The Villa Theatre will avoid the wrecking ball, but it will not reopen as a movie house.
Hamid Adib, owner of Adib's Rug Gallery at 3142 S. Highland Drive, said Friday that he has purchased the landmark theater at 3092 S. Highland and will eventually move his business into the Villa building.
Adib purchased the theater for an undisclosed price from the Harmons grocery store chain, which bought the 3.3-acre Villa property in February 2003. The theater's tenant, Carmike Cinemas, declined an offer to lease the building at that time and left. The building has been vacant since.
Harmons representatives could not be reached for comment Friday.
Adib said he has been selling hand-woven Persian and Oriental rugs in the Salt Lake area for more than 18 years. When he moved to Utah and made it his home, he said, his family enjoyed attending movies at the Villa.
"When we heard, we were upset that the theater was closing, because we have such great memories," Adib said. "Then we kept learning that many developers and many different groups wanted to level it and build office buildings . . . I have so much appreciation for old buildings. I thought, 'I wish there was a way we could buy this place and just preserve it.' "
Adib said he called Harmons and made an offer, which led to the sale. But he is not buying the Villa to show movies.
"I wish I had the experience of showing movies . . . and could preserve the facility as it was," he said. "I don't have that kind of ability."
Instead, he said, he will fix up the theater building and use it to feature what he calls a different kind of art his rugs.
"I want to feature some of these and some other types of artwork and create, in a sense, a museum-like atmosphere that people can come in and enjoy and at the same time remember their past good memories," Adib said.
"The plan is to fully preserve it, keep it overall in the form of a theater, as far as the facade or the architecture of it."
The seats, curtains and other items already were removed from the interior of the theater and sold, he said. "Everything is completely taken out, and what we are taking over is basically a shell."
He said the theater needs "a drastic amount of help" because it has not been kept up for some time. He does not know how long it will take or how much it will cost to renovate, he said, but he already is meeting with architects about the project.
"We have no rush, because where we are we are doing our work," Adib said. "Hopefully that will be ready sooner than later and we can get that space. . . . I'm doing (this business) mainly because I love it and it's my passion, and that theater has the kind of charm and character architecturally that will suit our purposes very well.
"I've been part of this community, and the community has helped us to get where we are right now, and I want to make sure I am in a way contributing to the community by preserving the landmark."
Grant Smith, a fan of the Villa who operates the villatheatre.com Web site, said Adib's plans are not a big surprise.
"It's nice that it's going to be someone who's going to take good care of the building and not tear it down," Smith said Friday. "Everybody's worry, is that it's going to be demolished. Maybe someday it can return to being a theater."
Once it opens as a rug gallery, Smith said, he probably will go in to take a look. "But I don't buy many Oriental rugs."
Adib said he will operate an "honorable and very dignified" business in the theater.
"Every single friend and family that I talk to, they tell me about a good memory that they have in that building, so these are things that mean so much to me," Adib said.The Villa opened for business on Dec. 23, 1949, the pride of the Joseph L. Lawrence Theatres. At that time, it featured stadium-style seating and had a capacity of more than 1,300. In 1955, the theater was purchased by Fox Intermountain. More than a half-dozen owners tried their hand at the Villa's reins during its 52-year run as a movie house.
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