Art Center proponents look next door for space

Written by Bill Rautenstrauch, for The Observer and Baker City Herald August 07, 2013 08:47 am

The Liberty Theater Foundation hopes to purchase the C.D. Putnam Ready Wear Building, at left, and make it part of a restored Liberty Theater (building at right). The Putnam building would house an expanded lobby, offices and more. (Photo by Bill Rautenstrauch)
The Liberty Theater Foundation hopes to purchase the C.D. Putnam Ready Wear Building, at left, and make it part of a restored Liberty Theater (building at right). The Putnam building would house an expanded lobby, offices and more. (Photo by Bill Rautenstrauch)
 

The Liberty Theater restoration project in downtown La Grande made more forward progress recently, as it was awarded a grant to pay for a concept master plan for use of the C.D. Putnam Ready Wear Building next door to the theater.

The $4,800 grant, from the Johanna Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation, will help the Liberty Theater Foundation pay for an analysis of ways the Putnam Building might be utilized to enhance theater operations.

The Foundation hopes to restore the long-defunct Liberty Theater at 1010 Adams Ave., transforming it into a regional center for the performing arts. Foundation President Dale Mammen said the Putnam Building, constructed at 1012 Adams in 1915, holds a possible answer to a need for more space.

 “This will allow for office space, handicapped restrooms, an expanded lobby area in the existing facility, more access to the lobby, dressing rooms, and more,” Mammen said.

The theater at 1010 Adams Ave. opened as the Orpheum in 1910, was renamed the Arcade in 1911, and become the Liberty in 1930. It closed in 1959. After the closure, the building was remodeled to accommodate retail businesses. The theater’s projection room, balcony, stage, some light fixtures, and tiers for seats remain.

The non-profit Foundation purchased the Liberty Theater building with help from the City of La Grande’s Urban Renewal Agency. Major restoration work has yet to begin, though some smaller improvements have been achieved.

Those include re-pointing of exterior brick, and construction of the 50-seat Stage Door Theater at the back of the Liberty.

The Favrot grant, administered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, requires a dollar-for-dollar match. It will pay for “as built” drawings and a structural report, photographs of historic elements, an inventory of historic materials and significant historic features, and the concept master plan.

The plan will be drawn up by DKA Architecture and Design of Bend.

According to a schedule submitted with the grant application, draft reports and the draft concept plan will be presented to the foundation board in December. A complete final report is due by May 2014.

After that, the board will enter into negotiations to purchase the Putnam building from owners Jim and Judy Rygg. Jim Rygg operated an antique business on the ground floor of the building until his retirement this month.

Mammen said the Foundation has a right-of-first refusal agreement with the Ryggs for purchase of the building. He said he is optimistic the deal will go through.

 “Jim and Judy have been very supportive of the project,” he said. Total Liberty Theater restoration cost, estimated between $2 million and $3 million, will be paid for with grants and donations gathered up over the next several years.

Mammen said the Foundation has been successful so far in its quest for grants. In addition to the Favrot grant, the National Trust for Historic Preservation previously awarded the restoration project $5,000 for the writing of a restoration master plan, and $3,000 to pay for fundraising consultation.

Oregon’s State Historic Preservation Office has paid for masonry work and for attendance at a major preservation conference. Local contributors have included the Urban Renewal Agency, the Union County Tourism Fund, the Wildhorse Foundation, and the Union County Cultural Coalition.

“Most of the grants have been small, but everything helps,” Mammen said.

He said the grants from the Union County Tourism Fund and the Union County Cultural Coalition are helping pay for improved screen and sound equipment at the Stage Door.

Mammen said the Foundation believes successful restoration of the old theater will bring more people downtown, provide customers for restaurants, coffee shops and hotels, and stimulate interest in investing in buildings in La Grande’s historic district.

He said each success along the way triggers more excitement and enthusiasm for the project.

“It seems like every day something new is happening. It’s been overwhelming,” he said.