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.

“Resurrection” at Star Theater, Corvallis, 1909

Tolstoi’s Master Piece at the Star”.Corvallis Daily Gazette, 26 June 1909.

This article appeared in the Corvallis Daily Gazette in June 1909. The article discusses the recent motion picture to arrive in Corvallis, Resurrection. As the article describes the motion picture was adapted from Tolstoi’s novel which the article describes as “melancholy.” Resurrection was a free adaption directed D.W. Griffith and produced by Biograph.

The article goes on to pronounce how it is interesting to see the story acted out in front of viewers rather than just on paper. Seeing as motion pictures were still a relatively new and developing technology by 1909 seeing stories that audiences have only read would have been an exciting and new concept.

The article continues on to quote the Motion Picture World and its review of the film and its original impact on audiences in New York. The film seems to have sparked interest in New York audiences. It is noteworthy that this article chooses to incorporate this ambiguous quote about the showing of the film in New York. During this time New York still had a very prominent role in the motion picture industry therefore one would imagine it being just as important as quoting how the release of a film in Hollywood went today. The quoted passage adds how Biograph did a great job of depicting the story and the characters as compared to the “original play” as well as a great admiration for an actress’s emotions towards the camera.

This article appeared in the Gazette on June 261906, and as it states the film had premiered the night before at the Star Theater in Corvallis. According to the American Film Institute CatalogResurrection premiered May 201909, meaning that this film reached Corvallis only about a month after its original release. This indicated that Corvallis would have been a prominent town for viewing films. Around 1909 there is only mention of one other theater in Corvallis which is the Palace theater which does not seem to have shown Biograph’s Resurrection.

 

The Roseburg Theater- The Latest Novelty

In these two separate advertisements located next to each other in The Plaindealer’s July 6th, 1905 paper, The Roseburg Theater boasts two shows on the same days: Friday and Saturday, July 7th and 8th. The first advertisement in the paper details the showing of “the latest novelty” Dear Old Stars and Stripes, Goodbye which has prices ranging from 15-25-35 cents. Tickets are available at Bells’ Candy Store, which indicates this showing may be a more family-friendly event than the other advertisement located further down the page. The sale location for tickets indicates there was an intention to attract a younger audience.

The following advertisement differs greatly from the first, despite being placed by the same theater and showing on the same day. “The Groesbacks” are slated to perform in a separate exhibition from the films showing the same day. This advertisement uses an interesting promotional strategy of boasting the technology used to show the moving pictures the Vitagraph showing “…one of the steadiest, clearest, brightest and most perfect moving picture exhibitions ever brought to our city”. This emphasis on clarity of the films and equipment is similar to exhibition practices of today, in which audiences want to see the best, brightest, and clearest films (such as IMAX, 3D, etc). Headlines in this advertisement include The Great Train Robbery, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Corbett and McGovern Prize Fight, the latest Spanish Bull Fight, as well as President Roosevelt’s Grand Inaugural Parade. The advertisement states that the film Uncle Tom’s Cabin includes twenty-four scenes, indicating the number of scenes was more than average for the era, proving to be a major selling point.

Further research shows the Uncle Tom’s Cabin was directed by Edwin S. Porter under Thomas Edison and released in 1903; the same year as his film The Great Train Robbery. Uncle Tom’s Cabin included various racist and problematic depictions of slavery and slave auctions, with white actors performing in blackface. The film is also known as Slavery Days and has been preserved by the University of Virginia Department of English (Railton).

Further research could help to decipher who or what “The Groesbacks” are. It seems as if they were traveling entertainers, similar to a modern band, but extensive research in various newspapers across Oregon would be required to discover their identity and touring history.

By Shelby Chapman

Works Cited

Railton, Stephen. “Uncle Toms Cabin & American Culture a Multimedia Archive -University of  Virginia Department of English.” Edison/Porter 1903 Film, The University of Virgina/National Endowment for the Humanities, 1998, utc.iath.virginia.edu/onstage/films/mv03hp.html.

The Roseburg Theater. “The Plaindealer.” The Plaindealer [Roseburg], 6 July 1905.

