By Linda Smith, Artistic Director for Repertory Dance Theatre
Also published in the August issue of Catalyst Magazine
In January 1994, Repertory Dance Theatre leased the old Restaurant Equipment Supply building at 138 West Broadway. We put a portable dance floor in the middle of the large warehouse and rehearsed daily. The entrance to the building allowed pedestrians a view of our activities. This was a derelict area and transients would seek shelter or a place to drink in the entryway of RESCO. I noticed that a certain gentleman would make a daily pilgrimage to peek at rehearsals. One day, I cornered him to investigate his motives. I asked him if he liked dance. He said that his wife used to be a vaudeville dancer. He added, “I was born here.” I answered that I was also a native of Utah. “No” said the man. “I mean that I was born right here.” I told him that I was also from Salt Lake. “Listen to me,” he said. “I was born right here on this spot. My family home was on this site. My family business was right here, right where this building stands.” When I asked his name, the answer to my question was startling. “I’m Izzy Wagner.” was the response.
The man whom I believed to be a homeless vagrant was one of the City’s most respected and successful businessmen.
I.J. “Izzy” Wagner’s old adobe family home was originally located at 144 W. Broadway, which later became the business address of Wagner Bag, a company that manufactured and distributed packaging materials at that address from 1912 to 1958.
To make a long story short, Izzy became the lead private donor, and in September 1995, the old warehouse was demolished and construction began on what is now affectionately called The Rose, named for Izzy’s mother.
Development of the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center
In the early 1980’s, I learned that RDT’s barracks building home at the University of Utah was slated for demolition. Friends, board members and community leaders advised us to establish a g
reater presence downtown. The first step in the process of designing a new home for ourselves was to dream. What would the ideal space look like? What activities could we develop in a larger facility? RDT needed to grow. We wanted to increase the number of home season performances, develop a school, sponsor other performing groups, present lectures, demonstrations, activities for children and seniors, and become more integrated into the life of the community. We envisioned large rehearsal studios, efficient office space, and multiple performance spaces.
While setting our own priorities, we realized that other arts groups were also in need of rehearsal and performance space. It became clear that RDT’s ambitious goals could only be realized by forming partnerships and coalitions.
In 1989, RDT Board member Alice Steiner accepted an invitation to help our company find a new home. Alice formed a nonprofit organization, the Performing Arts Coalition (PAC), dedicated to developing a performing arts center. She invited the arts community to collaborate. In 1990, local arts organizations met to share ideas.
In the fall of 1996, phase I of The Rose was completed and featured the 200-seat Leona Wagner Black Box named for Izzy’s sister. RDT christened the space in January of 1997. Then, in 2001, Phase II was completed and the 500-seat Jeanne Wagner Theatre (named for Izzy’s wife) opened its doors and in 2002, a rehearsal studio was converted to the 75-seat Studio Theatre.
The Black Box is now home to PYGmalion Theatre Company and SB Dance, the Jeanne to Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation, RDT and Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company; and the Studio Theatre to Plan-B Theatre Company.
The Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center Today
Saturday, August 26 at 8pm
Learn more at RoseExposed.org
Get tickets at https://artsaltlake.org/production/rose-exposed-2/