Richard E. Wildish Community Theater

630 Main Street,
Springfield, OR 97477

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The McKenzie Theater originally opened in 1946. In the mid-1980’s it was known as the Fine Arts Theater.

After closing, it was used as a boxing arena, and then a dance hall named ‘The Zoo’. It was renovated and reopened as the Richard E. Wildish Community Theater in November 2006.

Contributed by Lost Memory

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Lost Memory
Lost Memory on February 21, 2007 at 8:53 am

From the Register-Guard Eugene, Oregon. November 14, 2006

“The theater that could.

A Register-Guard Editorial

The Richard E. Wildish Community Theater opened Sunday in Springfield. Behind that straightforward statement of fact are years of effort in the face of widespread skepticism. The opening is a vindication for the Springfield Renaissance Development Corp., for donors such as the family of the late Richard Wildish and many others, and for people who envision a vibrant cultural and commercial zone in downtown Springfield.

Construction began more than four years ago with the gutting of the old McKenzie Theater on Main Street. The McKenzie was emblematic of what had happened in downtown Springfield over the years. It opened as a cinema in the 1940s, but with the migration of movies to shopping mall multiplexes the old theater fell into disrepair. Among other incarnations it was used as a boxing ring and as a trouble-plagued dance hall called The Zoo. Toward the end it sat empty, helping make Main Street a place not to go to, but through.

The Springfield Renaissance Development Corp., established to “enhance Springfield’s livability and economic vitality,” saw possibilities where others saw only decline. A first-class theater downtown, the group believed, could be a venue for musical performances, dance companies, dramatic productions, meetings and classes – and bring audiences with them. The theater, coupled with the nearby Springfield Museum, the city library and other cultural institutions, would become a cornerstone of downtown revitalization.

The new theater had to find the proper niche among the venues already available in the Eugene-Springfield area. One of the niches is economic: The goal has always been to create a theater free of debt, so that ticket prices and rental fees could be kept low. Another niche is the theater’s size: With 284 seats, it is an intimate space that does not compete with Eugene’s Hult Center.

With these targets in mind, the Springfield Renaissance Development Corp. needed the credibility that would come with the support of a well-known donor. It found that in 2002 in the form of a $100,000 gift from the family of Richard E. Wildish, who died in 1990. The gift was only the beginning of a solution to the theater’s fund-raising challenges – the cost of the project eventually reached $3 million, and $800,000 is still needed – but the Wildish family’s donation brought others in its wake. It takes more faith to give the first $100,000 than the last, and it’s appropriate that the theater is named the Richard E. Wildish Community Theater.

Work remains to be done, but when it opened to the public Sunday people could at last see what Springfield is gaining. The space has been thoroughly remodeled according to plans by architect Otto Poticha and lighting designer David Sherman. The seats are steeply raked, providing good views of the stage. Beneath the elevated seating is room for a handsome lobby. The building’s exterior is a sleek composition of brushed stainless steel, marble and glass.

Opening day would never have come without the persistence of the Springfield Renaissance Development Corp., and particularly its president, Tom Draggoo. Whether the theater will have the hoped-for wider effect of revitalizing downtown Springfield remains to be seen. But those who brought the Wildish theater to life say it will. After seeing what they’ve achieved already, it would be foolish to bet against them".

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 9, 2009 at 12:12 am

The McKenzie Theatre was designed by Portland architect James W. DeYoung and opened in September, 1946. The October 19, 1946, issue of Boxoffice said that the McKenzie was the first theater with a reversed-floor arrangement in the northwest. There were 600 seats.

The original owners, Austin Dodge and Roy Carpenter, sold a half interest in the house to Western Amusement Company in 1947, according to the May 24, 1947, issue of Boxoffice.

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