This is the neon that started it all. The Villa Theatre in the Holladay/East Millcreek area of the SL Valley.
It first opened in 1949 and until it closed it had the largest screen in the state (not counting that wannabe imax the Cricket Super Screen. More like Cricket Bullshit Screen if you ask me). It had old timey pay phones and classical Greek murals on the wall. More importantly, it had the great signage.
I saw my first ever movie theatre movie here. Return of the Jedi back when I was a lad of three. As the legend goes when the Rancor showed up on screen I jumped out of my chair and hid on my dad's lap. I don't remember any of that.
The theatre closed for good in January of 2003. From 1983-2003 I saw so many movies at the Villa. I specifically remember sitting in the lobby and watching the snowfall after a screening of Disney's Alladin, back when I could still enjoy Christmastime. I remember seeing Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on the last day of school in third grade. Before Indy they showed a preview for the Michael Keaton Batman movie and that started an obsession with Batman that has yet to subside. The film broke during the climactic moment and someone yelled "I payed three-fifty!" Don't worry, it was fixed in no time. Years later I saw a late night revival of Last Crusade and afterward when the theatre was closed I hung out with a bunch of idiot stoners that were messing around with blowguns and bows and arrows.
I loved this theatre. After a night class at school or maybe a hard day's work I'd make it a point to drive past the Villa, just so I could check out the sign and see the people loitering around outside. So comforting to me.
The last movie to show at the Villa was Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. That's my favorite of the Lord of the Rings movies, if you're keeping track. I went to the very last screening. Felt I owed it to the Villa.
Fall of 2003 I was making a 16mm short film for a class. I decided to make an "experimental" film about neon signs. I thought "If only the Villa was still around." Then one night I was driving past it and lo and behold, the sign was illuminated once more. They were filming an episode of some tv show there and had re-activated the sign. I raced back to the U to rent a 16mm camera and buy a roll of film and then raced back to film the Villa in all it's glory. I was so happy about that.
The building was set for demolition until a local hero and rug dealer named Adib recognized the historical value of the Villa and bought it and converted into a showcase for his rugs. He's invested a lot back into it and restored the exterior to its original quality. The sign never light up anymore, but I'm glad to know it's still there.