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During the 100-year tenure of performance arts in Park City, Utah, no venue has a longer history than the Egyptian Theatre on Historic Main Street in the Historic District referred to as Old Town. Today, traveling bands, comedians, sketch comedy acts, movies, local performances, and films during the Sundance Film Festival are all featured at the Egyptian Theatre. But for the venue to claim its right as a staple of historic Park City, the structure has undergone fire, the roof collapsing under heavy snow, and the transition of a mining town turned ski haven. Behind the brilliant red doors and classic box office is over 100 years of rich history and local heritage.
In the second half of the 19th century, silver was discovered in the mountains of Park City. Soon after George Hearst’s invested in the area by purchasing the Ontario Mine, and the region quickly became one of the wealthiest silver deposits in the world. Mining houses sprang up all over town and Main Street emerged as a tightly-knit series of row house architecture. One of those plots was the location of the Park City Opera House—prime entertainment for miners and visitors alike. But early on the morning of June 19, 1898, a fire roared down the snug structures and burnt 75 percent of the town’s buildings, including the Opera House, to the ground. Desperate to keep theater and entertainment alive in the community, the very next year, the Dewey Theatre was erected.
The Dewey Theatre was open for only a short 17 years, before the roof succumbed to heavy snows in the winter of 1916. The year held a record-breaking fall that proved to be too much for the Theatre’s center roof. Although it would be another decade until the doors opened again, with the reopening came a renewed enthusiasm for community and art. Thus, the Egyptian Theatre was born.
The Egyptian Theatre opened its doors on Christmas Day, 1926. It’s an excellent example of the art deco style that marked the design of many theaters built at the time. Influenced by the recent discovery of King Tut’s tomb, and with an Egyptologist on site, the Theatre was adorned with lotus leaf motifs, Tut’s head crown, scarabs, and hieroglyphics translating into life and happiness. It’s clear from the architecture and design that the history of the Egyptian Theatre is one dedicated to style, art, and theatrics. Although the initial design of the theater was impressive, and local miners and tourists loved the shows, the theater underwent a rough patch when the silver mines dried up and Park City began to look ghostly.
For a time, during the 1950s, after the venue was used for both live performances and cinema, the space was also used as a saloon to aid in keeping the doors open. While Park City underwent an identity crisis, the Egyptian Theatre closed for a time and eventually reopened as the Silver Wheel Theatre in 1963. This was a new time for Park City, an emerging ski and tourist town, a destination location. Live performances continued in the Silver Wheel as “meller dramas” (a theater slang for melodrama), which were on the schedule most consistently during that period. Eventually, and once again, the structural integrity of the Theatre came into question, and it was unclear as to whether the building could survive.
Through much local effort, fundraising, the Save our Stage community group was able to raise enough funds to preserve the original Egyptian, and on February 14, 1998 the theatre re-opened as the Mary G. Steiner Egyptian Theatre. The Egyptian was where the first Sundance Film Festival held its first screenings, and it continues to be a beloved venue for the 10-day festival every January. Come see one of the many live performances, comedy shows, and community functions and fundraisers and pay homage to the performers and patrons over the past century.