Friday, July 09, 2010

Standard-Examiner: Peery's Restored Egyptian Theater Unveils Wall of Fame

Ogden's movie theater history is as colorful as old time Hollywood itself

By: Movie Buff

I read an article in today's paper about the Egyptian Theater opening up, or adding to, its Wall of Fame pertaining to those who helped "save the Egyptian":
Peery's restored Egyptian Theater unveils Wall of Fame to honor its benefactors
Nice touch, and I'm glad that a group of concerned citizens moved forward to save this wonderful, old building. I doubt, however, that there will be much traction regarding the Cinedome, a fine old theater but not quite up to the par of Ogden's movie houses.

Ogden's movie theater history is as colorful as old time Hollywood itself. Ogden was home to four indoor theaters back in the old days. The Egyptian and Ogden (located between Washington and Adams on the North side of 25th, immediately West of the White City Bowl and Dance Emporium) were owned by the Perry family. The Orpheum was located south of the Ben Lomond Hotel (today, the curved State Office Building’s there) and the Paramount sat on the West side of Kiesel Avenue (now occupied by the Federal Building parking lot), both theaters owned by the Glasmann family. As a caveat, both families fostered quite colorful Mayors for this fine town of ours, but since I know a little more about the history of the Orpheum and Paramount, this article is about those two theaters. The Egyptian Foundation can provide all the necessary history for that theater, and hopefully the Ogden Theater. I'd imagine that Ozboy could provide some detailed history about Ogden and both of these fine Ogden families, along with the some of the other movers and shakers from this once glorious era.


Movie Buff said...

The Orpheum and Paramount were beautifully constructed houses, both built for different reasons. They actually set themselves apart from the other two, in that they both had balconies and were initially constructed for live performances. The Orpheum seated around 800 people on the main and some 400 in the balcony, while the Paramount, the biggest theater between Denver and San Francisco in those days, seated about 1100 to 1200 on the main and 700 to 800 in the balcony. Nothing compared to watching one of the old b/w flickers, or that new marvel, "Technicolor," from a seat in the balcony. Old pipe organ pipes rose majestically from the corners of very deep stages and real deal, heavy movie curtains rose and fell between features and during intermission. Pea shooters were big during the "Popeye Club" on Saturday, and I can still hear the sound of the peas reverberating throughout the day. The cost of admission was 10 cents, and another 15 cents kept you in pop corn and candy during the 2 or 3 features, the "serial," and the 10 to 12 cartoons. Also, Bill Glasmann, the Manager, former boxing promoter turned theater showman, usually held some kind of competition (yo-yos, pogo sticks, hula hoops, etc.) at intermission, giving the winner a bike or something of that nature. The others: a ticket to next Saturday’s Popeye Club. Then, it was on with the show. All day, every Saturday, for 25 cents.

The Paramount was originally built to house Vaudville, complete with underground dressing rooms, the heating system (boiler, radiant heat type) AND, most importantly, part of the tunnel system that Ogden is famous for. I myself used those tunnels to make my way to the Ogden Standard Examiner's press room to the North and Kay's Noodle parlor to the South. Going any further was a bit scary (this tunnel system hooked into the 25th Street tunnel system and was used during prohibition as a smuggling route for Canadian liquor and White Lightning and access to the many underground speak-easies and pool/betting emporiums , places such as The Hole and others), as one didn't know what lurked in the dark, vacant rooms or behind the boilers. It was, after all, a show-house that featured the Wolf Man, Frankenstein and Dracula, and I have no doubt that their ghosts haunted the place in those days and still would if it was still standing today. It was in that theater that I saw the original King Kong and Mighty Joe Young, on a rainy night, and will never forget it. Upstairs, surrounding the projection both, were other rooms, filled with antique camera parts, reel cans, splicers, and old movie posters of the above, along with ones of Tom Mix, Hop-Along Cassidy, Gene and Roy, Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, Basil Rathbone, etc. I spent as much time as I could in that old hall and it was one cool way to spend part of my youth. I had a Summer job there, cleaning up the pop corn bags and candy wrappers from between the seats and my uncle was a projectionist, which allowed me certain accesses and freedoms to sniff about. Changing a light bulb in the ceiling, some 50-60 feet above the seats while balancing on a catwalk, did have its moments. But the thing I remember most about that fine old house was the pop corn popper that always seemed to be popping, the freshly popped pop corn spilling out of the kettle like a waterfall and filling the lobby with those delicious smells, It was the first thing one noticed when entering the Paramount. Throw in some Blackjack gum, Black Crows and a Coke, and brother, you were in heaven. Saw Elvis, starring in King Creole, there, along with other great Hollywood productions of that era, now, sadly, gone forever but thankfully, preserved on celluloid. It’s a crying ass shame that there wasn’t a “Save the Paramount” group, but in those days, things like that weren’t too fashionable. The mentality of tear down paradise and put a parking lot seemed to be the vogue.

