Sunday, May 4, 2008

Empress Theatre Rennovation Pictures

If you've been to the Empress Theatre for a show, you've probably heard the story of how Leo Ware purchased the building in 1987, then worked for 17 years to retore and rennovate it into the live theatre it is today. These pictures document some of that story.

This is what the Empress looked like early in Leo's work on the theatre. Note the triangular marquee over the sidewalk. Leo believed that the marquee was added after the building was finishished originally, because the neon tubing used in it wasn't readily available in 1917. Salt Lake County ordered the marquee removed in order to lift the demolition order.

In the second picture, you can see the original doors and a small box office. The box office was probably removed in order to make the front wall of the building seizmically stronger to satisfy the county inspectors. The box office and the double swinging doors in front of the theatre today were installed as part of the Dadnapped set and were left behind at our request.
A fire and rotting wood had caused the #3 roof truss to fall to the floor on the east side of the building. Leo had to lift this truss, install gussets to hold it and the other 4 trusses in place, and reinforce all 5 trusses in order to restore the roof of the building. The fallen truss is over what is now the stage floor.

After Leo removed the sloping (or raked) original floor, he decided he needed to put in a basement for dressing rooms, a green room, and other "back stage" uses. The doors to the theatre were too small to get any power equipment through, so Leo dug the basement by hand, using a pick, shovel and a wheelbarrow. He went through several temporary workers, but found that they "couldn't keep up with a 70 year old man."
This is a picture of Leo, was extracted from a video called "Rebirth of the Empress" shot somewhere in 1999. Leo is seated on what appears to be the south seating risers. In the video, Leo quips, "I enjoy solving problems. I've got a lot of joy over these 12 years. More than I wanted! But I'm just looking forward to the day when you people out there can share the joy."

Thanks Leo.

BTW, to see more pictures of the Empress Theatre restoration and rennovation extracted from the video, visit

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