Friday, December 12, 2008

Ritz a la Tooele: le Rhetro Futuristique

You've never seen a theater like Tooele's Ritz. These days the theater experience is dominated by the mega-plex, where customers are herded and processed like dumb animals. With so much of the same old same old, it's good to know that a place like the Ritz Theater in Tooele, Utah, still exists in spite of the Borg-like mega-plexes that seem to be taking over the projected entertainment realm.

The Ritz has a long and colorful history. Tooele's third* theater, the Ritz was built by SL Gillette, and opened in 1939. It was a good time to open a movie house in Tooele. Dugway Proving Grounds opened in 1941, and Tooele Ordinance Depot** opened the following year. Both brought well paid contractors, scientists, officers and enlisted personnel who were happy to get away from the desolate restricted areas of the depots, and enjoy modern movies in a ritzy theater with their dates or families. Tooele prospered.

In 1962, the Ritz was purchased by Ralph W. Bradshaw, and has remained a family-run operation since. Ralph's son, Alan, is the current owner/operator of the Ritz. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet Alan at the Ritz, and talk to him about his unique and historic theater.
The Ritz has a fully-functional cry room where bawling babies and unruly children can be taken, away from other patrons.
Don't you wish every theater had a cry room? Once inside the cry room, a nursing mother can enjoy the movie through a large window and in-room speakers. My own mother tells me that when I was a baby, she took me to the Ritz to see Mary Poppins. My first movie. I'm told that I didn't like it at all, and had to spend a bit of time in the cry room. I still don't like Mary Poppins, but have learned to control myself a bit better when I see her.

Although the cry room is unique, what is most interesting about the Ritz, to me, is the rhetro-futuristique mural that spans the inside walls of the theater.

I asked Alan about the mural, and he told me that he remembers being thirteen years old in 1964 when his father hired the artist who drove from Salt Lake to paint it. Alan remembers watching with interest how the artist air-brushed the space scenes on the theater walls, but unfortunately didn't know the name of the artist. I suggested that the artist may have left his signature somewhere on the mural, but Alan was pretty sure that there wasn't one. As I enlarged the following image of the planet Jupiter, I noticed what may be the initials of the mysterious artist.
Even though we can't identify the artist, evidence of the mural's age can be found in the image of the Mercury era capsule plunging through Earth's atmosphere upon re-entry. The space program's project Mercury ended in 1963. Project Gemini began in 1965, so it makes sense that the mural was painted sometime in 1964 as Mr. Bradshaw recalls.
The assassination of President Kennedy was still an event of recent memory when the artist did his part to keep the dead president's dream of landing a man on the moon alive. When the unknown artist painted this depiction of a lunar landing, the now familiar Lunar Module hadn't been designed, therefore he was left to his own imagination to create a landing vehicle.
I noticed that Florida, home of Cape Kennedy, is featured prominently in the images of both the re-entry and the Lunar landing scenes.
Alan told me that the artist didn't work with any source materials for his ideas, and that the process looked pretty spontaneous. His ideas came from out of thin air so to speak, and they're still there, on the walls of the Ritz. The future isn't what it used to be.Since my most impressionable times, I've gazed at the mysterious mural with wonder and speculation. I hadn't seen the familiar myriad of crafts, planets and stars for many years, and it was a bit like seeing an old friend.

For unruly children who don't appreciate the space mural, and need a reason to cry, the Ritz still displays these incredible Mexican velvet clowns.
Have a nice cry!

* Preceded by the Nick and the Strand, respectively.

** Later became Tooele Army Depot

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