(Editorial Note: This is the full Part 177 of a series of further development in the early days that impacted Franklin County. The original column was cut short in the Oct. 21 edition of the Preston Citizen. Sources: Hometown Sketchbook, researched by Newell Hart; Franklin County Citizen, 1920-42; Cache Valley Newsletter, edited by Newell Hart; Obituary of Michael Nielson; Interview of Louenza Oliverson.)
After the fire at the Isis Theatre in 1930, the renovated Isis Theatre was modeled much after the design of the current Ellen Eccles Theatre of Logan, UT. There was a carpeted ramp that led from the foyer to the two entrances to the auditorium and cushioned seating within. Stairs led to a balcony and the projection room.
In the center of the expansive ramp was a candy display case of the sweets offered from the adjoining confectionery. There was a large overstuffed chair in the center of the ramp for a weary waiter of someone seeing the show, or perhaps an employee whose feet had given out, or a mother with a fussing baby. The theater employed ushers and salespersons.
Just a few doors south of the Isis theatre a new theatre was built by Michael Nielson in 1930. A Sanpete county, Utah, native, Mike began his adult life in the area around Buhl, ID. Mike owned several show houses throughout this part of the country. They were in Buhl, Filer, Brigham City, Boise, Logan and Preston. He named Preston’s The Grand, and it was located on the west side of the street, 68 South Main, with William Powell and Kay Francis as managers.
According to the Cache Valley Newsletter Earl McClurg leased the Grand from Nielson in 1931 and operated the theatre. McClurg moved to Preston from Malad. He removed the original vertical Grand sign from the entry and remodeled the flat marquee. The new model,with a horizontal GRAND jutted out across the sidewalk and included a “very bright and flashing sign” to attract theater goers.
The Grand and Isis merged in 1936 although still operating as two theaters. Rulon Dunn, a Georgetown, Bear Lake native, came to Preston to manage The Grand in 1938. The two theaters advertised their coming features in the Citizen in the same space. There were movies that will raise some memories for readers: Gary Cooper’s “Sgt. York,” in 1942, and Bogart and Bergman in the classic “Casablanca” at the Grand in 1943.
Dunn was very involved in activities in the county. He was a member of the Preston Rodeo Committee, the Chamber of Commerce and part of the Selective Service Board and held various offices in the Lions Club. Dunn threw a birthday party for Mickey Mouse at the theater when the Mouse turned 10 years old in 1938, all for the enjoyment of young admirers in Preston.
“In 1946 the theatre boasted an all-girl staff (except the projectionist), Pauline Nelson, manager, with 10 usherettes and a door girl. ..A portion of the theatre always housed a barber shop, beginning in the early 1930’s with “‘Two Hoots and a Dan’ — Hoot Winn, Hoot Hawkes and Dan Swainston.”
Around 1950, Elmo Nielson, the son of Michael Nielson, with much experience after growing up in the show house business, became the owner and operator of Preston’s theaters.
Nielsen’s daughter, Louenza Oliverson, still of Preston, remembers working in both the Grand and the Isis during her teenage years.
“There was always plenty of work to be done,” she said. In one or the other of the buildings Loenza would be taking tickets, or operating the cash register to sell candy and soda pop. There was no end to the need for ushering or cleaning up the places when the show was over and the crowds went home. It was at the Isis that she met her future husband, Elmer Oliverson, when he returned from military duty with the Korean War in 1955.
Television became a normal part of life in Franklin County and attendance at the theaters dwindled. Nielson sold the Grand Theatre to Jim Ward of Malad. The Isis was closed and the Nielson family moved to California, where Elmo worked in management at Hughes Aircraft. Elmer Oliverson kept up long-distance connections with California and wedding bells brought Louenza back to Preston to stay and raise their family.
Drive-In Theaters showed some popularity for a time. 1955 Horace Hayes opened Preston’s Sky Vu theatre south of Preston. Lawrence Jones of Malad assumed ownership of Grand-Isis; Jim Ward moved here to manage both.
What was the Grand theater is currently Preston’s Worm Creek Opera House and it is now dealing with current struggles with restrictions in film making and the need for safe-distancing of assembled groups of people with the pandemic.