BY SARAH LANGSDON
March 26, 1914, the Ogden Examiner ran an article about the building plans for a new theater on Hudson (now Kiesel) Avenue. The Alhambra Theatre company purchased the land from Fred J. Kiesel and announced that it was going to open the largest theater in Ogden. The company was owned by Albert Scowcroft and Charles Zeimer. The cost of the building was $150,000 and would seat 2,200 people. The architects of Shreeve and Madson were to build it entirely of concrete, including the roof. It would also have the largest stage available in Ogden so that any theatrical production could be staged on it with ease. It was described as “America’s most beautiful moving picture palace.” Huge murals were on the side walls that represented song, drama, dance and music. The theater was advertised as a “germ-free theater. Fresh air for everyone.”
The building opened on March 17, 1915 with a concert by the Ogden Tabernacle Choir. The theater also included a Kimball pipe organ that took five expert organ builders to assemble. It was the largest one in America installed in a theater. The organ cost $20,000 and rivaled the organ in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.
Along with Broadway-style productions, the theater showed movies. The first silent film was Charlie Chaplin’s “The Champion.” In May 1915, Ogden Theater brought a suit against Paramount Pictures for selling films to the Alhambra, claiming that the Ogden theater had the contract. Paramount stated that the contract had expired in April and they were free to sell pictures to other theaters.
Sporting matches were also common at the Alhambra. Boxing was a staple for the theater. On May 13, 1916, a notable match between two local boys took place. A packed crowd of 2,000 saw local boy Jack Dempsey defeat Terry Kelly in ten rounds. There were often wrestling matches in the theater which included midget wrestling matches. Many local wrestlers like Pete Visser and Jack Harbertson took on nationally-known champions.
In 1923, Abe Glasmann purchased the theater. Glasmann was the publisher of the Ogden Standard, and owner of the Orpheum Theatre on Washington Boulevard. He immediately reduced ticket prices to 10 cents for matinees and 20 cents for evening shows to keep on par with the Orpheum. During the summer months, the vaudeville acts from the Orpheum would move to the Alhambra to take advantage of the air conditioning. In 1925, the theater was leased to Publix Theatres and renamed Paramount Theatre. The new owners completed renovation and reduced the number of seats to 1,900. When the American Theater in Salt Lake City closed in 1929, the Paramount had the title of Utah’s largest theater.
The theater went through two more remodels, one in 1948 which again reduced the seating, and remodeled the stage in order to bring in big bands. The second was in 1954; this included new seating, a larger screen, and a new marquee and sign outside the building. With changes in Americans’ viewing habits, the theater faced stiff competition from drive-ins and was forced to close during the summer months. It became dependent on low-budget horror and exploitation films and move-overs from the Orpheum. By 1963, the theater basically closed down hosting just a few community events. In 1971, the building was razed by developers, and some of the fixtures were donated to a local community theater. Of the early theaters in Ogden: Orpheum, Lyceum, Colonial, Ogden, Alhambra, and Egyptian, only the Egyptian remains.