The (Re)Discovery of the Craterian Theatre and the Rialto Theatre

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]

Works Cited

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.

Google Maps

“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.

Future Location of Alta Theatre in Pendleton

East Oregonian, March 11, 1913, p. 6

Using the Sanborn map from 1910, I used several different sheets to track out the future location for one of Pendleton’s theaters, the Alta Theatre.

Using Cinema Treasures, I was able to find the location where the Alta used to be (25 SE Dorion Ave) as well as its first day of operations: September 6, 1913. Using Google Maps to help better contextualize the 1910 Sanborn Map, I had to scour through several of the sheets for the downtown area before I saw the building that would become the Alta Theatre.

The Cinema Treasures entry for the theater included a newspaper clipping that reported it was “OPPOSITE CITY HALL,” so I knew the approximate zone. It would have been easy to find the location if Pendleton hadn’t changed Alta Street to Dorion Avenue. I finally found the location on the corner of Main and Alta by comparing how the present location is on Google Maps. The Alta Theatre likely replaced the business within the lower right quadrant of building 4 which functioned both as a Chop Mill and housed Baled Hay & Feed.

Three years from this Sanborn zoning yet six months from the opening of the Alta Theatre, on March 1, 1913, there were a total of five competing theaters in Pendleton, at that point a town of around 5,000. The theaters included the Oregon Theater, the Grand, the Cosy, the Pastime, and the Orpheum. It is pretty amazing that despite its smallish size, there was a major boom in Pendleton for theaters. The oldest theatre, the Cosy, had opened in 1906 alongside the Pastime theatre.

Most theatres were in the heart of downtown off of Main Street; in the early 20s the Centre Theatre would be built at 355 S. Main St, then in the mid-30s the United Artists Theatre would open at 108 S. Main St. Through the placement of all the theaters downtown, it likely created much competition that drove theaters (like the Cosy in 1919) out of business.