During the late nineteenth century, social halls, opera houses, and amusement halls, were terms used interchangeably for buildings that were all-purpose halls in Utah’s Mormon communities. They functioned as theaters, meeting-places, dance halls, political and religious structures (though not as substitutes for churches), and housed other community events. The earliest buildings were usually simple rectangular halls with a gable roof and simple Greek Revival or classical detailing. (*)

While a definitive study of this building type has not yet been conducted, the Utah State Historic Preservation Office’s historic building files indicate that there are distinctions between the buildings based on their construction date and who constructed them. This is despite the fact that they generally served the same purpose: a gathering place for the community. Social halls appear to have served a broader purpose and were community based in construction and operation, perhaps being built during the earliest years of a community’s development. A second type, the opera house, typically was a private enterprise that also tended to serve community functions. This type occurred a later in the 1880s-90s. Thirdly, amusement halls appear to be more of a twentieth-century building type that occurred through the 1920s and were often associated with the ward building.

In the early days of Utah settlement, as resources permitted, amusement halls were constructed adjacent to the meetinghouses or as at least as near as possible. This practice continued well into the twentieth century, with many of the amusement halls later being attached to the meetinghouse with a wing. The amusement hall (or cultural hall, as they are now known) was incorporated into later building plans so that it became a room inside the meetinghouse. These changes in building use and plan began occurring in approximately the late 1920s, and rather than being known as a meetinghouse, “ward building” became a popular term to describe the multiple-use aspect.

The following is a list of social halls, opera houses, and amusement halls, arranged by city, that I have found in Utah. The buildings are in various states of integrity and the actual usage of many of them has changed as well.

Although social/amusement halls could be found in almost every community in the state (and possibly a few in a single community) up to the mid-20th century, only approximately thirty still remain.