Skip to main content

Salt Lake Theater

The Salt Lake Theatre, dedicated in 1862, saw a long and useful life.

Salt Lake Theater

Drama and music made it the cultural hub of the city, promoting local talent as well as traveling shows and circuses. Whether host to the Nauvoo Brass Band or filled with classical actors, the theater was an important center for wholesome recreation in the western United States. President Brigham Young attended often during his lifetime, and his children were sometimes asked to act in productions. In the early years, tickets were purchased with commodities as well as cash; chickens or homemade items were accepted. All firearms were taken at the door and stored in the treasurer’s office to be retrieved after the performance. It seated audiences upward of 1,500.

In 1928 it was finally sold and torn down in favor of more lucrative enterprises. Visitors to Salt Lake City may catch a glimpse of the old playhouse at the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum, which was built in a style patterned after the original theatre. The Pioneer Memorial Theatre on the University of Utah campus is also patterned after the Salt Lake Theatre.

Brigham Young Loved Theatre

Built then at the tremendous cost of $100,000, the theatre attracted the best actors and actresses of the day from around the world. Brigham Young was intimately involved in the theater, having given half of the proceeds for the construction himself. In addition, he oversaw some of the day-to-day finances, donated props, often checked on the safety of the building, and even helped extinguish a small fire on stage caused by faulty lamp lights. Contrary to the thoughts of many religionists in his day, Brigham Young believed that the theatre was a blessing from God and that his people would be happier because of it. During the dedicatory service, he said: “Upon the stage of a theatre can be represented in character, evil and its consequences, good and its happy results and rewards; the weakness and the follies of man, the magnanimity of virtue and the greatness of truth. The stage can be made to aid the pulpit in impressing upon the minds of a community an enlightened sense of a virtuous life, also a proper horror of the enormity of sin and a just dread of its consequences. The path of sin with its thorns and pitfalls, its gins and snares can be revealed, and how to shun it.” It may also be for those reasons that he once observed, “If I were placed on a cannibal island and given a task of civilizing its people, I should straightway build a theatre.” On the southeast corner of the building where the Salt Lake Theatre used to stand is a plaque that now commemorates the once magnificent theatre.

Interesting Facts

The property where the Salt Lake Theatre stood once belonged to Renolds and Thirza Styles Cahoon. Their son was given the name Mahonri Moriancumer (after the brother of Jared from the Book of Mormon) by the prophet Joseph Smith:

While residing in Kirtland, Elder Reynolds Cahoon had a son born to him [and his wife, Thirza]. One day when President Joseph Smith was passing his door he called the Prophet in and asked him to bless and name the baby. Joseph did so and gave the boy the name of Mahonri Moriancumer. When he had finished the blessing he laid the child on the bed, and turning to Elder Cahoon he said, the name I have given your son is the name of the brother of Jared; the Lord has just shown [or revealed] it to me. Elder William F. Cahoon, who was standing near heard the Prophet make this statement to his Father; and this was the first time the name of the brother of Jared was known in the Church in this dispensation.

Mahonri Moriancumer Cahoon is buried in Murray City Cemetery. The story of his name is engraved on his headstone.

Additional Media