In my research so far for the Oregon Theater Project, I have run into several struggles and triumphs. After we were introduced to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, I found myself beginning an exhaustive, online scavenger hunt. The Sanborn Maps website itself presents numerous challenges in that the website is not very user friendly. For instance, the window in which the map is featured only presents the map in a small square box and provides and zoom-in feature that only zooms in so far that the feature seems almost useless. Additionally, navigating once you are in the zoomed in version is quite complex with the navigation arrows jumping around the map of the town. Another struggle with finding theaters within the towns is that the website only provides certain dates for years that the fire insurance maps were published. Thankfully, the Sanborn Maps have a set of maps published from 1927, which falls directly in the middle of the time period that I am researching for, 1924-1929. Thus, a victory I’ve had, whereas others are not so lucky, is that Sanborn Maps have provided me with a primary source that I can reference throughout my research. Once beginning my scavenger hunt on the website, I was able to locate two (potential) theaters within Medford, Oregon.
Discovering these two theaters was like finding a needle in a haystack. By searching through the Sanborn website, I finally came across these two theaters on separate sheets and each felt like a victory. What is interesting is that they are labeled differently with the one on sheet 14 labeled “THEATRE” while the one on sheet 15 is labeled “MOVIES.” Although they are labeled differently, both theaters have a sectioned part labeled “BALCONY” that helped me deduce that these two locations were potential theaters to look into in Medford, Oregon. Once locating these potential theaters, I decided to use the Cinema Treasures website in order to try and deduce which theaters these two might be from the listed theaters on the website. The theater on sheet 14 is located near S. Central Ave and E. Main St. By looking at each theater in Medford on the website, I have been able to determine that the theater on sheet 14 is the Craterian Theater.
When looking at the photo of the Craterian Theater in an advertisement from the Medford Mail Tribune, we can see the rounded shape of the exterior and entrance of the Craterian Theater which is reflected in the Sanborn Map. Surprisingly, the Craterian Theater is still open and running today and was renamed to Craterian Theater at The Collier Center for the Performing Arts in 2013 (Cinema Treasures). Being able to identify and locate this theater was a special accomplishment and felt like a personal victory in terms of making a difference when it comes to this project and this class. Similar to the research performed by Ben Singer, “Using every contemporary resource and surviving scrap of evidence a diligent film historian is likely to uncover,” I began my research with the Sanborn Maps and worked my way back from the location on sheet 14 to the list of theaters on the Cinema Treasures website and finally discovered that the Craterian Theater is still operating today (Allen, 76).
With the other theater that I found on sheet 15, I performed the same search formula; beginning with the streets listed (W. 6th St., W. Main St., Fir St. and Grape St.), I returned to the Cinema Treasures website to locate the potential theater located on these streets. When looking at the map on sheet 15, I noticed that they labeled “Ent.”, which I deduced to meaning ‘entrance.’ By taking this into consideration, we can deduce that the theater’s location and address will likely be listed under W. Main St. Once eliminating the other theaters located on E. Main St. and W. 6th St., I discovered that Rialto Theater was located on W. Main Street. As all historians do, I wanted to double check this theory and decided to fact check. By using Google Maps, I went to the location of sheet 15 in the Street View in Medford, Oregon. Returning once more to the Cinema Treasures website, I looked at the photos provided of the Rialto Theater. When comparing the photos from the Google Maps Street view and the photos from Cinema Treasures, I noticed the distinct architectural triangle present on the building, referred to as Rialto Theatre on Cinema Treasures website, in both photos. Through this research, I would conclude that this location was the home to the Rialto Theater back in 1927.
To conclude, while searching for these theaters took several hours alone, finally being able to determine each theater that went with each location was extremely satisfying. By discovering and identifying these theaters’ locations, the hours of work I spent researching through the primary and secondary sources of the town of Medford was paid off and I can truly respect the time and effort that Robert Allen and Ben Singer put into researching the nickelodeons and theaters in Manhattan. Through this experience, I have been able to truly understand the work that we will do this term and realize the patience and determination that will be required to find and noted all the theaters within Oregon during the period of 1904-1929. [by splatt]
Allen, Robert C. “Manhattan Myopia; Or, Oh! Iowa! Robert C. Allen on Ben Singer’s ‘Manhattan Nickelodeons: New Data on Audiences and Exhibitors’, ‘Cinema Journal’ 34, No. 3 (Spring 1995).” Cinema Journal, vol. 35, no. 3, 1996, pp. 75–103. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1225767.
“Craterian Theater at The Collier Center for the Performing Arts.” Cinema Treasures, cinematreasures.org/theaters/4427.
“Hunt’s Craterian Theatre in Christmas Dress.” Medford Mail Tribune, 1 Jan. 1928, p. 34.
“Medford, Oregon (1927).” Digital Sanborn Maps — Splash Page, sanborn.umi.com/or/7405/dateid-000007.htm?CCSI=2197n.
“Rialto Theater.” Cinema Treasures, cinematreasures.org/theaters/36552.