Off the beaten path in Panguitch, Utah at the Gem Theater
We made the promise to my oldest son years ago as we waited in line at midnight for the release of the long-awaited seventh book in the series. It went something like this: “When the last Harry Potter movie comes out, we promise to take you to the midnight screening.” Jump ahead to a month ago. Our family sat at the edge of Bryce Canyon in Southern Utah overlooking the view, the last Harry Potter movie was scheduled to start in about 12 hours. And I faced breaking that promise. The nearest movie theater was at least 80 miles away.
Or at least that’s what we thought. We Googled every theater in the area and the closest one screening Harry Potter was too far to drive.
As I walked through the lobby of our hotel later that evening, I saw a poster for the Gem Theater in nearby Panguitch, Utah. They were showing the last Harry Potter movie at midnight that night! It was only 20 minutes away and I could fulfill my promise. Score!
Experiencing the Gem Theater
The Gem had just re-opened in May, 2011 after a lengthy remodel, which may be why it wasn’t showing up anywhere in our searches. It was just too new. We knew seeing the movie at this theater would be a memorable experience.
Going to a show at the Gem is like stepping into a time machine and entering a theater from long ago. The size is small and intimate, seating only 141 patrons. They use simple raffle tickets dispensed from a roll, not a computerized ticket from a machine with the name of the movie printed on it. The snacks and sodas are reasonably priced. The atmosphere has a homey, everyone-knows-your-name feeling. I loved this place!
As we explored the intimate theater lobby, we enjoyed a delicious ice cream from the 1950s style Scoops From the Past Ice Cream Shop. This delicious, home-made ice cream was featured in AAA’s Via Magazine.
The theater has an upstairs sitting area next to the balcony for families to hang out in before the movie starts. Younger children are allowed upstairs, but not in the exclusive balcony. In the lounge area, the theater offers free wi-fi access and video games. My son thought this was the best thing ever!
Walking through a door off the lounge leads patrons to the balcony area. This is not like any other balcony you may have seen. Every chair is a different style and bears a plaque with a name. Two luxurious, leather seats are titled “Air Force One” because they appear so presidential. Another big, dark, sturdy chair is named John Wayne. Another set is named Tarzan and Jane. I loved the details and thought put into this creative seating solution.
The rich history of the Gem Theater
Any theater originally opened around 1920 will have a rich history and the Gem Theater is no exception. It suffered through several fires and was closed for decades before the new owners, Mark and Heather Childs, bought it in 2010. In a separate room from the lounge upstairs, a detailed, small museum tells the story of the renovation and even has an old projector once used in the 1950s. The last movie shown at the Gem Theater was Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in 1984. The marquee letters of this last movie hang on the wall as a nod to how far this little theater has come since the last movie was shown.
We met both Mark and Heather that night. This wonderful couple feels extremely proud of their “little theater that could.” We talked with them about their process of renovation, heard stories from the past, and got a personal tour of the theater. Meeting them made this already extremely personal theater seem like we came to see a movie at a friend’s home.
As we watched the lights dim and the movie begin, it seemed appropriate we hadn’t found about the Gem on the Internet, but an old-fashioned way: on a piece of paper pinned up on a bulletin board. Not only did my oldest son get to see the movie promised to him long ago, he saw it in a beautifully restored theater full of rich history and beauty. I know he will remember this special movie and theater for many years to come.
When Eileen Calandro isn’t fulfilling promises she makes to her sons, she is the Chief Mom Connector of Mom Central. You can read about other promises she makes on her personal blog at calandroclan.com and connect with her on twitter at @MomCentralChat and @calandro5.