Photographing My Own Town

By Lane Erickson

History is everywhere around us.  You may think you live in a boring place but if you look around you’ll probably be surprised.

I live in Pocatello, a city in Southeast Idaho that has grown into the neighboring town of Chubbuck.  Combined, the population is about 80,000.  To look around you might not think there is much to the place.  Don’t be deceived.

The Princess Theater

For instance, the Lyric Theatre opened Oct 9, 1905 at 124 S. Main “for the purpose of vaudeville and motion pictures.” Later entries in the city directory show an address of 130 S. Main. The Lyric Theatre was closed briefly after a fire on Oct 15, 1908 at a nearby theater forced a reconsideration of safety regulations.

In July 1909 the Lyric Theatre became the Grand Theatre. Then, on February 22, 1912 the Grand Theatre was renamed the Princess Theatre – the mythological birthplace of Judy Garland in “A Star Is Born”.

On June 15, 1916 the Princess Theatre became a motion picture only facility after having the stage removed. On March 1, 1920 the building was converted to a retail business. This building still stands today, as the ground floor of the Whitman Hotel.

Whitman Hotel, Pocatello Idaho; Canon Powershot S110; 1/40s f/8.


Whitman Hotel, Pocatello, Idaho; Canon Powershot G10; 1/200s f/3.5.

The Chief Theater

Another historic location in Pocatello is the Chief Theatre which opened on January 5th, 1938. It was a gala night as the world premier movie “Bad Man of Brimstone” starring Wallace Beery and Virginia Bruce was delivered by stagecoach as thousands watched and cheered. This majestic and beautiful theatre cost $250,000 and was constructed in five months by local contractor Byrd Finlayson.

Chief Theater Sign, Pocatello, Idaho; Nikon D5100 Nikkor 16-35mm @ 16mm; 1/250s f/8.


The first U.S. screening of the movie “Jeremiah Johnson”, occurred in the Chief Theater on Friday, November 17, 1972.  Robert Redford stood on the stage of the Chief Theater with screenwriter, Sydney Pollack as he was introduced to the preview audience.  The movie was made almost entirely on location in Utah.

So why was a Hollywood movie made in the state of Utah given its preview in Idaho? The answer is because of the third person that was on the stage that night: Opal Fisher. She was the widow of Idaho author Vardis Fisher who wrote the book “Mountain Man”.  In exchange for permission to use portions of his book in his screenplay Sydney Pollack and Warner Brothers Studio agreed to pay Opal Fisher $5,000 and to hold the preview of the movie in Idaho.  The Chief Theater was chosen for the preview.

A number of events occurred at the Pocatello preview. There were parties, a televised news conference, introductions on the stage, and the screening of the movie at the Chief Theater.  Looking back on his career, Robert Redford stated that his favorite movie that he was in was “Jeremiah Johnson”.

Chief Theater Sign, Pocatello, Idaho; Nikon D5100; Nikkor 16-35mm @ 16mm; 1/125s @ f/8.

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