The Capitol Theater
50 West 200 South Salt Lake City, Utah 84101
Tel: 1 (801) 355-2787
The Capitol Theater is an operational theater that plays host to the arts. From Shakespearean theater to the ballet, to the opera, a modern dance company, the Capitol Theater has it all, including several rather famous (or infamous) ghosts.
The Capitol Theater began as the 2,000-seat Orpheum Theater in 1913. In its early days, the theater featured some of the “highest standard acts and greatest stars of the stage.”
Capitalization of the project came from the Walker Estate in Salt Lake City. G. Albert Lansburgh, a San Francisco architect, designed the building with its tapestry brick, polychrome terra cotta, and steel reinforcement. The theater was one of only two buildings in the city using the new terra cotta material on its exterior. The Orpheum Theater was significant for introducing innovative architectural features in theater construction and the most modern mechanical contrivances of its time to the Intermountain West.
In the early days, the theater hosted Vaudevillians who entertained crowds of theatergoers who paid 10 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents, and 75 cents (depending on the performance and the type of seat) for tickets.
In 1923, the Ackerman Harris Vaudeville chain purchased the theater, and Vaudeville continued to reign as king-of-the-house until 1927 when the theater was again sold. In 1927, the theater sold to Louis Marcus, who was mayor of Salt Lake City. Marcus, who was a movie pioneer in Utah, enlarged the seating capacity to 2,260 and installed the “Wurlitzer” with Alexander Schreiner as its spotlighted musician.
When the theater finally raised its curtain on September 29, 1927, the Orpheum Theater had become the Capitol Theater. The Capitol Theater introduced “talking pictures” to Salt Lake City in 1929.
Capitol Theater got a facelift in 1947, and talking pictures continued to be the main attraction at the theater, with the occasional live performance staged as they became available. The theater hosted such names as Stanley Holloway, who played in My Fair Lady, Judith Evellyn in A Streetcar Named Desire, and Frank Fay in Harvey.
In December of 1975 when Salt Lake County residents passed an 8.6-million-dollar bond to renovate the old theater, it became, and is now, the center for the performing arts.
The most interesting thing about the theater, however, is its haunted history. In 1947, fire broke out in the theater and claimed the life of a young usher. Nighttime patrons of the theater, theater staff, and theater security all claim to have had various run-ins with a playful ghost they all call George.
George enjoys a good joke, such as unplugging extension cords and reaiming lights and spotlights moments before a performance. George seems to enjoy the panic-stricken rush to put things right before the curtain goes up. He has also been known to lock and unlock doors. Many people have found themselves helplessly trapped between two locked doors beneath the stage when the doors seem to magically lock themselves.
George is just one of many spooks who inhabit the halls of the old Orpheum Theater. For years now, the Utah Ghost Hunters’ Society has conducted an ongoing investigation into the strange events inside the building. We have conducted many eyewitness interviews and have recorded hours’ worth of Electronic Voice Phenomena there, especially on the stage and in the catacomb-like hallways, passages, and dressing rooms beneath the theater. “Theaters just seem to attract ghosts,” the UGHS’s Nancy Peterson said. “Maybe it’s an attraction to the limelight. When actors and actresses leave this world, maybe the lights, the stage, and the energy of the audience draws them back to the theater.”