National Register of Historic Places


Hyart Theater

Lovell

Date Added to Register

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Smithsonian Number

48BH3937

Read all about it

The Hyart Theatre is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A as a rare example of an early 1950s movie theatre in Wyoming. Although many Wyoming towns have a movie theatre in the downtown area, few have a theatre like the Hyart. Constructed as a state-of-the-art theatre by Hyrum ''Hy'' Bischoff, the Hyart Theatre provided entertainment for people all over the Big Horn Basin during the 1950s through the 1980s.

The theater is also eligible under Criterion C as a state-of-the-art motion picture theatre that incorporated many of the best design practices of the period. The Hyart Theatre embodies those ideas from its smaller features like the popcorn machine to the very largest element, the neon sign that towers above the theatre. In spite of the building's fifty-seven years, both the interior and exterior still display remarkable integrity in terms of design, location, workmanship, feeling, association, materials, and setting.

The history of the Hyart Theatre is the also the story of the Bischoff family of Lovell. Big Horn Basin theatre entrepreneur Hy Bischoff constructed the theatre in 1950. Bischoff arrived in Lovell as a two-year old child in 1901. The Bischoff family had left Fountain Green, Utah as part of a group of Mormon families sent to colonize Wyoming's Big Horn Basin. Hy's father, Dan Bischoff (1870-1936) became a pioneer in the motion picture business when he bought a Lovell theatre, the Armada, in 1913. The Armada was constructed in 1908 and entertainment had consisted of nightly live shows that had attracted little business. Bischoff bought the theater with the intention of converting it to a movie theater.

When Dan Bischoff died in 1931, Hy took over his father's theatre businesses and continued to operate two Armada theatres. In 1949, Hy decided to build a new state-of-the art theatre. But first, accompanied by his wife Virga and daughter Loretta, he traveled throughout the region surveying movie theatres in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and Utah. He particularly liked Salt Lake City's Villa Theatre, constructed in 1949 (and still standing), and modeled the Hyart's lobby after the Villa Theatre.

Architecture began to play a prominent role in the motion picture business. As movies became increasingly sophisticated during the teens and twenties, theatres designed specifically for the new art form began to be an important part of the entire moving-going experience. New considerations came into play for the first time: safety, sight lines, maximum capacity, heating, lighting, and ventilation. Movie palace architects worked in the revival styles so popular at the time and produced large-scale, opulent, and fanciful versions of Egyptian, Spanish Colonial, and Mediterranean styled buildings. The movie theatre took on its own identity as a special place.

Clearly a man of many talents, Hy designed and oversaw the construction of the Hyart Theatre. He also took on details of the construction himself such as mixing, pouring, and finishing the concrete for the auditorium. Because the Korean War had begun, no metal trusses were available so the trusses were made of steel rails salvaged from old mines at Bearcreek, Montana.

The two story Hyart Theatre is built on a concrete foundation with walls constructed of structural tile and sided with brick. The flat roof is covered with vinyl. The building is approximately two hundred and twenty-forty feet long and seventy feet wide. The building faces south on Main Street and is in the heart of Lovell’s downtown. The bottom twelve feet of the façade is sided with irregularly shaped rhyolite “bricks.” Rhyolite is actually a volcanic stone that was cut from a quarry in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The remainder of the building is sided with brick. Embedded in the rhyolite brick on the west side is a concrete plaque that reads “THEATRE BLDG. H. D. Bischoff 1950”. Above the façade’s rhyolite brick is the marquee which forms a canopy above the angled entrance. The top half of the façade is covered with pink sheet metal panels and has eight casement windows that allow light and ventilation into the apartment and office that occupy the second floor of the building. A striking feature of the façade is the large, turquoise-colored sheet metal lattice that stretches in front of the sheet metal panels. The most prominent feature of the façade is the sheet metal pylon that towers above the west side of the façade with a neon-lit artist’s palette topped with the name HYART, also lit with neon.

The auditorium is accessed by two carpeted ramps, one on either side of the lobby. All carpeting in the auditorium is original to the building. The walls of the auditorium are partially paneled with a painted scrollwork design above the paneling. The painting is original and was executed by a Denver artist. The auditorium is 103 feet long and 60 feet wide and contains the original red upholstered seats supplied by the American Seating Company. The theatre originally had 1,001 seats but now has 940. The two hundred-plus seat balcony is accessed by ramps on either side. A soundproof crying room and the projection room are just off the rear of the balcony.

Hy Bischoff ran the Hyart until 1960 when his daughter, Loretta, took over. Loretta had been involved in the theatre since she was ten years old and had worked as an usher and behind the candy counter. The 1950s, 1960s and 1970s were good years for the Hyart, but business began to decline in the 1980s. Hy died in 1988 and Loretta closed the Hyart in 1992. It sat silent for thirteen years much to the dismay of the local community and the surrounding area.

In late 2004, a group of Lovell residents decided they would like to see the Hyart Theatre re-open in order to provide entertainment for the town. They formed a non-profit organization, the Hyart Redevelopment Committee, and began to raise the money needed to make the theatre operable again. The Hyart Theatre officially re-opened on November 13, 2004. Except for a paid manager and projectionist, the Hyart Theatre is run completely by volunteers who clean the theatre, operate the ticket booth and concession stand, and perform all the other jobs required to keep a theatre running. Various committees under the Redevelopment group include advertising, financial, fund raising, technical and facility construction committees. The theatre is open Friday and Saturday nights with a Saturday matinee. The weekend usually averages 350 people. No R-rated movies are shown, as the group wants to keep the Hyart family oriented. All tickets are four dollars. In addition to movies, the Hyart is home to a local talent show known as The Follies and school productions.

Much as it did in Hy's day, the Hyart is again functioning as a theatre and a de facto community center. The community as well as Loretta Bischoff is thrilled to have the theatre open once more and it is a tribute to the people of Lovell that they came together as a community to make it happen. Perhaps a community member expressed the feeling of the community best when she said: ''The Hyart is in the heart of anyone who has ever lived in this area. It is a jewel that must not be hidden; shine it up and let everyone view it!!''

Department of State Parks & Cultural Resources