Liberty Theater a gem

March 08, 2012 02:29 pm
Shortly after arriving in La Grande just over two years ago, I learned that an effort was being made to bring the Liberty Theater back to life after a long dormant season of time.

Personally, I find the renovation of historic buildings to be quite fascinating and enjoy seeing something rise up from the ashes, be restored and given new life for new generations to experience. 

My wife, Teri Lee, and I moved from Bend, where I was employed by the City of Bend building division, to become the building official here in La Grande.

While in Bend, I had the opportunity to be involved with several interesting projects that included the renovation of two historical buildings in the downtown core of Bend. One of the projects was the Tower Theater. The other was previously named the Liberty building, interesting isn’t it?

If you Google Bend, Oregon, you will most likely find a picture of the Tower Theater somewhere on the webpage as it has taken a prominent role in the community. This is my hope for La Grande’s Liberty Theater. 

The Central Oregon community has seen the Tower Theater rise like the phoenix from the ashes into new life with a vibrancy that only a few envisioned early in the process. However, it is hard now to think of Bend’s Wall Street without the theater. 

After meeting with Dale Mammen and learning some of the history of the former building and its occupants, it was easy for me to also see the vision of what this unique building has to offer our community.

After inspecting and touring the building on numerous occasions, I must admit finding myself mixing business with pleasure. As a building official, some very interesting construction can be seen, following the building through numerous alterations over the past 100 years. 

Harkening back to my high school and college days and my musical and theatrical experiences, I found myself drawn to the many artifacts preserved within the Liberty Theater’s walls.

It’s pretty exciting to find the signatures of thespians of yesteryear scribbled on the old red brick walls and wooden studs back in the fly room, and what was most likely the green room area below the stage which dates back to the 1920s. The stage is intact and remains in its original place under the current floor.

I found myself wondering what stories the walls, stage and theater chairs could tell. Perhaps If I could listen intently enough, they just might whisper to my imagination. 

I have a fondness for the stage. It was the combination of music and theater that prompted a former college musical director to recruit me to his program with the hopes of pairing me with a young beautiful female vocalist for a production of an operetta called “The Telephone.”

I later found out it was because of my height, not my vocal ability, that he pursued me. Undaunted by this knowledge, I in turn pursued that young lady and our 34th anniversary was on Valentine’s Day. Thank you, David Miller, wherever you are today.

With La Grande’s geographical location between Portland and Boise, Spokane and Salt Lake City, there will be many opportunities for traveling groups to stop for an evening and provide the area with world class entertainment and educational offerings.

This historic treasure will be a perfect venue for stage productions, musicals, dance troupes, musical artists, lecture series and dozens of other interesting uses as well.

La Grande already has a rich artistic heritage fueled by our public schools, Eastern Oregon University staff and students, religious musical events and some very good local artists as well. The Liberty Theater will only add to and help strengthen what we already have in this community. 

As the use of the building begins and grows, it will provide an emerging vibrancy to our downtown businesses and the greater community as a whole. It is no stretch to think that current empty spaces will soon be filled by entrepreneurial-minded hometown folks recognizing the symbiotic relationship the Liberty Theater can provide.

Professionally, I am eager to work on this project, being able to couple my “day job” with the excitement of seeing new life breathed into dry bones is, to use a
technical term, “pretty cool.” 

If your interest isn’t already piqued, I hope you will join with the folks that are working behind the scenes, pun intended, to bring this Northeastern Oregon treasure back to life and give us one more reason to be proud of La Grande and Union County. 


David D. Kloss is a La Grande resident.