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Sugar House Journal

Locals reminisce about Sugar House in the 80s and 90s

Dec 01, 2017 08h00 ● By Natalie Mollinet

The Villa Theatre opened in the 1940s but remained a part of Sugar House until 2003. (Photo/Utah State Historical Society)

Ronald Reagan’s attempted assassination happened 36 years ago. Pac Man was released 37 years ago. The movie “Back to the Future” was released 32 years ago. Now that you feel old, here are some memories and nostalgic places in Sugar House that bring back the days of boy bands, parachute pants and cassette tapes. 

“I’m very lucky,” Douglas Hendriksen, a former resident said about growing up in Sugar House. “I have some great memories of the neighborhood and great parks, Movies 10 and walking to Millies to get a burger and fries.” 

Hendriksen grew up in the Forest Dale district in Sugar House and attended Highland High school. Even though Sugar House has some of the same stores from decades ago, there’s some places that have disappeared that many remember with fondness. 

“Snelgroves!” said Will Pittam, a millennial. “The world needs more giant classic ice cream places.”  

Snelgrove’s Ice Cream has always been a Sugar House classic. Many long timers remember going to the ice cream shop on 2100 South and getting their ice cream fix from “America’s Finest Ice Cream Store.” The shop was so iconic that it was featured on a 2002 Olympic pin. The company remained family owned until about 1990. The name brand is now owned by the Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream company. 

Long before Netflix, moviegoers remember going to the dollar movie theater or Movies 10 and the Villa Theatre with its large neon sign. The Villa Theatre, now Adib’s Rug Gallery, opened in 1949 featuring its first show, “Prince of Foxes.”  It only had one theater, but it was large, and the curved screen was a hit for all movie lovers. 

“Back in the 90s, I was too young to have a cell phone so when my dad would drop my friends and I off at the theater. I had to make sure I had some change in my pocket to use the pay phone,” Sarah Jackson, a former resident recalled. “I think the last movie I saw there was ‘Lord of the Rings.’ I was sad it closed down, it was unique. The sticky floors, the smell of popcorn before you entered the theater and the screen was so big.” 

“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” was the last movie shown at the Villa and filled up the theater on weekdays. The theater closed in 2003. 

If the Villa Theatre was too expensive, kids would go Movies 10, where it only cost a dollar to see a show. 

“It was kind of a nice tradition to do the ‘cheap date,’ to dress up nice and fancy and go to Wendy’s and then go see a dollar movie at the old Movies 10,” said Josh Christensen, another former resident. “I did that in the 2000s, but I’m pretty sure it was done in the 90s as well.” 

When the kids needed better entertainment than a movie, Sugar House had parks, a rather cold swimming pool and a laser tag place. 

“I remember the old Fairmont pool where the skatepark is now,” Hendriksen said. “The diving pool was always so cold because the water wasn’t heated.” 

In addition to the pool, there was a bowling alley where 24 Hour Fitness is now called Fairmont Bowl. It closed in 1999. Before the Barnes & Noble was built, there was a place called Phaser Fun where kids could play laser tag. It closed in 1997. 

“The whole neighborhood of kids coming out to play night games in the summer,” Simone Headden said recalling the days of childhood. “I love the tree-lined streets and to this day, that’s still one of my favorite things about Sugar House.” 

When it came to high school, students remember traditions at Highland High School.

“Choir had some great traditions,” Hendriksen said, “where people had to bring pizza or doughnuts when they kissed someone. The driver’s ed range used to flood when it rains, and some of the windows didn’t work, so it was fun to splash the other people in cars.” 

All of those interviewed agreed that Sugar House was a fun and safe place to grow up and walk to the theaters, to the park and to the convenience store. 

“The 90s felt like a very optimistic time,” Lucky Mather, another former resident, said. “I loved growing up in the Sugar House area.”