Like much of America in the 1920s, Oregon found itself deep in a love affair with the movies.
Between 1922 and 1925, opulent theaters sprung up around the state – from Pendleton to Coos Bay. Architects employed over-the-top architectural styles that called to mind Medici palaces or Pharoh tombs, and theater goers flocked to see films, Vaudeville shows, and more. These theaters became community gathering places – for families, teens and to see and be seen.
Many of Oregon’s historic theaters have suffered in recent years. Those that survived the Great Depression found themselves struggling in later eras, particularly with the advent of television. Several were sold to developers, who knocked them down. Others were saved by historic preservation groups and like-minded municipalities, which purchased and restored them. In some cases, restoration has taken years, as small nonprofits raised funds incrementally.
The Cultural Trust and several of its cultural coalitions have invested in a number of theater restoration projects over the last 10 years.
This year two historic theaters received first-time grants: the Rivoli Theatre in Pendleton received a $5,000 and the Egyptian in Coos Bay was awarded $7,500.
The Egyptian, which opened in Coos Bay in 1925, enjoyed a long run but was put up for sale in 2005. The story of its salvation is similar to that of the Rivoli. The Egyptian Theatre Preservation Association was formed and by April, 2006, the City of Coos Bay had purchased the building. It closed in 2012 amid structural concerns, but volunteers are confident it will reopen next year.Egyptian theaters became popular in the early 20th Century after the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, but 90 years later, The Egyptian in Coos Bay is one of only two left on the West Coast. (There were once 13.)
Greg Rueger, President of the Egyptian Theatre Preservation Association, was thrilled to learn about the Cultural Trust grant. “This award comes at a wonderful time for our project,” he said. Indeed, the group is in the final stages of fundraising to collect the $750,000 needed for structural repairs and ADA restroom upgrades required to reopen. “The grant is particularly important since $350,000 of what we have raised are “top off” grants — awards only given to us after we have gained commitments for the full amount of the construction. In a very real sense, the $7,500 the Oregon Cultural Trust is providing will be leveraged many times over, through helping us lock-in the top-off grants we’ve received.”
Trust Communications Manager Meryl Lipman noted, “These theaters were here before cable, the internet, Netflix, when theaters were part of the glue that held a downtown and community together. These buildings are like time capsules. It is important – for our current and future generations – that they be kept alive.”
Read more about the Trust’s revitalization of historic theaters across Oregon.