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Paint and tri-plexing altered the Hollywood so much over the years that to do an authentic restoration of the facility will most likely not happen, given the current owners. This being due to costs of refurbishment, current economic realities in the performance facility demographics and operating costs of Portland and the desired use of the building today. Much like the ex-Paramount, the Hollywood’s elabourate 1920’s charm resides outside of the auditorium side of the building. Given its location, and the costs and labour required for authentic restoration, the Hollywood in many ways is probably gone forever. Only the Bagdad and Elsinore Theatre in Salem approach what could be called “authentic” restorations. The Elsinore was well-preserved over the years before being worked over and the Bagdad was not a terribly ambitious project when it was built. With all due respect, $100,000 in 1927 would have been considered an “economy-priced” theatre, given it’s size. Indeed, the comparably-sized Elsinore and Capitol Theatres in Salem and Portland’s Hollywood Theatre came in with price tags hovering in the $250,000-plus range.
Gary Lacher and Steve Stone wrote a book called The Theatres of Portland which has a number of good photos of the Hollywood—inside and out. Some of us who remember these places from many years ago find the book at once fascinating, but also painful because what does survive in Portland is very little. However, once one realises that these places are usually—no matter what city they are in—titanic projects, then we must be thankful for what little we have left—which I am. At least a few of the more important buildings survive. If economics ever dictate that these places can be restored to their former glory, the foundation and “canvas” upon which to do it are still there.
The McMenamin chain has done well with the Bagdad. The theatre was never the biggest or most elaborate of Portland’s theatres, but it still has a charm all its own nonetheless. It’s size and fairly conservative decoative scheme made this one a reasonable target for mostly-authentic restoration. I say “mostly authentic” because the stage house and stage have been made over for use as a bar/pool table area with the original arabesque fire curtain turned around to serve as a backdrop for a spectacular brass-railed, turn-of-the century-wooden bar.
For those of us who remember the Paramount before its makeover in 1984 the present manifestation of the building leaves much to be desired. It seems like they ran out of money somehow and realized that there would be no cost-effective way, given the budget, to execute an authentic refurbishment and enhancement of the theatre as they had done in the case of the exterior and lobby. There were three or four shades of gray and bluish gray accented by gold and a complex system of indirect cove and pocket lighting with which pretty much any color of the rainbow could be produced in the auditorium. This made for a striking contrast between the painted color scheme and lighting. The giant hand-painted autumnal and romanesque murals on either side wall of the balcony were painted over with a solid light beige. The Paramount auditorium was originally something of a brooding, bejeweled cavern. Very tall and long in it’s feel. Little of any of that feel exists today. There are numerous photos of today’s rendition of the theatre on Google. The fact that the did save the building keeps hope alive that someday Rapp and Rapp’s creation will once again appear.
The Seventh Street/Broadway theatre row is one of the most confusing entertainment districts as far as history and name changes of venues are concerned. By the way, the Liberty Theatre closed in January of 1959 according to the local OREGONIAN newspaper.
The theatre indeed housed a Wurlitzer organ, installed in 1916; and two more Wurlitzer instruments thereafter. The last one—installed in 1918—was the gigantic “demonstrator” organ that proved to be the largest Wurlitzer west of the Rockies until 1929. It was a huge success and was primarily responsible for Wurlitzer’s dominance in the Oregon theatre organ market. The theatre sat around 2,200, but the organ was decidedly huge for that size of auditorium. Organs of its size typically spoke into auditoriums twice that size. Wurlitzer voiced the organ to work within it, but it was still very much a lion—albeit a caged one.
It is a unfortunate this theatre is gone. It is a favourite of many who saw it in person and through photographs by those who never did. It was a truly wild theatre architecturally. The problem with the Oriental was its location. It was built in anticipation of a business district that never really developed. I visited Portland again a few years ago and the Oriental’s original location is still something of an odd one given the layout of the area. Numerous theatres suffered from this situation and were the first to be torn down as result.