MURRAY (ABC4) – If you passed the historic Murray Theater recently, you may have noticed it looks different, with its sign removed and construction around it. It’s all part of the process to renovate the theater, which has been around for 85 years. In that time, many people have walked through its doors, creating heartfelt memories.

“It was the thing to do on a Saturday afternoon for someone my age. It was a safe place to be. It was affordable, it was fun. We just had a really great time buying pixie sticks and red licorice,” Lori Edmunds, Murray Cultural Arts Director, recalled.

Murray City purchased the theater in 2015 and in 2018, received a facilities TRCC matching grant for around $3.6 million. The costs when the theater is complete are expected to be between $8 million and $10 million. Murray City has supported the project with Capital Improvement funds.

“We wanted to rehabilitate it because we don’t want to see it go down because it does have a lot of memories, a lot of history,” Edmunds says. “It was used right after the Depression as a place for people to go that they could afford because there wasn’t a lot of money back then.”

Restoring the theater isn’t without its difficulties — such as the pandemic putting the future of the theater on hold for years.

“During the pandemic, Salt Lake County terminated our funding contract as no one knew what we were up against. In turn, we had to terminate our contracts with those we had hired pre-pandemic and everything was stopped for many months. When the pandemic was over, it was difficult to get building supplies [and] the workforce shortage was problematic as well,” Edmunds said.

Work on the theater is back on, with construction facing its own challenges, such as groundwater issues as they’re digging out a basement to put in changing rooms, and a green room, as well as making sure the building is up to code.

“Renovating a historic building has been challenging as building codes in the 1930s were much different than they are now. We are still mitigating the water issue, yet carefully moving forward, which is exciting,” Edmunds said.

Now, many are looking forward to seeing what the theater will look like as it reaches its halfway point. Jeff Martin, Facilities Manager for Murray City Parks and Recreation, says the goal for when it’s finished is that people will be brought back to the 1930s when it was first opened, including its original green and white design.

Renderings of new Murray Theater, courtesy Murray City

“It’s really basically just trying to go back to what we had in the past,” he said. “We’re trying to go back to that art deco time period in 1938. It’s got some great architects that have designed that. Now we just got to put it in the foyer and make it happen inside,” Martin said.

Martin shared that they still have to do mechanical work, electrical and plumbing, as well as the flooring towards the stage and finishing the stage. They’re looking to finish the roof in a few weeks, after wrapping that up they will focus on working indoors.

The goal for the theater is that it will be used for multiple purposes, including to hold plays, concerts and movies, and return to a place where many can come together and enjoy the arts.

“The construction aspect of it has been a while,” Edmunds said, “But it will be done, and it will be beautiful.”