Restoration gets a boost

Written by Dick Mason, The Observer March 23, 2010 01:42 pm

IT HAS BEEN AT LEAST 50 YEARS SINCE THESE CHAIRS were removed from their original home in La Grande’s old Liberty Theatre and placed in the Elks Lodge, but Saturday was the day they finally returned. From left are Kole Guentert, Nick Thompson and Kaleb Oveson. The three are among five EOU football players who carried the seats out of the Elks Lodge and into the old Liberty Theatre. CHRIS BAXTER / The Observer
IT HAS BEEN AT LEAST 50 YEARS SINCE THESE CHAIRS were removed from their original home in La Grande’s old Liberty Theatre and placed in the Elks Lodge, but Saturday was the day they finally returned. From left are Kole Guentert, Nick Thompson and Kaleb Oveson. The three are among five EOU football players who carried the seats out of the Elks Lodge and into the old Liberty Theatre. CHRIS BAXTER / The Observer
Liberty Theatre’s past became part of its future Saturday.

Eighty-seven seats at the La Grande Elks Lodge, which had been taken out of Liberty Theatre after it closed about 50 years ago, were moved back to the site of the old movie house Saturday morning.

“Historically they are priceless,’’ said Dale Mammen of La Grande, who is helping lead a community effort to restore the Liberty, which closed in 1959.

The leather seats are in excellent condition, so good it almost appears they had been kept in an airtight time capsule.

“Only one or two had slight damage,’’ Mammen said. “Mechanically they are intact and solid.’’

The chairs’ red leather is soft and uncracked, perhaps because they were kept out of the sun in the Elks Lodge room, the site of many ceremonies. Oil applied to the leather of some may have also helped them stay far ahead of Father Time.

The seats were unscrewed from the floor of the lodge room Friday afternoon by volunteers.

Saturday morning five EOU football players began carrying the seats out and loading them onto a trailer. The players then walked about two blocks to the site of the old theater and took the chairs off the trailer and into the first floor of the old movie house. This process had several sequels.

The athletes, often working in teams of three, usually carried sets of four seats attached to boards. The combined weight of many chair sets was about 200 pounds

“I’m going to suggest to their coach that they not have to lift weights for a couple of days,’’ Mammen said with a chuckle.

Eastern’s football players, under the direction of head coach Tim Camp, are involved

in many community service projects throughout the school year. Players serve as reading buddies at elementary schools, visit adult care homes, give football clinics for grade schoolers and more. The effort proves to be beneficial on several levels, said Dillon Bedford, one of the players who helped move the seats Saturday.

“It is social capital. It gets our name out there and gives us an opportunity to help people,’’ Bedford said.

Teammate Tony Smith also speaks highly of the team’s public service program.

“It gives everybody a chance to represent the team in the community,’’ Smith said.

Smith and Bedford were joined Saturday by teammates Nick Thompson, Kaleb Oveson and Kole Guentert.

“This was a fabulous community service project by the EOU football team,’’ Mammen said.

The players were provided with free lunch by Domino’s Pizza after their moving work Saturday. The student-athletes ate their lunch on the remodeled ground floor of what was once the Liberty. The theater opened in 1910 as the Orpheum Theatre, was renamed The Arcade in 1911 and became The Liberty Theatre in 1930. The theater once had more than 600 seats, but only one had remained in the theater.

Liberty restoration project leaders received more than the old theater seats Saturday. They also received a roll of old Liberty Theatre tickets donated by Jan Bryant of La Grande. The tickets were for premium loge seating and sold for 10 cents.

Nobody knows how old the unused tickets are, a question for Mammen and others to ponder.

“As the story (of the Liberty’s restoration) unfolds the mystery deepens,’’ Mammen said.