When the Tower Theater shut down a couple of years ago, somehow it didn't seem as traumatic an incident in the minds of most local moviegoers as when the Centre and Regency theaters bit the dust.

The Tower, an older movie house located at 900 East and 900 South, was never the kind of spectacular showcase the Centre and Regency were. And by the time it closed its doors in 1988 the Tower had long been a "dollar house." Toward the end, movies that finally made it there were often already available on video.But now that the Centre has been demolished and the Regency is being turned into an office building, the possible destruction of the Tower seems more tragic.

After all, the Tower has a heritage as the oldest still-existing movie theater in Salt Lake City, having begun as a silent movie house in 1921.

Many passers-by have expressed concern over the impending loss of the theater, but most of us merely glance at it and feel bad.

Greg Tanner, however, is intent on doing something to save it.

Tanner, who owns and operates the Cinema in Your Face! Theater and video store, would like to move his art house operation to the Tower. But not merely as a business venture.

With his wife, film student Nikole Thayne, and local filmmaker Mark Allen, Tanner formed the Independent Film Foundation. Bolstered by a host of supporters, ranging from the Sundance Institute and the Utah Film Commission to the East Central Community Council and the Salt Lake mayor's office, they hope to turn the Tower into a thriving non-profit community theater.

To be dubbed the Tower Cinema, the theater would be renovated and reopened through the use of tax-deductible private funds. Tanner hopes to raise $150,000 to $200,000 for the project. (A later, second phase would rebuild the outer structure, including the Tower's tower.)

The Tower Cinema would be a converted two-screen theater with Dolby stereo, primarily for first-run international, American independent and classic films, but also as a place for the work of local filmmakers, occasional live concerts and performances and, on weekends, children's matinee programming.

Lest you think this would be an odd change of pace, it should be remembered that the Tower was, in the mid-1960s, Salt Lake City's first movie art house.

Tanner's video store, also specializing in foreign and American independent films, would be there, along with an upscale snack bar that would serve pastries, gourmet coffee and tea, specialty snacks and drinks and the usual sodas, candy and popcorn.

Initially, Tanner, who will soon lose his lease at the Cinema in Your Face! Theater downtown, looked to the Tower for possible relocation of his business, but it simply needs too much refurbishing to be profitable.

"The location is great," Tanner said, "but it still has the original 1920s air-conditioning - it was Utah's first air-conditioned theater - and the roof leaks, it needs new seats - it needs a lot of work."

Tanner said community contributions, such as those generated by a "Save the Tower" block party at the theater on Saturday, Oct. 20, would go toward renovation, and grants from public and private arts institutions would be used for any initial operating overage. "Our projections show we can break even on a business level after we're in there, so we don't plan to solicit regularly. This is a one-time-only push" for contributions.


Block party will rally rescuers to theater

To kick things off and raise public awareness of the Tower Theater renovation plan, a "Save the Tower" block party will be held Saturday, Oct. 20, from 5 to 9:30 p.m. outside the theater, 900 East and 900 South.

The evening will be capped by a free outdoor screening of cartoons and the Italian film "Cinema Paradiso."

A pre-movie party will feature live music, a raffle for movie tickets, posters and merchandise and, of course, there will be plenty of food.

"Cinema Paradiso" is the affectionate comedy-drama that won the 1989 Oscar for best foreign-language film. The free screening will be preceded by Bugs Bunny cartoons, in celebration of Bugs' 50th anniversary.

It is suggested that participants dress warmly.

Anyone interested in making a direct contribution to help save the Tower may send it to Independent Film Foundation, 961 Lake St., Salt Lake City, UT 84105. The foundation is offering a cinephile T-shirt for contributions of $30 or more; for $100 or more there is a one-year pass for Cinema in Your Face! and the Tower Cinema; and for $500 there is a five-year pass plus a seat in the theater will have a plaque bearing your name.

For further information phone 328-0477.