The History of Film Exhibition: Challenges and Methodologies

When first embarking on a study of early film exhibition, the entire process seems quite dreary. Even with a narrowly defined focus—a specific Oregon city and during a specific time frame—it can be difficult to even know where to begin. One of the biggest challenges about studying the history of film theaters is the scarcity of primary sources to determine where theaters were even located.
For instance, in his analysis of New York City theaters, Robert Allen relies upon an old city directory to measure the total number of theaters for a given year. However, as Ben Singer points out, even city directories are not a reliable source. He suggests that a company publishing a directory may have wanted to protect its reputation and not publish information for “hole in the wall” theaters. He found a police report that indicated the number of theaters that Allen found from the city directory only represented 40% of the theaters that were actually in New York City at the time. Luckily, this discrepancy in theater numbers is likely to be less pronounced in smaller cities, such as La Grande, Oregon. Nonetheless, the challenges that Singer rightly highlighted in his work persist even when studying a smaller area.
However, this is not necessarily a reason that we should give up on the endeavor of studying early film exhibition entirely. Even though primary sources are quite limited, there is still significant information that we can discern from just a sliver of a source. For instance, in my study of La Grande film theaters, I have found Sanborn Fire Insurance maps to be an invaluable resource. For the reasons outlined above, I don’t think it’s appropriate to use this single source to definitively claim to know how many theaters existed in La Grande at a given time. However, we are able to use this source to examine how a certain area, and even one single theater, changed over time.
In the present day, the Grenada Theater is located at the cross streets of Adams Avenue and Fir Street. According to its Google Maps entry, the theater was first built in 1927, but there is little additional information readily available. By looking at the historical record of the fire insurance maps, we can see when this theater first appeared, and how it changed over time.

In the maps from 1903 and 1910, there is no theater at Adams and Fir. Instead the space was simply sandwiched between the Masonic Hall and a furniture store. The two addresses–1311 and 1313 Adams Avenue still appear as two completely separated spaces.
However, in 1923, the space was first marked as containing “Moving Pictures.” Interestingly, this predates the Google Maps entry by four years. The map shows that a wall was knocked down, giving the theater a significantly expanded space. This suggests that in 1923, when the map was created, significant work had been done on the physical location and that the theater had already been well-established.
Furthermore, as late as 1949, expansion and improvements on the theater had continued. This latest fire insurance map shows a few key changes to the space. First, the 1311 and 1313 addresses are still labeled, but are written in slightly different positions which may be an indication of the fact that the theater space was no longer seen as two that had been hastily combined, but a proper single location. Additionally, the “row of wooden posts” from 1923 has been removed, and it appears that the building has been redone to only have two large pillars for support. Finally, this last map labels the movie theater as containing a balcony, an addition that may have been added to further improve the moviegoing experience.

As the work of Allen and Singer show us, discerning information about early film exhibition can be incredibly difficult work. The scarcity and inaccuracy of many primary sources significantly hinders the research process. However, despite these challenges, there are still many potentials when it comes to researching early film exhibition. Even from limited primary sources–such as just a few fire insurance maps–it is possible to tease out many inferences and ideas about how film exhibition evolved and developed.

 

“The Jazz Singer” at Bligh’s Capitol Theatre

   

Above is an advertisement for the musical program, The Jazz Singer, at Bligh’s Capitol Theatre in Salem Oregon. This advertisement was published in the Statesman Journal on 22 July, 1928.

In relation to other advertisements on the page, this one was the most eye-catching due to its boldness. A disadvantage to this advertisement is it does not have any information about the price and dates of showing. It might have been at the bottom of the advertisement, but overtime and through digitizing it’s no longer there. 

This advertisement is interesting, particularly because of the program. The Jazz Singer was the first feature film with synchronized speech, which explains the use of ‘vitaphone’ and ‘movietone’ across the middle of the advertisement. The exhibitor wanted the focus of the advertisement to be on the brand new kind of program viewing in order to get the maximum amount of viewers. This also attributed to the popularity of the program. The Jazz Singer, was released in October of 1927, which means this program was available in Salem in less than a year. This further illustrates the programs level of popularity, considering the population and Westward location of Salem.

This program also had a big-time entertainer, Al Jolson. While Jolson was extremely popular among program goers, it is also important to acknowledge the racism embedded in the entertainment industry. Al Jolson did the majority of his programs in blackface, and at the time this was not a problem. Jolson used racial stereotypes, and was still considered to be the ‘greatest entertainer’ of the time. While blackface is not encouraged in the entertainment industry anymore, it is still important to recognize how it was sensationalized and welcomed at one point in time.

