A Century-Old Fixer-Upper

a piece of living history

Since 1948, Heber City’s Main Street has changed quite a bit. A number of different businesses have come and gone. The road used to have angled parking and a median separating the traffic. But to this day, the recognizable art-deco sign illuminating the Avon Theatre remains unchanged.

“The Avon looks the same as it did when it first opened,” said James Kohler, who grew up going to movies in the Heber Valley.

The Ideal Theatre is also a recognizable Main Street business that has been around for a very long time. The façade and the inside of the Ideal has changed since its original opening in 1918.

“You used to have to walk up steps,” recalls Michelyn Lawton who ran the theatres for her father who owned them during them 1970’s. “We used to have a ticket office outside and it used to have a balcony. My father bulldozed that after he bought the theater because it was so expensive to heat.”

Before video and DVD rentals, the movie theatres were the only way to see the films. “Going to the movies was fun,” Lawton said. “It was where everyone from town went to be social.”

Kohler remembers the theatres having matinees every Saturday. “That’s where all the kids in the valley would go,” said Kohler. “They would have drawings and give away prizes each week.”

The two theatres changed ownership several times since they were built. For a short period of time, the name of the theatres was changed from the Avon and Ideal to Reel 1 and Reel 2.

In 1986, the Avon became one of the first movie theatres in the country to be equipped with surround sound. The system was installed by the “Father of Surround Sound” himself, Jim Fosgate.

Fosgate, a Heber City resident and inventor, owned an audio company in the building where Lee’s Music is currently located. During that time, Fosgate was developing technology that would later be used by Dolby. Fosgate personally installed his system into the Avon. “The installation took about two weeks,” recalled Fosgate.

The first movie to be shown with the new sound system was “Top Gun.” Word got out about how good the sound was and drew a crowd. “People heard about it. After a few weeks people were lined up around the block and two streets down,” said Heber City resident Kelly Jarvis about the showing of “Karate Kid II.”

Despite its incredible sound, the Avon had not been properly maintained and was listed as condemned in 2004. No movies had been shown in the Avon for almost a year when Jim Lane stepped in taking on a renovation of the two theatres and changing the names back to the original.

“It was pretty extensive,” Lane recalls about the renovation of the Avon. “The entire auditorium had to be gutted. It was pretty gross,” said Lane.

The Lanes began work on the Ideal Theatre. After closing the Ideal for about 14 days, the Lanes reopened that theatre in mid-October of 2005. Next, they tackled the Avon which reopened in May of 2006 with new carpets, seats, sound folds, and a new screen.

Moving to Heber from Colorado after buying the two theatres, Lane had just completed his Masters in administration but decided to purchase the theatres in order to spend more time raising his children. “We were looking for a change and this opportunity came up from a friend of ours,” said Lane.

While small town theatres seem to be an “endangered species” according to Lane, the Avon and Ideal theatres became the first small town theatres in Utah to go digital and offer 3-D movies. Lane said the two theatres went digital in 2010. The Ideal Theatre has room for more than 250 movie goers while Avon Theatre has seating for up to 400 people in its the audience. “The Avon still has some of the best acoustics around,” added Lane.

Shortly after the theatre renovations were complete, the Lanes opened Corner Sweet Treats right next to the Avon. The nostalgic ice cream parlor features a soda fountain and homemade ice cream and candy. “It was originally an ice cream parlor and a spud nut shop. It has been many things throughout the years,” said Lane. Corner Sweet Treats is open during the summer months allowing you to grab a treat before heading into the theatre.

Experience the history and nostalgia of the Avon and Ideal Theatres for yourself. Movies are shown nightly changing every few weeks. In addition, a 100th celebration of the Ideal Theatre is being planned for 2018.

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