Portland's theatre history is marked by early enthusiasm and exceptionally vigorous growth. With the Pacific Northwest's often rainy weather, people sought refuge in movie entertainment, and the city eventually grew to have more theatre seats per capita than similar-sized cities in the United States. Beginning with short cinema segments at vaudeville houses downtown, Portland movie theatres came into their own swiftly and ambitiously. By 1915, there were over 70 individual theatres showing films both downtown and in neighborhoods throughout the city. By the 1920s, larger theatres were being built, including substantial neighborhood palaces such as the Bagdad, Hollywood, and Oriental. Meanwhile, downtown provided the Broadway, Portland, and Orpheum, to name a few. This volume contains an overview of Portland's theatre history through rare and newly discovered historical photographs of those memorable places of entertainment.
Title: New book on Portland theaters joins illustrated series
Author - Thomas Gladysz
Publisher: San Francisco Silent Film Exa
In the past, going to the movies was something special. What was memorable was not only the particular film one saw, but almost as importantly, where one saw it. In the past the venue & the theater, was an important part of the overall movie going experience. It's less so today.
The theaters of one Oregon city and the universal movie-going experience they reflect are captured in a fine new book by Gary Lacher and Steve Stone. Recently issued by Arcadia Publishing, Theatres of Portland is an illustrated history of the many motion picture venues located in San Francisco's neighbor to the north.
In many ways, San Francisco and Portland have a similar history. Among their shared traits is a vivid history of motion picture exhibition throughout the 20th century.
Portland's history was marked by vigorous growth. This was due in part, according to the authors, to the Pacific Northwest's often rainy weather. Individuals, seeking refuge, turned indoors and found entertainment. Portland eventually grew to have more theater seats per capita than other similar-sized cities in the United States.
As shown in this new book, Portland movie theaters came into their own in the early decades of the last century when short filmed segments were included in vaudeville programs at various downtown venues. By 1915, there were over 70 theaters showing films both downtown and in the neighborhood theaters found throughout the city.
The Majestic Theatre was Portland's first "palace" constructed especially for motion picture exhibition. The theater, with 1,100 seats, opened on June 10, 1911 and was located at the northeast corner of Southwest Park Avenue and Washington Street. An image in Theatres of Portland, which dates from around 1917, shows the Majestic next to an even older stage theater, the Star, which dates from 1904. As the authors point out, the Majestic's neighbor had been showing "Synchroscope films" from as early as 1908.
As demand increased in the 1920s, larger theaters were built. Grand structures such as the Broadway, Portland, and Orpheum came to anchor the downtown scene, while palaces such as the Bagdad, Hollywood, and Oriental courted the neighborhoods.
Theatres of Portland is filled with more than 200 detail rich images, including several which have not been published in more than 80 years. In one, the brightly lit marquee of the Liberty illuminates the street below. In another, sidewalk displays lure patrons to the Columbia Theatre, where Cecil B. DeMille's The Road to Yesterday was playing in 1925.
At the Million Dollar Playhouse, patterned carpeted stairways lead to a plush mezzanine lounge. At the Oriental, a massive 2,000 pound chandelier hangs from the ceiling. Decorated walls and painted ceiling adorn many others. There are even images of the elaborate and bountiful snack bar at the Orpheum.
Portland's smaller, less adorned neighborhood houses are also given their due. In 1928, the 640-seat Irvington Theater, located at Northeast Broadway and Fourteenth Avenue, was showing Laura LaPlante in Scandal - according to its modest faade. While in 1932, the larger and more ornate Graeper's Egyptian, located at Northeast Union Avenue (now Martin Luther King Bouevard) at Russell Street was showing Grand Hotel. In one image, large portraits of Greta Garbo fill the display cases on each side of the building.
Theatres of Portland is a kind of trip through time through the "City of Roses" and its many distinguished theaters & a number of which were designed by local architects. The book is part of the "Images of America" series from Arcadia Publishing. This familiar, sepia-toned, soft cover series celebrates the history of America's neighborhoods, cities and towns & both large and small. Through the use of archival images, each title presents a visual story of a local past.
Theatres of Portland joins a near shelf full of other Arcadia books which highlight local theaters around the country. Each is excellent, and a few focus on California.
Newest among the California volumes is Gary Lee Parks' Theatres of San Jose, published last June. (That title was reviewed earlier on examiner.com). Other volumes include Jack Tillmany's pair devoted to the Bay Area, Theatres of San Francisco and Theatres of Oakland. Southern California is represented with Theatres in Los Angeles, by Suzanne Tarbell Cooper.
The Midwest is represented with a handful of books. Detroit's Downtown Movie Palaces, by Michael Hauser, depicts some of the grandest theaters of that major Midwestern metropolis - as does The Chicago Movie Palaces of Balaban and Katz, by David Balaban. It's worth remembering that in the 1920's, Chicago and Detroit were both among the four largest cities in America, and each boasted spectacular movie palaces to serve their many movie going residents. Two other Midwestern volumes & both of which highlight theatres in Ohio - are Cleveland's Playhouse Square by Patricia M. Mote, and Stepping Out in Cincinnati: Queen City Entertainment 1900-1960 by Allen J. Singer.
Other volumes published by Arcadia include Maryland's Motion Picture Theaters by Robert K. Headley, South Jersey Movie Houses by Allen F. Hauss, and Birmingham's Theater and Retail District by Tim Hollis.
The slide show included at the end of this article depicts these Arcadia titles. Those books are just some of the many worthwhile titles (published by Arcadia and others) which both illustrate and document the history of America's great movie theaters. In doing so, they document a key part of America's history.
Theatres of Portland was authored by Gary Larcher and Steve Stone. Lacher, a former television photojournalist, is active in researching and restoring films. He has made numerous film donations to the American Film Institute and the Oregon Historical Society; the latter provided many photographs for this book. Stone has researched and photographed Portland movie houses for over 40 years. A historian, Stone helps produce illustrated lectures for Portland's Architectural Heritage Center, and has worked in theatres for over 23 years.
For more info: For more about individual theaters in Portland and across the United States, visit Cinematreasures.org. Fore more about Theatres of Portland and other Arcadia titles, visit the publisher's page on this new book. Theatres of Portland is available on-line and at better bookstores.
Portlander Gary Lacher, a former television photojournalist, is active in researching and restoring films, having made numerous film donations to the American Film Institute and the Oregon Historical Society, which has provided many photographs for this book. Historian Steve Stone has researched and photographed Portland movie houses for over 40 years. Stone helps produce illustrated lectures for Portland's Architectural Heritage Center and worked in theatres for over 23 years.