Liberty Theatre

Restoration work continues on the Liberty Theatre in downtown La Grande in this May 7 photo. The foundation behind the restoration effort is seeking a $100,000 state grant for the next phase.

LA GRANDE — The Liberty Theatre Foundation is seeking a hand of assistance from the state, a boost that would help restore a former main street icon to its previous glory.

The foundation has applied for a $100,000 Oregon Historic Theater grant from the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office to assist in the completion of the restoration of the Liberty Theatre at 1008 Adams Ave., La Grande.

The grant would help the foundation complete the third portion of its four-phase restoration project. Once the third phase is finished, the Liberty Theatre will be able to open for the first time since closing 61 years ago.

Ashley O’Toole, chairman of the Liberty Theatre Board of Directors, said receiving the grant would expedite the process of completing the third phase.

“It would greatly help our chances of having a soft opening before the end of the year,” O’Toole said.

The terms of the Liberty Theatre Foundation’s grant application call for it to provide a $20,000 match for the $100,000 grant. Of this $120,000 total, $100,000 would be spent for construction, $5,000 would go toward administrative costs, and $15,000 would be paid for design, engineering and planning work.

O’Toole said the foundation already has the required $20,000 in matching funds in hand.

Funds from the grant would help pay for work including:

• Raising the stage floor 3 feet: The 1,500-square-foot stage floor is 3 feet lower than it was when the theater was operating. This has created a gap between the bottom of the backstage door to the rear exit and the floor. Per the application, elevating the stage floor would improve the view of the stage from the auditorium.

• Seating: The Liberty Theatre has no auditorium floor or balcony seating, and the grant would provide money to add about 350 seats to the auditorium floor and balcony.

• Restrooms: The lobby needs unisex bathroom facilities to be compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and in line with building code requirements. In addition, the women’s and men’s restrooms on the mezzanine, now in poor condition, would receive upgrades.

The Liberty Theatre Foundation will learn this summer whether it will receive the grant, O’Toole said.

The historic theater, which opened in 1911 as the Arcade, closed in May 1959 and was then transformed into a space for retail businesses. Occupants of its space included Western Auto, which operated there for many years. The retail space had a false ceiling and floor and most customers didn’t realize the Liberty Theatre was above and below them.

The foundation’s restoration work to date includes extensive improvements to the exterior, from facade and brick repair to a sign replacing the original.

Portions of the building’s facade and bricks have been repaired or replaced, and a sign replicating its original was installed as part of this process. Much of this work, which started about five years ago, has been funded with help of grants, including one in 2019 from the Oregon Main Street Project that provided $100,000 to the effort.

The work in 2019 includes the completion of a new roof, the installment of blond bricks on the facade and entryway at street level, extensive auditorium and stage work and the installment of an underground conduit for improved electrical service.

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