Dean Speer

Liberty Theatre Photo © Astoria-Warrenton Chamber of Commerce

Liberty Theatre
Photo © Astoria-Warrenton Chamber of Commerce

One of Oregon’s most cherished coastal treasures is located in the seaside historic port town of Astoria, where the mouth of the mighty Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean.

Built on the foundation of an old elegant hotel consumed in a 1922 fire, the Liberty Theatre literally rose from these ashes in 1924 and, since 1998 has enjoyed a multi-million dollar restoration and renovation. A “Class A” theatre on the old vaudeville touring circuit, it’s one of Astoria’s “wow” spaces and certainly worth the time to check out if you’re in the area. [A few others include The Astoria Column with its amazing

Liberty Theatre Photo © Dean Speer

Liberty Theatre
Photo © Dean Speer

breath-taking hilltop views, the waterfront including its Maritime Museum, and the historic Flavel House.] We got to take a private tour in 2013 and were very impressed not only by the facility itself but also by the visionary leadership it has taken to save and preserve and refresh this beauty for future generations.

Unique is the house chandelier – a 1,200 lb. iron-framed piece with cotton, linen, and paper panels.

Similarly in Longview, Washington, the historic Columbia Theatre is a “wow” community treasure that was literally saved from the brink of destruction by the eruption of Mount Saint Helens on May 18, 1980, when the trucks, crew, and equipment that were to converge on the theatre to demolish it were instead re-directed elsewhere to handle the emergency of the tons of volcanic ash that had descended.

Columbia Theatre

Columbia Theatre

Both the theatre and the mountain have received loving restoration, renovation, and care since 1980. I feel very honored to have performed here several times [as a guest performer for Evergreen Ballet School and later with Chehalis Ballet Center in my “Joplinesque” piece] and have always enjoyed the rich history underneath my feet and in its charming vaudevillian atmosphere.

The Columbia’s stage has a unique rake – it slopes from stage center right and left, rather than from up to down stage. I was told by the manager at the time that this was due to the design’s favorable acoustics for tap dancing during the Roaring ‘20s when it was built.

Dressing rooms are right off of stage left and the old chorus dressing room is under the stage – which used to occasionally flood due to its low grade. Like many theatres of its era, the largest and best lobby is up on the second level, rather than the ground floor.

I was also pleased – totally by random coincidence that the tiny wheat town of Pomeroy, Washington is currently restoring its New Seeley Theatre, having had its first show in many years this past May and electricity on in the building in 10 years.

Not to be missed on our brief tour of historic, out-of-the-way theatres is the Capitol in Central Washington’s city of Yakima. Thriving and very elegant, it’s at the heart of the life of its downtown.