When the WYO Theater opened in 1923 as the Lotus, newspaper headlines proclaimed it “Wyoming’s Wonder Picture Palace!” Entering the theater through an arched brick and stone exterior lobby, the opening night capacity crowd was greeted by canaries warbling in cages suspended above the live flower gardens that flanked the stage. Pompeian-red wall panels, their borders decorated with striking fantastic birds in bright colours, pilasters and beams stenciled in Oriental designs, multicolored lighting effects, and lighted tanks of tropical fish all contributed to the exotic atmosphere of the Lotus.
Sinking into the plush, leather-upholstered seats, the opening night audience was entertained by a program of singing, dancing, and comedy acts, musical selections by the 15 piece Lotus Orchestra, and feature movie, Enemies of Women, starring Lionel Barrymore and Alma Rubens.
On April 19, 1929, talkies arrived at the Lotus. The Sheridan Post Enterprise newspaper headlined, “Hundreds of people are planning to spend a night in Sheridan this Week – coming from all parts of Northern Wyoming.”
In the early 1930’s, the exterior was remodeled adding a prominent Art Deco marquee, and changing the name to Fox-Lotus. During 1935, when Sheridan had become a mecca for dude ranching, the Lotus closed for a week, and re-opened as “The Western Theater for Western People.” The theater was trimmed in log slabs, both inside and out, had huge murals depicting western scenes, that covered three walls of the auditorium and a lobby that was decorated with buffalo heads and Indian rugs.
Fox Intermountain Theaters undertook a major renovation of the theater in 1941, transforming it into the modernistic look of the post-depression era. The new look called for a new name. A contest was held and Mr. Thomas P. Kelly won with his entry: The WYO.
The new WYO had a streamlined facade with stucco fins concealing neon lights. Letters, each seven feet tall and connected by a running neon tubing, ran the length of the facade. The original rear wall of the theater was moved back and second floor offices removed to accommodate stadium style seating with a larger audience capacity.
Opening night at the WYO was a gala affair with fireworks, bands playing, and dancing in the streets. A host of dignitaries was on hand to congratulate the people of Sheridan on their beautiful new theater. The Mayor proclaimed August 14, 1941 to be WYO Theater Day.
The theater closed in March of 1982 and the marquee removed. A non-profit corporation was established to “Save the WYO.” After extensive community involvement, fund raising, and remodeling the theater reopened in October of 1989.
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