 

        

For context, Bligh’s Capitol Theatre was located on State Street in Salem Oregon in 1926. It was built in 1926, and burned down in 1935. It was then rebuilt and stayed open until it was closed in the early 1990’s, and eventually torn down in 2000. Throughout its lifespan the Theatre remained in the same location but the street names changed over time. 

 

Cited:

Statesman Journal, 22 July. 1928, pg 2.

Digital Sanborn Maps. Sheet 109. Image

Portland State University and the Oregon Historical Society. “Capitol Theatre (Salem).” The Oregon Encyclopedia, oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/capitol_theater_salem_/#.WuDvEYjwZm9

“Al Jolson Biography.” Biography, www.biography.com/people/al-jolson-9356888

“The Man Who Knows” at Antlers Theatre, Roseburg, Oregon

I chose this article/advertisement on a vaudeville event happening at the Antlers Theatre in Roseburg, Oregon, because it stood out for me from the rest of the other newspaper ads. The picture of this ad is not only interesting to look at but also a huge segment in the second page of the The News-Review, one of the main newspapers of Roseburg during 1917. Under the picture is an article about the coming of the Great Alexander who, from what it looks like, is a very famous magician in the west coast area. The article states that he’s done shows everywhere from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington.

The News-Review, 9 Apr. 1917, p. 1–2.

The ad then shares that this “great” magician, who is commonly named “the man who knows,” will be having a showing at the Antlers Theatre for three days only. Something that is interesting to mention is that this article shares no date as to when these events are happening nor how much the admission cost is in order to get in the event. This could mean that there’s other advertisements elsewhere for this information or that Roseburg was such a close-knit town and they could have used word of mouth to share this information. The short article mainly describes in great detail the show that you will experience if you choose to come to this event. The article states that, “Alexander’s performance is divided into two parts. The first being a series of the most mystifying, astounding and puzzling feats of magic…[and] the second part is portrayed in an oriental setting with oriental dancing and scenic effects.” From looking at other advertisement and articles on the Antlers Theatre, it is understood that they have a great variety of performances and entertainment. This article shows that moving pictures were not the only marvel at the time. Even Alexander, a “man who is heralded by people in the west as the greatest brain marvel in the world today,” people found entertaining at theaters in Roseburg, Oregon.

“The Seven Swans” at the Majestic Theatre

On May 24, 1918, an advertisement was placed in the Corvallis Gazette for the upcoming show, “The Seven Swans,” to be played at the Majestic Theatre in Corvallis, Oregon. This silent film portrayed Marguerite Clark, an actress who was at the height of her fame in the year of 1918. This can be shown by simply just looking at the advertisement and noticing that her name is the largest font on the entire ad. The five reels told a story about characters in a mythical world, where princes can be magically enchanted into swans by the Queen of the Bouncing Ball and eventually returned to their human forms in a dramatic ending through hastily sewn magic robes by Princess Tweedledee.

The film premiered on Christmas Day in 1917, in New York, and was based on the fairy tale, The Seven Swans, by Hans Christian Anderson. The film didn’t reach Corvallis until 5 months after the premiere in December, but given the amount of films that, in this time period, took over a year to reach Oregon, the Majestic was able to get this one pretty quickly.

According to the advertisement, if someone were to attend the film, they would “live in the ‘old days’ over again” when they see this picture which was “staged with the hand of a magician,” and if the characters’ fun names weren’t enough in themselves to get a person to go see the film, the high praise written in the advertisement would be sure to give the potential film-goer the final push.

“The Seven Swans” wasn’t the only entertainment of the night, though. Also according to the ad, there was to be a screen telegram and a “Mutt and Jeff Comedy” as well. A “Mutt and Jeff Comedy,” as it turns out, was a generally short (averaged about a half reel long) comedy film based on the “Mutt and Jeff” comic strips which were very popular in the time period.

 

American Film Institute Catalog, “The Seven Swans.” https://search.proquest.com/docview/1746496105/C8913650F40F4E85PQ/1?accountid=14698

Historic Oregon Newspapers, The Corvallis Gazette, page 2.

