828 SE Grand Avenue,
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The Oriental Theatre opened on December 31, 1927, designed by the firm of Thomas and Mercier. The theater could seat 2,038 and was located in the East Portland district. While the exterior was fairly subdued, designed in an Italian Renaissance style, it was its lavish Oriental style interior decoration for which the Portland Oriental was most famous.
The wildly exotic, almost surreal appearance of the auditorium and other interior public spaces was created by interior designer; Adrien Alex Voisin, borrowing Asian influences from India, Indochina, and China, among others. The columns on each side of the screen were said to be based on the Temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Over the proscenium arch, was a huge stylized face, which had a wide open mouth baring fangs and eyes lit by red lightbulbs that would glow demonically before a show began.
On the side walls and over the arch were life-sized plaster elephants, as well as apes, fishes, and mythological creatures, seemingly ready to pounce off the wall. Hindu deities decorated the lobby and mezzanine areas, and the main staircase leading to the balcony was flanked by a pair of huge dragons.
The auditorium was topped by a vast dome, from which hung a tree-sized Far Eastern style chandelier.
The Oriental Theatre contained a 3/13 Wurlitzer organ, a full orchestra pit, and spacious stage, large enough to accomodate the biggest stage shows of the day. In addition, the Oriental had luxurious lounges, smoking rooms and even a nursery in its basement.
Though the theater turned to a movies-only format by the 1940’s, and lost its towering vertical marquee in favor of a more modest marquee not long afterwards, it remained a city showplace for years.
In the mid-1960’s, the Oriental Theatre was used for concerts on its mighty Wurlitzer, but soon returned to films. In 1967, the City of Portland used the Oriental Theatre while the Civic Auditorium was being remodeled. It once again returned to showing films after the government left, but only for a brief time.
In 1969, no longer able to afford staying in operation, the Oriental Theatre was closed, and everything inside auctioned off, including the Wurlitzer organ, which was later broken up (but its console is now in a restaurant in Vancouver, Washington.) A year later, the amazing old theater was tragically demolished to make way for another parking lot, an irreplaceable loss for the city of Portland.
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