Links: May 23, 2005
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Famed Salt Lake City theatre to become rug shop

I remember the Villa Theatre from my childhood. I saw several movies there over the years I was in Salt Lake City and even though I never really liked its enormous curved screen, the theatre itself was pretty neat. It was huge and high-ceilinged and the annoying curved screen seemed to span the horizon.

Now it'll be a rug shop, as this article from today's Deseret Morning News attests:

Villa Theatre is main attraction on its own
Rug gallery owner to move business into restored movie house

By Dave Anderton
Deseret Morning News

When the Villa Theatre reopens later this year, you won't find towering images of Brad Pitt or Nicole Kidman staring down from the screen.

Hamid Adib has spared no expense since buying the theater in 2004 after hearing of plans to demolish it. He will have spent more than $1 million when finished.
Scott G. Winterton/Deseret Morning News
Instead, thousands of imported hand-woven rugs will be on display in a restored building.

It will be a theater turned rug gallery, but more than an ordinary rug gallery.

Hamid Adib, who purchased the theater in 2004 after hearing of plans to demolish the building, has spared no expense.

In fact, Adib said he will have spent more than $1 million on the building when completed.

Seismic upgrades, a new electrical system, a repaired roof and giant Greek-style columns are all part of the effort. The theater's original lobby and outside neon signs will be saved.

In addition, the theater's original stage will be preserved. But instead of a giant movie screen, patrons will see Persian, Oriental and European rugs, some selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"We are going to fix it so it lasts forever," Adib said. "We wanted to make sure that when somebody walks into the Villa they can see the old Villa the way it was. The architectural integrity of it is going to be completely preserved inside and outside."

At the time of its opening in 1949, the Villa was considered one of the largest theaters in the West, featuring 1,300 seats in a stadium setting. Evening ticket prices were 75 cents for adults and 20 cents for children, according to the Web site

Adib said he has enduring memories of taking his own children to the theater.

After purchasing the Villa for an undisclosed price from the Harmons grocery store chain, Adib said he had no idea what he wanted to do with the structure, just a driving passion to save the building from demolition.

With so much competition from the multiplex movie houses, he eventually came to the conclusion that a single-stage theater could not survive economically, so he decided to move from his current store—Adib's Rug Gallery—to the structure.

"The theme of it will completely stay as the old Villa theater," Adib said. "We are going to keep a museum-like atmosphere, so people can come in and revive their old memories."

Those memories include Saturday afternoon matinees that Nolen Mendenhall, chief architect of the theater's renovation, remembers fondly.

Hamid Adib sits in his gallery's existing location, which is over 4,000 square feet. The theater will give his business three times more space.
Scott G. Winterton/Deseret Morning News
"I used to go to the Saturday matinees that they had there in the late '60s and early '70s," Mendenhall said. "Your parents could give you two bucks and you could go in and they would have three or four movies, and you could buy candy and popcorn. Imagine that theater full of hundreds of kids running around."

Adib said his passion for the theater, and his work, spring from a love of art and history. Some of his rugs and tapestries date back more than three centuries.

One rug, which Adib personally commissioned, required eight people working simultaneously, six days a week, for a period of seven years before it was completed.

"That's 56 years of one person's life," Adib said. "Those kinds of pieces are not necessarily about the money anymore. With the theater, it is the same way. Once you preserve something, you enjoy it while you're here. And then when you're gone, several other generations will enjoy it."

Anne Polinsky, president of the volunteer guild of the Utah Heritage Foundation, said the theater was the only one in the area when she was growing up in the 1950s. Polinsky said that since Adib has purchased the building, the theater has faced frequent vandalism and graffiti.

"It just made it that much more difficult for him," Polinsky said. "I think that he is really to be commended for what he is doing. We would have liked to, of course, to keep it as a theater, because so many of us remember going there and seeing this movie or that movie and going on dates."

Adib recalls one gentleman who recently walked in and said that his first date was at the Villa 40 years earlier.

"He told me they have been married since," Adib said. "You don't have those kinds of things with a new building. A new building would not have the character."