could watch movies) without safety in mind. It wasn't designed to hold the weight of the audience and the projector equipment.

After that fire, the theater was pretty much history. It got sold and remodeled and the front of the building became mostly retail, including the Yardstick. The Yardstick was the last business to stay open in the building, but they shuttered in 1992: 31 years ago.

The owners of the property didn't seem interested in doing anything with it but keeping it. And now it's getting torn down. Interesting that there weren't any folks handcuffing themselves to this important bit of city theater history to prevent its demolition.

Whatever is being put in place of the old Victory theater, I hope it honors what came before; maybe even by including a theater. Downtown is growing rapidly, and we have that whole housing crisis thing. It might be too much to ask for a beautiful one-room movie palace and an entire skyscraper of affordable housing to replace the vacant building.

That would be amazing, but probably not likely unless the city were able to use eminent domain to take the property and do something sensible with it. I don't have faith in private developers.

With our luck, it'll end up being a monstrous, beige, stucco, luxury condo situation, with a private gym on the bottom floor to give the illusion of "street activation."

We can all probably agree, though, that the worst-case scenario is to level it and replace it with a gravel parking lot, just like the Zephyr Club.

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