Movie Buff said...

When Ogden was a booming railroad town, the trains would stop here for R&R (Rest & Re-fueling), sometimes overnight. The crew usually stayed at the Porters & Waiters on Two Bit while the passengers filled the hotels that dotted the area. Ogden had the biggest rail yard between Chicago and the West Coast, and many passengers were celebrities and the rich and famous. They spent their night doing 25th Street then moved on the next day.

But it seems like the wives of some of Ogden’s high profile families were bored. However, they knew about the famous “stop-overs,” and the wives from the Perry’s, Glasmann’s, Eccle’s, Scocroft’s, Kiesels, Brownings and the like, got together and convinced their husbands that as long as the famous folk were in town for a night, why not have them perform? So the Glasmann’s built the Orpheum, as an Opera House. It had the finest acoustics, the elevated viewing boxes, a beautiful deep stage, all the amenities needed to put on an opera and viola….the Orpheum was born. The wives were happy, the performers were happy, everyone was happy. But with the age of the airplane, all of that came to a screeching halt and Abe Glasmann turned the Orpheum into a movie theater. And again, once it had seen its day and had to come down to make room for the State Office Building, there was no “Save the Orpheum” group around and another grand old palace bit the dust.

It’s too bad we don’t have three of the four theaters left and refurbished, as they were fine places to watch a show, take a date, and spend a few hours relaxing. I sometimes wonder about progress, and where we’re really going with it. Much of the romance of our great city has gone, never to come again, but I suppose that nothing is forever. It looks like what we have left are our memories. Thank goodness for those.

Libby N. said...

My mother, Carolynn Glasmann Lindsley, tried desperately to save the Orpheum Theatre. Her father Roscoe Glasmann ran the theatre and apartments for many years. Unfortunately, there were people that wanted that land and were having the building condemned. It was in bad shape, but definitely could have been saved. I toured the building before it collapsed, we climbed up to the apartments through the projectionists booth. Preservation was not the norm back then and my mother fought the good fight, but many people were working against her. We were so sad when the building collapsed after the workers at the Ben Lomond dumped all their trash (toilets, sinks, bathtubs, etc.) on the roof of the theatre. They were told to do that in hopes that the Orpheum would collapse. It was like losing a member of the family. I am glad they saved the Egyptian, but it is a movie house, not a theatre like the Orpheum was. I remember going backstage and looking in the dressing rooms and standing under the huge proscenium arch. It is a piece of Ogden's history that we will just have to remember in photos. The Glasmann's owned the Orpheum, Paramount and Lyceum.

Movie buff said...

Atta girl, Libby. I knew your mother well (and a fine LADY she was) and your grand father Ross, who was indeed the master of the Orpheum until he retired. Then those duties fell to Dick Glasmann, who also ran the Paramount after Bill retired.

And you are correct about the state of condition the Orpheum was in, nearly unsavable. It was the Ben Lomond fiasco that sealed its fate.

I owe an apology to Rudi and his gentile readers, in that, when one tries to adlib from memory (and it was a sweet trip I took down memory lane when I wrote this piece), it inevitable that some names are left off. In the old days of those who were Ogden's "mover and shakers," there were many families that I didn't mention. Some who should have been included in this piece, for posterity's sake, were the Farrs, the Feeney's, the Brewers, the Fords, and some others whose names escape me at this time. They all came from the time of David Eccles, a man who made much of his money via timber in Monte Cristo and then parlayed it into a fortune in the banking business, a bank that was one of the few in the nation that was not run on during the depression, but flies under the banner of Wells Fargo today.

Yes, Ogden was quite a town....and still can be.

ozboy said...

Great post and comments "Movie Buff". It is always entertaining to read about Ogden's great history.

I remember all of those theaters very well having spend many an hour of my youth in all of them.

I especially remember a late night rock and roll concert in the very end days of the Orpheum that was promoted by Bill Glassman the Current. The place was huge, spooky and very interesting to explore. A grand entertainment palace of a long past time. Interesting that of all the great and world famous entertainers who graced the stage of the Orpheum, it was a local rock and roll band of no fame or fortune who shut the lights out for good!

Like most everything else of great architectural interest here in Emerald City, these theaters were bulldozed by a bunch of political wienies who fancied themselves as great urban renewal experts. As with most everything else they touch, we the tax payers pay through the nose only to end up with modern plastic crap built on the cheap.

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