AKA: Capitol Theater, Salt Lake City, UT; Lawson, Janet Quinney, Capitol Theatre, Salt Lake, City, UT

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - office buildings; built works - commercial buildings - stores; built works - performing arts structures - theatres

Designers: Lansburgh, G. Albert, Architect (firm); Gustave Albert Lansburgh (architect)

Dates: constructed 1913

3 stories

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50 West 200 South Street
Downtown, Salt Lake City, UT 84101

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Architect Gustave A. Lansburgh designed this grand vaudeville and movie palace for the Orpheum Theatre circuit, for which he designed in excess of 50 venues in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Orleans, Saint Louis and Kansas City, MO, and other cities. His first design for the chain was the Orpheum Theatre #3 in San Francisco, completed in 1909, designed a few years after he returned from studying at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Lansburgh's Salt Lake City Orpheum outlet began business on 08/02/1913. The building was renamed in 1927 as the "Capitol Theatre" after a large renovation was completed that year.

Building History

The second Orpheum #2 / Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City, UT, opened on 08/02/1913, seating 1,800. This was the second Orpheum-owned theatre in Salt Lake City, the first, (later known as the Promised Valley Playhouse) opened on 12/25/1905. Designed by noted San Francisco architect Gustave Albert Lansburgh (1876-1969), the Orpheum Theatre #2 cost $250,000 to build in 1912-1913. Theatre historian David Naylor, in his American Picture Palaces The Architecture of Fantasy, (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1981, p. 216), stated that capacity was 1,950. This would have been the same number as the Orpheum Theatre (1911) in Los Angeles, CA, also by Lansburgh. The theatre during the 1910s into the early 1920s functioned primarily as a vaudeville house, although motion pictures became increasingly important after 1923. The Orpheum circuit sold the building in 1927 to new owners who focused more on movie exhibition. Sound movies became widespread by the late 1920s, and this house also became wired for sound by 1929. With the advent of talkies, it switched for most of the next fifty years to movie exhibition. Paramount Pictures, Incorporated, bought the Capitol Theatre beginning in the early 1940s.

Salt Lake County obtained the building as a future performing arts center in 1976. It opened the "Salt Lake County Center for the Arts" in 1978, commissioning Steven T. Baird Architects to supervise the renovation. The Capitol Theater housed the Utah Opera Company and Ballet West (2003).

Building Notes

The exterior had an Italianate appearance with Venetian cross-bond brickwork, Palladian windows on the second and third floors, and an ornate cornice line. The first floor storefronts were arched. In c 1940, the Capitol Theatre had a long vertical blade marquee hanging from its front facade. Directly opposite of this marquee, spanning the street, was a monumental gateway sign.

The Orpheum #2 / Capitol had all of the modern fire prevention measures of the time, including thirty emergency exits, a sprinkler system and an asbestos fire curtain. Despite these safeguards, a serious fire did breakout in 1949.


As of 2019, the Orpheum #2 / Capitol Theatre had undergone five renovations. A first renovation occurred in 1927, when the theatre was updated by the Salt Lake City architectural firm of Woolley and Evans. It returned to movie exhibition on 09/29/1927.

The theatre experienced a serious fire that started in its basement on 07/04/1949, that killed a 17-year-old usher, Richard Duffin. Duffin went downstairs to fight the fire with another usher, but was the only one in the basement when oxygen tanks caused an explostion that killed him. Restoration was required atfter that conflagration.

When the Salt Lake County purchased the property in 1976, it performed a restoration. It passed a $8.6 million bond issue to create a new performing arts center in the theatre. It became known after this as the "Salt Lake County Center for the Arts." In subsequent years, the Utah Opera, Ballet West and Jazz SLC has utilized the center for its performances.

In 2013, Salt Lake County added the Jessie Eccles Quinney Ballet Centre to one side of the theatre. This building contained rehearsal spaces, costume and changing rooms, and administrative spaces for the Ballet West Dance Company. This $32 million renovation also expanded lobby and restroom space for the enlarged performing arts venue.

The Deseret News.com said of the 2019 renovation campaign: "The Capitol Theatre has just undergone the second part of a $33 million renovation project — a massive undertaking that required the building to close for six months. On Oct. 12, the theater reopens to the public and Utah Opera’s 'La Traviata,' which runs through Oct. 20, welcomes guests to the new-and-improved space. Updating the theater to meet American Disability Act guidelines was a priority during this revamping — previously, only rows on the front and back of the theater’s main level were compliant with the ADA. [Salt Lake County Arts and Culture Communications Manager Cami]Munk said 178 seats were removed to make way for a center aisle that opens up more seats for ADA patrons and makes exiting the theater more efficient. The renovation also involved expanding the seat widths by several inches, Munk said. When the Capitol Theatre opened in 1913, the seats were 16 and 17 inches wide — standard seat width today is between 18 and 22 inches. Other updates to the historic theater include a new roof, new boilers to increase the building’s energy efficiency, plumbing and pipe upgrades, reconfigured work spaces in the basement, the reinstallation of the restored original terra cotta roof facade and a new sound system." (See Lottie Elizabeth Johnson, The Deseret News.com, “Utah’s Capitol Theatre finishes $33 million renovation, gets rid of seats — and possibly a ghost,” published 10/12/2019, accessed 10/22/2020.

National Register of Historic Places (Listed 1976-09-30): 76002257 NRHP Images (pdf) NHRP Registration Form (pdf)

PCAD id: 195