Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

July 12, 2023
That’s A Wrap

After 83 years of comedy, romance, action, adventure, horror, drama, and westerns ... the Ritz Theater played its last movie 

Adorning Tooele’s Main Street at 111 N. Main Street, is the vibrant, historic “Ritz Theater” which nearly every Tooelian has visited at one point or another. After over 83 years of service, owners Alan and Mickie Bradshaw closed the theater’s doors on June 29, as it was time for retirement.

The last movie ever to play at the theater was “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” leaving the public with another fond memory to take with them long after the theater becomes only a memory.

It remains a mystery what the first movie ever played at the theater when it opened in the late 1930s was. Perhaps it was “Gone with the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” or “Of Mice and Men,” but we will never know.

The Bradshaws have owned the theater for almost 50 years, but John J. Gillette built it in 1939. One room held around 550 people and the other held around 200 people. John named the theater the “Ritz,” because he wanted it to be known as the classiest establishment in town.

“John wanted the Ritz to be the town castle — the biggest place for people to meet and to entertain,” Mickie said.

“The Ritz was the nicest theater in town,” former worker Jim Lawrence said.

After the theater was built and opened, it not only became a popular spot for community members to gather, but it also became a hangout for local workers to blow off steam.

“During World War II, all of the GIs would come to the movies when they had time off,” Alan remembered. “That’s when Tooele City grew a lot, because of the Tooele Army Depot.”

Not much else is known about the early history of the Ritz, because John has since passed away and much of the history was buried with him. The theater was passed down to John’s son, Sam, who sold it to Ralph Bradshaw in 1962. Ralph was Alan’s father. During his father’s time owning the theater, Alan grew up working there. Later, Ralph passed the theater down to Alan and Mickie in 1976.

During the 1980s, there was a period of time where copies of films were harder to acquire.

“They quit producing the number of films that they used to produce and that made us have to hold the films longer until you could get the next one,” Alan explained. “They only made 2,500 prints for the whole United States. You had to wait your turn to get a print and hope the theater didn’t ruin the print.”

In 1997, when “Titanic” was released, the Bradshaws played it for five months, making it the longest running movie at the theater.

In the early 2000’s, the theater stopped playing all first run movies. They started playing movies that had already been released.

“We would only get one first run out of every seven or eight titles,” Alan said.

 The Bradshaws decided to play all second run movies around 2013 and charge $1.50 a ticket. The Bradshaws were able to play almost any movie, unless it was too old, because the old movies were too hard to access and it cost too much.

The summer of 2015 almost saw the end of the historic theater after movie industry officials decided to end the distribution of film-based movies in favor of digital projection and distribution.

After purchasing an almost $100,000 digital system for their sister theater, the Motor Vu, Ritz employees were sold a digital system for $30,000, a significant discount.

To raise money for the system, the owners became stricter about customers sneaking in food and drink, raised the prices slightly of their concessions, and hosted an event where people came dressed up as characters from the movie “Cinderella.” Cinderella was the last film-projected movie shown at the theater.

Because the Ritz could only afford to buy one digital projector, the secondary auditorium was closed down.

Throughout the years, there have been several events held at the theater, including Ralph’s funeral, a hypnotist show, church services, magic acts, Christmas showings, food drives, and ghost hunts.

Speaking of ghost hunts, whether or not the theater is “haunted” is up for debate.

When they decided to retire, Alan and Mickie knew they wouldn’t be able to pass the theater on because they had no family members who were interested in taking it over, as there isn’t much profit in the business other than seeing the public happy.

“We didn’t get rich from working here,” Mickie said laughing. “Alan hasn’t even taken a check in years.”

“It was a labor of love,” Alan added.

The future fate of the building is a mystery.

“It’s all up to our Realtors,” Mickie said.

Now that they are retired, Alan and Mickie plan to relax.

“We really never had time to sit and watch movies, so I think we might watch some movies on the TV,” Mickie said.

“I was never able to actually watch the movies,” Alan added, speaking about his time at the theater. “I was always looking at the technical aspects of the movie. I was looking at the format of the screen to make sure it was centered and everything was where it needed to be.”

The Bradshaws, former employees, and patrons shared some of their memories at the theater with the Transcript Bulletin.

Alan remembers having a great time scaring audience members during a scary movie in the late 1960’s.

“A guy called us up and he said he had a B-rated horror movie,” Alan said. “He said he had costumes for the monsters and the monsters come alive in the movie. He asked us if we wanted to run it, so my dad said sure. We arranged to play this movie for two nights … We put people in there … and during the movie there was a lightning strike. We had two of us in monster costumes and we had a candy girl sitting on the front row too. We came in through the exit dressed as the monsters … We flashed a flash cube when the lightning strike happened blinding everyone in the theater, then we took position at the front of the stage as the monsters … When the people’s eyesight came back, we moved off of the stage making nasty noises. I grabbed the candy girl, threw her over my shoulder, and we did a monster walk back to the stage … The next thing you saw in the movie was the monsters carrying this girl off. When that happened, people would run out of the theaters across the back of the seats. They ran up towards the post office.”

Linda Lawrence, a family member and former employee remembers saving several children from choking at the theater.

“A kid choked on a jaw breaker and he was turning blue,” Linda said. “I picked him upside down and smacked him on the back. The jawbreaker shot out and went across the floor. In 2000, that big, tall guy came in and said I saved his life.”

Chris Holland, a frequent visitor, fondly remembers Christmas time at the Ritz.

“My favorite memory is of going to a free matinee Christmas movie on a Saturday at the Ritz Theater at Christmas time,” he said “Afterwards in the foyer, Santa Claus was there for us to sit on his lap and give him my Christmas wishes. Then I would receive a popcorn ball.”

Shari Shumway-Gordon grew up visiting the theater.

“I remember being able to drive to my first movie there,” she said. “It was a Disney animation, I think Lady and the Tramp. We went as often as the budget would let us.”

“Being able to go to the Ritz after my divorce helped keep my head above water,” Shari added. “I went to each movie every week, for weeks. It was great therapy.”

“I remember watching Gremlins,” theater-goer Paulla Krantz said. “When the theater scene with the Gremlins came on with the popcorn fight, the entire Ritz theater patrons had one too. Popcorn was flying everywhere. Each time I watch Gremlins I think of that popcorn fight and the Ritz.”

The Bradshaws and theater staff would like to thank Tooele City; their family, especially Matthew and Michael Booth and Darrell Bradshaw; their employees, their realtor, and most of all — their customers.

“I truly loved my customers,” Alan said. “They were our friends and they became our family. They weren’t just a number or a ticket.”


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