SAGUACHE — The historic Ute Theatre in Saguache, once slated for demolition, has been purchased by a Crestone resident who hopes to bring back theatrical performances to the theatre and make it a true working part of the community once again.
Heidi Wong purchased the theatre earlier this year from former owner Christine Gydeson, who had operated it off and on since May of 2009. Wong says she has been visiting Saguache for a decade and is very fond of the town and appreciates its historical significance.
Saguache Treasurer Mary Morfitt invited Wong to attend the museum’s grand opening on Memorial Day. Wong accepted her invitation and while walking down 4th Street decided to peek into the theatre.
Gydeson and Virginia Drake, founder of the San Luis Valley Theatre Company, just happened to be inside. They offered her a “flashlight tour” and the possibility of the project “just seized me,” Wong said. She secured a loan and purchased the theatre the following week.
Because the theatre was closed for two and a half years, Wong says she is in the clean-up and renovation stage of her journey to open. It’s a slow process, she said, explaining she is in a “discovery phase right now,” trying to decide what attractions at the theatre would best suit the community. She definitely wants to revive community theatre and the productions organized by Drake, she said, and also wishes to attract other theatre companies and performers.
Already she has booked a theatre performance for some time next June. The play, acted out by two Hawaiian women, is entitled “Money Talks: But what the Hell Is it Saying.” The moral of the story is about self-worth and its relation to monetary values, she said.
Wong hopes to eventually feature documentary films, art films and international film fest films, but will not run standard new releases and the usual movie house fare. “I have no desire to compete with Cozy Castle,” a popular movie theater in town, she said. She also hopes to feature puppet shows for children, talent shows and in general showcase what she believes to be to be an abundance of creative talents in Saguache.
“I want this to be a place for everyone,” Wong stressed. “I love kids and want to provide an outlet for them.”
She is taking each day at a time, and says she can’t make any promises, but hopes to open by May of next year.
According to various articles published online by previous owner Christine Gydeson, the Ute Theatre was originally built in 1916 by Judd Keyes, beginning its life as a livery stable and blacksmith shop. Ross Lambert bought it in 1947 and added the second story, transforming it into what is now the historic Ute Theatre.
After a few years, Luis Groy took over the theatre operations. His daughter Josie and her husband were able to keep the theatre open for many years. They sold the business to Rod Hines, who ran it for a short time then sold it to Susan Crutchfield. When Gydeson purchased it in 2009, she kept the original seats and the old 1952 popcorn machine. She also opened up the lobby and remodeled the men’s bathroom.
Longtime locals recall the theatre’s heyday in the 1950s, when theatres in small communities across the nation were booming. One old-time photo pictures lines of people wrapped around the block, waiting to enter the theatre. Those were the days when people visited the theatre not just for movie-viewing, but also to watch current news reels. Over the years, theatre managers have come and gone, and the theatre has been open only for about a year at a time. Wong hopes to change all that.