The early decades of the 20th century were embroiled in debate among design professions regarding eclecticism in architecture. It was considered a travesty among the progressive thinkers to replicate old styles in modern times.
Today we have the remnant of those eclectic years in very prominent buildings such as the State Capitol and the City and County Building. These and the many other designs were copied from the Greeks, Romans, French and on and on. Egyptian architecture was also plagiarized on occasion-- a few examples of which still exist in the United States with, I believe, only one in Utah. This singular survivor is in Ogden. Not only is it unique, but it represents a superb example of Egyptian eclectic design with a few pluses thrown in for the dramatization of theater production.The Egyptian Theater copycat design may have been criticized in its early years but today it is a museum piece. Recently it was saved from the wrecking ball by a spirited, ambitious few that refused to let it end up in the Ogden landfill. Thank you ! Thank you ! The challenge now is to find the continued energy and resources to restore it to its original grandeur and function. I believe because of these tenacious few, it will find this happy end and Ogden will boast being the home of one of the most unique buildings found in the United States.
Located on Washington Boulevard in the heart of Ogden, it is immediately obvious to the casual observer. Though obscured by modern brick and glass facades, an old marquee and years of grime, it stands out.
The original building was inspired by the discovery of King Tutankhamen's Tomb in Egypt. Built during the early '20s it represented the state of the art in "movie palaces" across the nation. The completed building is a replica of Egyptian temples built by Theban nobles about 1350 B.C. The painted and sculptured scenes of ancient Egyptians and Romans used throughout the theater were authentic and faithfully reproduced in their original colors.
The theater is an "atmospheric" auditorium-- that is it had an artificial sky with twinkling stars and clouds that floated above the audience. Productions were dramatized by the full daylight fading into evening and full night with stars and the onset of chirping crickets and other night creatures. It was perhaps one of two or three in the United States.
Ogden artisans are responsible for this early work and though developed in a serious vein, it was not without a sense of humor. The original design had hidden within the Egyptian motif and paintings a figure of a drunk leaning on a lamp post. Also in a lobby panel, workers inscribed in hieroglyphics or reasonable facsimilie "Harm Peery is a bum." Harmon Peery was a prominent and respected Ogden businessman and the mayor of Ogden for many years. He likely was aware of and found humor in the inscription.
The exterior is in rich colors of blue, purple, red, green, yellow and tan. Palm leaves, scarabs, snakes and vultures with spread wings surround terra cotta mummified gods and pharoahs which regally stand guard over the temple theater entry. Inside, additional forms and characters are in terra cotta, concrete and paint. Original paint colors remain in the coffered ceiling on the entry that has just been re-exposed after years of hiding behind a suspended ceiling of modern origin. These re-exposed paints indicate the rich grandeur of color that was throughout the interiors, color which are now swabbed over by heavy greens and tans of another era.
Art objects such as a contemporary painting of a reclinign Egyptian princess with only a veil over her face have long since vanished. Most of the remodeling damage occurred in the early sixties. Modernization with paint, facades, ceilings, seating, etc., proved to be the downfall of many of the more significant interior art pieces. Inside the auditorium huge painted figures on the theater walls are gone, statues in backlit windows are gone, columns against the proscenium of the stage are gone.
Hopefully many of these treasures are buried under superficial finishes that can be removed capturing the original grandeur. If not, the architectural detectives must reconstruct as closely as possible these missing artifacts in their original materials, colors and textures. Like the discovery of King Tut's tomb in Egypt, the rediscovery of the Egyptian Theater has happened and restoration is about to proceed.
Now the work of the detective, archaeologist and artisan begins. All of these items can be restored through time and money. Is it worth it? Absolutely! Nowhere in the Mountain West can such an art piece be found-- nor will it ever be if we do not capture the moment and restore this unique structure to its original grandeur.