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'Fight for the icons we have left': Concerned residents push to save and bring back historic Murray Theater

Posted at 9:34 PM, May 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-11 15:57:07-04

MURRAY, Utah — Residents and history-lovers of downtown Murray are trying to save an iconic theater on State Street. It’s been an ongoing project for years full of progress, then letdowns, and now, uncertainty.

It’s been years since the community has been able to walk through the doors of the Murray Theater and see a show. Theater-goers feel like it’s now or never to remove the gates once and for all.

“We are continuing to fight for the icons that we have left,” said Rachel Morot, president of the Historic Murray First Foundation organization.

Citizens of Murray have wanted to renovate the theater for years. It even received over $3 million dollars from the county.

Clark Bullen with the Murray Cultural Arts Board said the theater would have been completely renovated by now if the pandemic hadn’t struck. That put a hold on all plans, construction and the funding that they had.

“It takes the wind out of your sails when that was one of the things you could count on,” he said.

He said the funding is now in the hands of the city council, as is the fate of transforming this theater to what it once was.

“I believe this is our only chance to get all the funding together to actually bring this project to fruition that the city’s been working on for a very long time,” said Bullen.

WATCH: Preliminary demolition starts on Salt Lake City's Pantages Theater

The theater first opened in 1938 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s one of the few examples of Art Moderne architecture in the state.

“That’s kind of a rarity in Utah,” said Morot. “You don’t see a lot of that style. That’s kind of something you’d see more in Miami or L.A.”

Bullen said restoring the theater is key to bringing life back to the downtown area.

“This is supposed to be the catalyst. The thing that starts the revitalization of downtown,” he said.

Supporters of the project are asking donors to commit financially and for the community to reach out to council members. They fear if there’s no funding to bring the theater back, it’ll put the venue at risk of getting sold and potentially demolished.

“It’s a lesson we learn the hard way all the time: we don’t realize what we have until it’s gone. And once it’s gone, there’s no bringing it back,” said Morot.

The project already has funding from the county, but it now needs help from the City of Murray and other donors. The city has already spent $200,000 on renovations.

According to Morot and Bullen, the council will have a meeting Wednesday to discuss funding for the project.

"Alexander’s Ragtime Band" was the first movie presented at the theater in 1938. If the theater re-opens, the Historic Murray First Foundation thinks the venue should show that film again in honor of the original opening.