The Empress opened its doors in 1916 as a burlesque theater catering to the local Kennecott miners and their families. In 1917, it started presenting silent motion pictures. At least until 1930, the theater operated as a cinema theater throughout its entire existence.

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A historian and author named Stephen Barker bought both the Empress Theatre and the Gem Theatre in 1978. They immediately started restoring them as part of a more considerable Magna City restoration effort. Barker’s intentions to reopen the Empress Theatre in January or February 1979 for live performances and art films were never realized, even though he had intended to do so at the time.

After participating in a real estate transaction in 1983 to acquire it, local film and stage star Leo W. Ware eventually became the proprietor of the Empress Theatre. He spent $30,000 on the remodeling and put in hundreds of hours of labor to pull out tile, remove paint from brick and wood, knock down and build inside walls, restore flooring, and fix the ceiling. All of these tasks required him to work on top. One of the first challenges he faced was in July 1984, when the commissioners of Salt Lake County decided to demolish the “abandoned” Empress Theatre because it posed a safety risk. Later, they changed their minds and provided Ware with a deadline of December 1, 1984, to complete a comprehensive structural refurbishment of the theater, which he accomplished. Ware labored for nearly a decade and virtually single-handedly to convert the Empress Theatre into a venue suitable for live performances. This included manually excavating the dressing and green room areas below the theater. 

Salt Lake County, the NPS, and the Utah State History Division. Helped pay for modifications to the building’s façade. When Ware was asked about the strenuous effort involved in renovating, he said, “It only works if you’d rather be doing anything else.” I’d much prefer to be engaged in this activity.”

Ware could not continue working in the theater when he was involved in an automobile accident in 2002 due to the ensuing physical constraints it caused. In 2006, several people who lived in Magna took an interest in Ware’s concept and started conversing about the prospect of reopening the theater. In June 2006, they established the Oquirrh Hills Performing Arts Alliance as a non-profit organization. They obtained the keys to the theater in August of the same year so they could finish the refurbishment. Volunteers gave thousands of hours and hundreds of minutes throughout the four-month restoration. During his twenty years of work in the theater, Ware made significant advancements, but there was still a considerable amount of work completed. The theater lacked heat and AC. the electrical system required maintenance. 

For the facility to comply with fire safety regulations, OHPAA had to do drywall repair and painting, install seats and carpeting, create a sound booth, and replace all doors. The Primary Children’s Medical Center made the organization a donation of the concessions counter, many plumbers and electricians volunteered their time and expertise, and other people contributed financial support. The relentless efforts of Rod and Joline Walgamott, who were committed to bringing culture and education to the Magna town and the surrounding communities, were the driving force behind this endeavor.

After being closed for business for half a century, Ware’s long-held goal of reopening the Empress Theater was realized on November 4, 2006, when the play “Forever Plaid” marked the occasion. Leo Ware and his family were fortunate enough to be able to go to one of the theater’s first few shows after it had reopened after its recent renovation. “Forever Plaid” They are thankful that he was able to experience the fulfillment of his goal. On January 3, 2007, Leo W. Ware died unexpectedly soon after realizing his lifelong ambition.

On November 4, 2006, Ware’s long-held desire came true when the Empress Theater reopened its doors for the first time in the public in half a century with the production of “Forever Plaid.” Leo Ware and his family had the opportunity to see “Forever Plaid” during one of the theater’s first few performances when it had just reopened. They are thankful that he could see his goal’s realization. On January 3, 2007, Leo W. Ware died suddenly after realizing his ambition had been discovered.

Since it reopened in 2006, the Empress Theatre has presented close to 119 different productions. They owe an infinite debt of gratitude to Leo Ware and the Walgamotts because, without their enthusiasm and commitment, they would not be in this position right now.

Volunteer work by the Empress Theatre’s players, resident staff, and front house crew members is the only way the theater can stay open. Without the innumerable hours contributed by our volunteers, they would not be able to present art to Magna and the villages that are located in the surrounding area.


The Oquirh Hills Performing Arts Alliance has set its primary objective as the promotion and development of performing arts in Magna Township and the neighboring communities. OHPAA will work toward creating a prestigious venue for developing local talent and providing cultural and educational opportunities for the community as a whole. These goals will be accomplished by upholding stringent standards for producing family-friendly, high-quality programs and performances.

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If you want to learn more, you may contact them at (801) 347-7 or check out their website.