Colonial Theatre, Idaho Falls
The Colonial Theater is a theater in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
After the city of Idaho Falls's name was changed in 1890, people started talking about building a proper theater. In 1919 three local men, C.A. Spath of the Farmers and Merchant Bank, Dr. C.M., Cline, and S.K. Mittry, a local contractor, put up the money and materials to build the Colonial Theater. The cost was $175,000; it was built of steel, reinforced concrete, and brick. It featured a handsomely designed ivory colored terracotta front, and was billed as the largest theater in the Intermountain West, with an orchestra pit and eight dressing rooms. The theater housed 1,400 luxurious leather upholstered mahogany seats. A modern ramp led to the balcony where 600 of the seats were located as well as four box seats. Because the theater was designed before modern public address systems were invented, the acoustics were superb. The theater opened on November 10, 1919, with a performance by John Ferguson[disambiguation needed]. C.H. Leis was the first manager. The Colonial Theater was a place where vaudeville, road shows, and early moving pictures were available.
Eventually a large screen was installed and the theater's name was changed to the Paramount Theater. The first moving picture shown at the theater was in November 1929, Harold Lloyd’s “Welcome Danger.” It was originally a silent film but at its preview it was eclipsed by a one-reel comedy with sound. Through the 1960s and 1970s the Paramount continued showing the latest in motion pictures. The ushers would dress in costumes that reflected whatever movie was being shown. It was run as a discount theater in the 1980s and finally by 1990 it was in such disrepair it was closed down. The Paramount Theater remained empty until 1994. There was talk of leveling the theater and building a parking garage.
In 1990 a private, nonprofit group calling itself the Idaho Falls Arts Council was formed. Its mission was to promote, advocate and present a broad spectrum of visual and performing arts in Eastern Idaho. They purchased the Paramount and restored the original name. They also worked to restore the run-down theater to its former beauty.
The Paramount Theater before restoration had the stain and leaded glass windows tiled over. The original entrance was bricked in and the original marquee covered. The Idaho Falls Arts Council first had to earn the money; it was all given to them through large donations from the community and local business and also grant money. The businesses and local people who gave large donations have rooms and seats named after them. While earning the money an anonymous person called the “Phantom” donated $1 million and told the community to try and match it. The “Phantom” turned out to be Miles and Virginia Willard. Miles Jamison Willard “The Patron of the Arts” died on November 26, 2004 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. They had his viewing there in the Colonial Theater. After 3 years the Idaho Falls Arts Council had successfully completed a $4.2 million capital campaign to renovate the building into a magnificent visual and performing arts center for the region. During the renovation, documents that appeared to be the original blueprints for the Colonial Theater were discovered stuffed in a downstairs wall. Those plans helped greatly with the restoration. During that same period a local tradesman informed the theater that there was a beautiful stained glass window under the tiles above the marquee in the front of the theater. People believe that the window was covered over during the 1952 renovation after Fox Motion Picture Studios of Hollywood bought the theater. Workers also removed the soggy carpet to discover elegant black and white tiles running the entire length of the lobby. Work release inmates also uncovered the original 1919 Greek neoclassical border which runs along the entire ceiling of the lobby. Arts Council staff cleaned and restored the border to its original beauty. The original foot lights are still on the front of the stage protected by Plexiglas; they are the primary colors used to light the stage. It was decided at that time that the theater would revert to its original vaudeville name “The Colonial Theatre” where again live theater would reign.
Finally they were ready for the Grand Opening. On March 13, 1999, the beautifully renovated Colonial Theater opened with the jazz great Ray Charles. Since that time the theater has hosted 16 to 18 shows each year. The theater is also available for rental to the public. The Colonial is one of the only four historic theaters left in Idaho. The other three theaters are “The Egyptian Theatre” in Boise, “The Panida” in Sand Point and "The Virginia Theater" in Shelley.
- Angler Guide, (2003). Idaho Theatre- Idaho Falls Colonial Theatre. Retrieved February 20, 2008, from The Colonial Theatre Web site: http://www.anglerguide.com/articles111e.html[dead link]
- The Miles and Virginia Willard Arts Center. (2007). Colonial Theatre (1st ed.) [Brochure]. Idaho Falls, ID: Linda Guay.
- Idaho Travel Council Grant. (2007). The Miles and Virginia Willard Arts Center (1st ed.) [Brochure]. Idaho Falls, Idaho: Ron Paarman.