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Ogden community remembers life of man who saved historic Peery’s Egyptian Theater

OGDEN — Community members remembered the life of a man known for restoring an Ogden gem, gathering in the space he saved, hoping the building will keep his legacy alive.

The doors of Peery’s Egyptian Theater opened to a crowd on Monday evening, as people filed past the historic front ticket office, into the ornately-decorated lobby and eventually into the colorful theater.

Music from a foregone time floated from a Wurlitzer organ just in front of the stage, as people chatted and took their seats.

It would have been similar to the atmosphere that greeted theater patrons when the theater first opened in 1924.

Ryan Summerill pointed out the Egyptian decorations, the atmospheric ceiling and the waterfall curtain adorning the stage.

He explained how the theater is meant to bring customers more than a movie.

“It’s not just seats and a screen,” he said. “It was done in an era of the decoration, the lighting, everything was to create a whole experience for the audience.”

Community members gathered in Peery’s Egyptian Theater on Monday. (KSL TV)

On Monday evening, the audience experience of watching the waterfall curtain gracefully rise, was to pay tribute to the man who made sure those seats didn’t stay empty.

Van Summerill grew up coming to Peery’s Egyptian Theater, explained Ryan, who is Van’s nephew. Uncle Van, as Summerill called him, worked at the theater as a ticket taker, then a projectionist.

When the theater fell on hard times and became shuttered, Summerill said his uncle and his friends stepped in to save it.

“Ogden city didn’t have the capability to sustain the theater or keep it open, and so they had plans to demolish the theater,” Summerill said.

Through the Egyptian Theatre Foundation, Summerill explained that Van Summerill restored and reopened the building his uncle was so fond of.

“With so many of the things that Van did, it was never for him,” Ryan Summerill said. “It was always, ‘How can I how can I bring this back and share this with my family, the community, and friends and the people that I love?’”

Pictures of Van Summerill played on a TV in the lobby. (KSL TV)

Van Summerill suffered from Parkinson’s, and Ryan Summerill said his uncle died on March 17 at the age of 81.

Even at his age, Ryan Summerill said Uncle Van was still heavily involved and had just met with Marie Osmond at Peery’s Egyptian Theater just days before he died.

Last weekend, the theater celebrated its 100th anniversary with a special orchestra performance. It is hosting a “100 Years of Film” event on Thursday to mark the occasion as well.

Ryan Summerill’s now hoping his uncle’s passion is passed down, as people continue to feel that special experience in a place that offers so much more than a show.

“I hope they get to experience all the things that that you should when you come to the Egyptian Theater,” he said, later adding, “I think what Van would want, is for anybody who comes through these doors just to have fun and enjoy what we have here today.”

The iconic Peery’s Egyptian Theater on Washington Boulevard in Ogden. (KSL TV)