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Murray Journal

Rebirth of the Murray Theater

May 17, 2018 03:47PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Architect’s rendering of renovated stage of the Murray Theater. (Photo courtesy Murray City)

By Shaun Delliskave|[email protected]

When it opened in 1938, Murray Theater was touted as having the newest technology: microphonic sound, fluorescent lighting and even air conditioning. “Gone with the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz” had their first runs on its screen. However, the past several decades have been rough on the 80-year-old theater, unable to compete against major movie theater chains. After stints as a church and a wrestling ring, the theater is getting a new lease on life, as Murray City has announced major renovations to turn it into a first-class performance venue.

Kim Sorenson, director of Murray’s Parks Department, who is overseeing the renovation stated, “A theater was part of the downtown dream since the beginning. In 2015, the Murray Theater came up for sale. Murray purchased the building with the plan to restore the historic theater. Many believe the theater will become the crown jewel of the future revitalized Murray downtown area.”

The theater will be multi-functional, playing host to live theater performances, film festivals, small concerts, movies, public meetings, school plays, and other school functions. Dedicated as an intimate venue, it will provide a uniquely sized performance setting for both smaller professional and amateur ensembles.

In the past, its stage was graced by Judy Garland and not-yet-world-famous Adele. Over time, however, its many owners have modified or neglected the building, so the existing structure does not meet current building codes. The city will replace electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems. The original theater was designed to be a movie house with a big screen, but based on public and user feedback, it was determined the best future use is a performance stage. To accomplish that, the stage needs to be enlarged and amenities added for performers. According to Sorenson, because of the lack of space around the building and its location on busy State Street, construction and renovation will be complicated.   

The renovation will include restoring the look and feel of the theater to its original Art Moderne-style glory. The front façade will be restored to the original look as when opened in 1938. Original stainless-steel doors, door handles, and trim will be restored rather than replaced. The original color scheme of green/white/red/stainless steel will be used. The ticket booth will be restored and remain at the front of the building. The lobby area is to be restored in the original red color, the original gold leaf trim will be freshly painted in the same gold color, and concessions will be located in its original space.  

New to the theater will be Comfort Theater seating (to accommodate 320–350 people) with enhanced line of sight and additional ADA-accessible space. For the performers’ comfort, new restrooms and a greenroom (a room where performers prepare to go on stage) will be built. The front area of the new stage will have a hydraulic lift to allow for orchestra pits and flexibility within shows. Front spaces on the north and south side of the theater will be turned into multipurpose sites, which can be used for theater needs, rented to the public, or used for art displays and public meetings.

“We applaud the renovation plans the city has unveiled for the Murray Theater,” enthused Janice Strobell of Preserve Murray, a Murray-specific historic preservation group. “The theater will contribute greatly to Murray’s vision of a vibrant walkable downtown. Murray citizens welcome this theater as a valuable entertainment attraction in our midst.”

Once renovated, the Murray City Cultural Arts Division will oversee and manage the theater. Preliminary planning hopes to schedule it as a venue ranging from the Sundance Film Festival to the Missoula Children's Theater.