By Davis Bulger
Atop 1395 Presidents Circle sits Kingsbury Hall, an elegant building that resembles a smaller version of the museums built during the world’s fair. Kingsbury Hall has welcomed individuals such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Keene Curtis, Carol Channing, Vincent Price, Harry Belafonte, and Maude Adams. It was also the starting place of many performing arts organizations in Utah, including Ballet West and the Utah Opera.
According to the Utah Chronicle on October 16, 1928, Kingsbury Hall was named after Joseph T. Kingsbury, former president of the University of Utah from 1897-1926. Edward O. Anderson and Lorenzo Snow Young designed the building. Anderson was also an architect for the LDS church and designed the temples in New Zealand, Switzerland, and London. The style is neo-classical with an Egyptian revival influence. The hall was designed so it would fit in color and style with the adjacent Park Building.
The Utah Chronicle reported on October 4, 1929, that the auditorium was designed to fix all of the problems that affected typical venues at the time, such as noise level and the capability to see the entire stage from every seat. Many steps were taken in creating this venue to not only make it spectacular to the eye, but also to make it the most functional auditorium Utah had ever seen.
The Utah Chronicle stated on May 20, 1930, that the auditorium was equipped with 2,009 seats. An additional 200 people could be seated on the stage. Throughout the hall, patrons could see the splendid architecture and beautiful murals. The organ was to be installed soon after opening.
According to articles published in the Utah Chronicle in 1930, the stage was carefully worked out in accordance with modern ideals and was designed to be large enough to take care of almost any production. The velvet curtain adorning the stage cost $2,000. The lighting was to be the most elaborate in the city. The switchboard was described as “a masterpiece of electrical genius, capable of producing any desirable lighting effect.” The orchestra pit was to be equipped with a hydraulic lift at a future date.
The Utah Chronicle covered the “impressive” dedication ceremony on May 22, 1930. The play Bluebird was the first production to be staged in the new building. The play was the largest event ever put on at the nUniversity. Tickets were sold at prices from 50 cents to $1. The hall was originally built for extra classroom space, an assembly hall for students and the home of the Theater Program and Speech Arts Department but was later acclaimed as one of the largest concert venues in Utah.
The Deseret News on March 15, 1996, wrote about the renovation of Kingsbury Hall. After two long years and $15 million, the stage was set. Improvements included an enlarged stagehouse that was nearly four times the size of the original backstage area. Also, there were enough dressing rooms for 77 performers and two dressing rooms for stars were added.
Today, Kingsbury Hall is widely renowned as a concert venue, dance performance hall, play auditorium, and just about anything else you can think of. With the renovations over the years, Kingsbury Hall’s beauty and efficiency never cease to keep Utahns and visitors in sheer awe. Kingsbury Hall is one of eight buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Davis Bulger is a junior at the University of Utah. He was raised in Chicago and has lived in Utah for the past seven years. He is majoring in mass communication.
“Architects Are Now at Work on Kingsbury Hall,” Utah Chronicle, October 16, 1928, 1.
“Kingsbury Hall To Be Completed in Near Future,” Utah Chronicle, October 4, 1929, 1.
“Kingsbury Hall Dedicated May 15,” Utah Chronicle, April 18, 1930, 1.
“Kingsbury Hall $2,000 Curtain Will Be Hung Wednesday,” Utah Chronicle, May 6, 1930, 1.
“Kingsbury Hall Dedication Set for Thursday Noon,” Utah Chronicle, May 20, 1930, 1.
“Kingsbury Hall Is Dedicated,” Utah Chronicle, May 23, 1930, 1.
“Bluebird Scores on Opening Night in New Edifice,” Utah Chronicle, May 23, 1930, 1.
National Register of Historic Places Inventory—Nomination Form, University of Utah Circle, March 1977.
Ivan M. Lincoln, “Celebrating Kingsbury Hall,” Deseret News, March 15, 1996, 1.