Theaters across Oregon are closed. Big movie multiplexes and small theater companies alike are waiting for the pandemic to subside. For a handful of historic Oregon venues, though, recent financial help from the state will support some needed improvements while their doors are closed.
The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department awarded $615,000 in federal grant funding to eight historic theaters to help repair and preserve their venues.
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The grant program offers funding for the preservation of historic theaters in communities with fewer than 30,000 people. The theaters must also be listed in the National Register of Historic Places or meet the criteria for listing.
“We were really excited because it was a good opportunity to bring some federal funding into the state and we know that we had some good historic resources,” said Kuri Gill, the grants and outreach coordinator for OPRD.
OPRD received the initial funding from the National Park Service. The funds were then distributed to the theaters after a long process which included a budget proposal and a grant request.
“Most of them asked for around the $80,000 to $90,000 range,” Gill said. “But it was just based on the projects they had prioritized.”
Among the venues receiving funding are the Egyptian Theatre in Coos Bay, and the Granada Theater in The Dalles.
Terry Chance is the executive director of The Dalles Main Street, a nonprofit organization committed to preserving historic buildings in The Dalles. She was excited that the funds would go to fixing up the historic Granada Theater.
The organization worked closely with Chuck and Debra Gomez, who own the theater, to use the funding for necessary repairs.
“They had told us they need to redo their HVAC system, get their fire doors redone, and have an awning in the front of the building to make it safe and comfortable for the guests,” she said.
The Granada reopened as part of Phase 2 under Gov. Kate Brown's reopening framework, and the community is hopeful that the repairs will be finished by the end of the year.
Funding for the repairs to The Granada will also give local businesses the opportunity to get involved, said Chance.
“As often as possible, we encourage the building owners to use local vendors and it’s just a ripple effect in the community for buying their products, wages, these are family businesses so it really puts a big boost back into the community,” she said.
Kara Long, the executive director at the Egyptian Theatre, an Egyptian themed multipurpose theater in Coos Bay, appreciated the funding for the theater as a way to keep the city's downtown alive.
“It’s great for communities ... to recognize the importance of historic theaters in downtowns, because it is a driving engine to the success of a downtown," Long said.
Long said that the funding will be used for a new roof, to replace the original, which has been in place since 1925.
For Long, preserving theaters like The Egyptian do more than just keep the economy of small rural towns like Coos Bay going. There’s a sense of nostalgia that can’t be replicated with newer venues.
“There are two giant pharaohs sitting in the lobby. For generations people have been sitting on the laps of the pharaohs at the Egyptian Theater,” she said, laughing. “That feeling doesn’t come from anything other than a historic venue.”
Other theaters receiving funding across Oregon include:
- Dallas Cinema in Dallas
- Alger Theatre in Lakeview
- Liberty Theater in North Bend
- Cameo Theatre in Newberg
- OK Theatre in Enterprise
- Rex Theater in Vale