Holding on to Historic Theaters

written by Anna Bird

For decades, the lights of a movie theater marquee had been beacons of success. A long downward trend in movie ticket sales, due in large part to online streaming, calls for more creative uses of these landmarks, according to a report published in 2015 by the University of Oregon’s Community Planning Workshop.

photo by David Gibbs

The group analyzed the status and various needs of Oregon’s 127 historic theaters (when the report was published, seventy-four were still in operation, thirty-four were used for something else, thirteen were closed and six had been demolished). The report estimated that in 2014, Oregon’s historic theaters had a $23 million impact, hosting 62,000 events and employing more than 700 people. There is a larger economic benefit for local communities, as theater-goers tend to spend additional money nearby.

The report noted that, today, theaters need to deploy creative marketing strategies, access a greater variety of programming and find new ways to use the space—in addition to addressing deferred maintenance.

photo courtesy of Southern Oregon Historical Society

In 2011, the Egyptian Theatre Preservation Association in Coos Bay raised more than $1 million to update the Egyptian Revivalstyle digs before reopening in 2014. The 1926 building that housed the old Avalon Theatre in Clatskanie underwent a $3.2 million renovation, and reopened as the Birkenfeld Theater and Clatskanie Cultural Center this past August. The Rivoli Theater in Pendleton was selected by Restore Oregon (formerly known as the Historic Preservation League of Oregon) as one of its 2012 Most Endangered Places and is just now in the first stages of renovation. The Rivoli Restoration Coalition expects the project to last five years and cost $4.4 million.

People from towns of varying sizes and cultural interests such as Portland, Corvallis, Enterprise, Prineville, Astoria and Medford have invested in their historic theaters, showing a unilateral commitment to keep those marquees—and local culture—ablaze.

Current restorations

Rivoli Theater, Pendleton | rivolitheater.org

Holly Theatre, Medford | hollytheatre.org

Liberty Theater, La Grande | libertyonadams.org

Liberty Theater, Astoria | liberty-theater.org

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