Liberty Update

The Liberty Theatre Foundation recently received a $225,000 grant from the Ford Family Foundation. 

LA GRANDE — The Walt Disney classic “Sleeping Beauty” was released in 1959, the year La Grande’s Liberty Theatre closed.

Today, the Liberty Theatre is closer to reawakening after a long slumber, just as Princess Aurora does in “Sleeping Beauty.”

Liberty Theatre has a chance to reopen in about a year thanks to a $225,000 grant its foundation received from the Ford Family Foundation.

The grant allows the foundation to forge ahead with its renovation project, said Michael Jaeger, president of the Liberty Theatre Foundation board.

“This significant contribution to the overall plan for theater restoration puts the project on track to open sometime in late 2020,” Jaeger said in a news release. “The Ford Family grant will fund the electrical system, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), plumbing and some reconstruction costs associated with the auditorium.”

Jaeger said the Ford Family Foundation grant is the largest the Liberty Theatre Foundation has received for the renovation project.

Once the electrical system, HVAC, plumbing and auditorium reconstruction work is complete, ceiling restoration and fire suppression system work will be done. After that, the balance of the work shifts to restoring the theater.

News of the Ford Family Foundation grant came Friday, two months after the installation of a steel frame for the theater’s canopy. Union-based Quiet Life Construction, the prime contractor for the Liberty Theatre project, used a forklift to hoist the 2,000-pound frame in place for welding it to the building. La Grande metal fabricator Wyatt Williams made the frame, which provides a foundation for a future canopy that will look almost identical to the one the building had about a century ago.

This summer, restoration workers finished installing about 1,500 old bricks at the theater’s facade. The bricks resemble the ones the theater had before it closed six decades ago, when its facade, entrance and lobby were remodeled to accommodate retail businesses. The old Liberty also lost its sign when the movie house closed in 1959.

The centerpiece of the facade now is the Liberty Theatre’s blade sign, a replica of its original, which was installed and switched on in late 2015. The approximately 10-foot sign has served as a beacon of illumination ever since.

The Liberty Theatre opened in 1911. It was first known as the Orpheum Theater and later the Arcade. It was extensively remodeled in 1923 and a few years later was renamed the Liberty Theatre.

The Liberty Theatre Foundation earlier this year received another hefty grant — $100,000 from the Oregon Main Street Project. The foundation plans to continue to write grants and solicit community support, according to the news release, “so that the Liberty Theatre will once again be center stage and serve as La Grande’s living room.”

To celebrate the Ford Family Foundation grant award and progress made in renovation work, the Liberty Theatre Foundation will hold an open house the evening of Dec. 13 in the theater’s lobby. The foundation also reported more details of that event will be forthcoming.

General assignment reporter

Beats include the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

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