A Big Year for the Arcade Theatre

            

As I continue to do research on theatres in La Grande, Oregon from 1914-1921, I ran across an article in the La Grande Evening Observer which states that in the spring of 1916, the Arcade Theatre was going to remodel. The news came from the newest manager of the Arcade Theatre, Mrs. H. B. Leiter. So far this is also the only theatre I have come across with a female manager. Mrs. Leiter was going to remove the vaudeville shows entirely from the theatre. She claims that the movies are becoming higher in quality, and that is what audiences really want to watch, not vaudeville. Mrs. Leiter also reminds the readers/audience that they are seeing the same quality pictures for 10 cents, that others are seeing in Portland for 15 cents, as a way to entice them to continue coming to the Arcade.

I have no real explanation as to why Mrs. Leiter would remove vaudeville from the theatre, except that around that time, there were traveling movie showings. Calvin Pryluck talks more about these traveling movie showings, explaining that they had a circuit they would travel, stopping in towns large and small, and showing their movies. While Pryluck couldn’t find evidence, there are stories of some of these itinerant movie showings traveling around Eastern Oregon up until the 1950’s.

For Mrs. Leiter, these itinerant movies could have been a problem for her business if they were able to show a wider variety of movies, while she was showing vaudeville and movies. The second article, which was found directly underneath the first, talks about how Mrs. Leiter is also going to redecorate the theatre to make it new and attractive. She states that she wants everyone to feel at home while at the Arcade, as well as how well taken care of the children will be, especially since from time to time, the Arcade will play specific movies directed towards the children. The remodel, as well as the language directed at the family, could possibly be another way in which Mrs. Leiter is competing against the itinerant shows. While we may never know exactly why Mrs. Leiter was remodeling the theatre and removing vaudeville shows, she was at least making her mark on the Arcade Theatre.

La Grande Evening Observer, 4 Jan. 1916, p.8

“The Itinerant Movie Show and the Development of The Film Industry” Hollywood In The Neighborhood (Calvin Pryluck): 37-52

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.

The Houston Opera House – Klamath Falls, Oregon

While diving into my research on theaters in Klamath Falls, Oregon during the 1905-1910 time period, I came across the Houston Opera House and learned some interesting information worth sharing.The Houston Opera House was originally purchased in 1897 by John V. Houston, a man who moved with his family from Colorado in 1894. When the original Houston Opera House was purchased, it was described as a vacant two-story building on Main Street near Second Avenue in Klamath Falls.

The Houston Opera House in 1900 (Klamath Falls, Oregon)

Houston was said to have added a brightly painted wooden façade and a large stage inside. John V. Houston and his brother, J. A. Houston, named this building the Houston Opera House to honor their father, who had loaned them the funds to get started. The original Houston Opera House, “…Quickly became the city’s cultural center, with community dances, costumed balls, club meetings, concerts, basketball games, and even church services on Sundays” (Oregon Encyclopedia).

In 1908, The Houston Opera House was renovated and became the only modern theater in Klamath Falls. These renovations included its ‘auditorium being fitted with 32 private box chairs, a horse shoe gallery to seat 250 people, folding seat chairs along the new scenery, drops, and flaps.

The Evening Herald , 9 Sept. 1908, p. 1

After researching The Houston Opera House, I came across information that stated the theater burned down twenty-six years after its purchase. A piece of research I discovered that I found most peculiar came from the Herald Newspaper. In the Wednesday newspaper on September 9, 1908, an article discusses how the newly renovated Houston Opera House will have eight new fire exits. Aside from advertising how the newly improved Opera House is the only modern theater in Klamath Falls, the theater uses its incorporation of more fire exits as a way to persuade people to come to the theater. While it is ironic that approximately 12 years later the Houston Opera House burned down, I became fascinated with trying to understand why discussing fire exits in a newspaper was seen as an advertising tactic for the theater. After researching fires near Klamath Falls during this time period, I discovered that forest fires were very prevalent during 1908. Just five days before the newspaper regarding the innovations to The Houston Opera House was published, The Evening Herald wrote an article regarding raging forest fires at Yamsay Mountain that had been active for weeks and were making their way toward Klamath Falls. Perhaps incorporating the increase of fire exits in the theater made people during this time feel safe and more comfortable with being ‘stuck’ in a theater for specific durations of time. All in all, I found this discovery to be interesting and insightful as it helped me to understand why fire exits were seen as an important promotional strategy.