We spend lots of time taking our kids to plays and performances, and every time we do, I remind them that plays were one of the first sources of entertainment for the pioneers that came to Utah.
The first theatre West of the Missouri was in Salt Lake City, and was named the Social Hall. On January 1, 1853. the Social Hall was dedicated. The first theatrical play was presented there on January 19, 1853. The building was uncovered on State Street during a construction project in 1991, and a museum was built around it.
A plaque inside the museum tells its history:
Utah’s first theater, the Social Hall, was built on this site during the summer and fall of 1852. During the next ten years, the Social Hall served as a favorite place for plays, dances, socials and many other community needs. After the Dessert Dramatic Association moved its performances to the Salt Lake Theater in 1862, the Social Hall became a church cultural hall, then a school, a gymnasium and library, and, finally, once again a theater. The building was closed in December 1921 and then torn down.
You may have passed by it without even knowing what it was. It’s a large glass building located 39 So. State Street in Salt Lake City, and is on the East side of the road. The glass building that has been built around the remains is the same shape the original Social Hall was, and will give you an idea of its size.
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With its discovery in 1991, many artifacts and evidence of early pioneer life were uncovered. You can view these inside the actual place where the Social Hall existed.
The best place to park is behind the building, to the East. If you make a purchase at Harmon’s, you can park in their parking structure, but if not, make sure you park at the pay meters along the street. Admission to the museum is free.
More resources for the Social Hall:
- An early journal entry about the Social Hall
- Deseret News article of discovery in 1991
- Newspaper article from Dec 1918 about happenings at the Social Hall Theatre
An entire area of the museum is dedicated to
artifacts found while unearthing its remains, and the story of finding it.