POCATELLO — Memories of movies seen for the first time in Pocatello’s Chief Theater came flooding back to folks gathered for Friday’s official groundbreaking ceremony for restoration of the theater’s iconic neon sign on the
200 block of North Main.
“I remember seeing the mountain man movie with Robert Redford,” said Emma Gebo of Pocatello.
The movie, “Jeremiah Johnson,” directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Robert Redford came to the Pocatello theatre in 1972. But Pocatello city councilman Roger Bray had Gebo beat.
“I remember seeing ‘The Great Escape’ here,” Bray said.
That World War II epic starred a host of people, including Steve McQueen, James Garner, James Coburn and Charles Bronson, and it premiered in 1963.
Pocatello’s Chief Theater opened its doors Jan. 5, 1938, and was a hub of downtown activity for decades. As massive effort to restore the theater was nearly completed in spring 1993 when a fire destroyed the building, but the massive neon sign out front was saved.
It was placed in storage with an unknown fate until the Pocatello Relight the Night Committee was formed in 2012. That committee, with chairman Randy Dixon, has held 34 meetings since. Friday’s meeting marked the fruition of the committee’s goal — to restore the Chief Theater sign.
The actual moment when the sign comes back to life will be Nov. 29.
“This is a real treat for the community,” Dixon said Friday morning. “This will have a positive impact on the city.”
Fundraising efforts by Dixon’s committee, coupled with the city using money from the Stanrod House Historical Fund, have made restoration of the sign possible. As fundraising efforts continue with raffle tickets and original bulbs from the Chief sign selling for $50, Dixon is hoping to establish and permanent fund to keep the Chief sign lit and help bring other neon signs to life in Old Town Pocatello. The winner of the raffle will be able to throw the switch that makes the Chief sign glow on Nov. 29.
Dixon said there are more than 20 neon signs in the downtown area of the Gate City, and nine of them will be lit when the annual Light Up the Night Parade is held Nov. 29. Among those will be the massive Scott’s Ski and Sports sign on the front of the historic Peterson Building across North Main from the Chief sign.
Old Town Pocatello director Stephanie Palagi said there will be a grand opening for a new Purple Moon Gallery and Auction House that is being established by Sam Neutuschil in the Peterson Building on Nov. 29 to coincide with the Chief sign relighting.
“The Old Town Committee is planning a walking tour of all our neons,” Palagi said.
At Friday’s groundbreaking, Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad gave tribute to the history of the old theater.
“This is a great opportunity to bring the Chief back to life,” Blad said. “It will bring life back to Old Town.”
Dixon said the sign will be erected in the exact spot where it once stood. And it will stand 50-feet high just as it once did.
“This is all about the preservation of history,” Dixon said.