The Grand Theatre – Salem, Oregon

The Capital Journal, August 12, 1920, pg 8

On August 12, 1920, an article appeared in the Capital Journal, a paper of Salem, Oregon, revealing significant news for the theater-going community of that city. The Grand Opera House, it was announced, had been leased by a Mr. A. E. Lafler and the new proprietor was expending significant resources to re-furnish and re-brand the venue as “a first class combination house,” the Grand Theatre. Quoting Mr. Lafler’s aspirations to bring in “approved legitimate road shows and vaudeville, with super-quality pictures,” the article states the projected opening date of the Grand Theatre as September 1 of that year. On September 4, of the same year, the same journal ran an advertisement for Jesse L. Lasky’s Paramount film Everywoman playing at the Grand Theatre for four days. It is possible that this was the first significant film played at the Grand Theatre.

The Capital Journal, September 14, 1920, p.2

A perfunctory examination of issues of the Capital Journal from 1919 does not reveal advertising of motion pictures being shown in the Grand Opera House during that year, while it does reveal quite a few live acts performing at the venue. Without collecting any more data on the Grand Opera House, the immediate conclusion is that the Grand in its incarnation as the opera house did not show motion pictures, and thus its transformation into the Grand Theatre marked the very beginning of its movie-theater career. The August 12 article touts the Grand Opera House as “an established landmark in this city” and “comparing in [stage capacity] to Seattle and Portland show houses.” One may imagine that the transformation of this venue from strictly live performances to a combination motion picture and vaudeville house was a momentous event in the entertainment life of 1920 Salem. As of this writing, Salem’s Historic Grand Theatre still exists and is a multi-purpose venue available for a variety of events including film showings.

The Pastime Theatre – Pendleton, Oregon circa 1916

In the September 21, 1916 edition of the East Oregonian there appears an advertisement for the Pastime Theatre, located in Pendleton, Oregon. The ad is part of a page headed “Pictures and Plays in Pendleton,” although the page itself consists exclusively of advertisements outlining the appeals of various Pendleton theaters and containing no actual information about the pictures showing.

Pastime Theatre advertisement. East Oregonian, September 21, 1916, p. 5.

This advertisement’s strategy for promoting the Pastime is primarily threefold. It focuses on the film companies whose films the Pastime shows, the stars who appear in those films, and the Pastime’s practice of only booking films “which have made good in larger cities.” This latter element seems to be especially important, as it is advertised in bold type with the statement “The only theater in Pendleton using the open booking system.” This copy implies a greater degree of selectiveness and therefore quality in the films that the Pastime shows, differentiating it from its competition.

Even in 1916, only about five years after newspapers began to carry content related to photoplays, name recognition of stars and production companies (Fox, Mutual, and V.L.S.E. are named in this ad) served as a major promotional strategy for at least one Pendleton theater. Charlie Chaplin is the only star mentioned in the ad who is still recognizable, but William Farnum and Clair Whitney are also advertised.

Additionally, the appearance of the tag lines “good music,” “courteous treatment,” and “best pictures” seem to sum up the Pastime’s brand image. The “courteous treatment” element is especially interesting, as it highlights the vestiges of the opera-house experience that characterized movie-going throughout the early twentieth century and contributed to the audience’s experience of “going to the movies.”

Of course the quality of the musical accompaniment was of great importance during the era of silent film, and a longer description, located elsewhere on the same page of the Eastern Oregonian, of the Pastime’s attractions asserts the quality of the three-piece orchestra employed by the theater.