Liberty Theatre

Dan Davenport, owner of Quiet Life Construction, checks the support system for a steel frame his company installed for a canopy for the Liberty Theatre. The finished canopy will resemble the one the Liberty Theatre building had a century ago.

The Liberty Theatre, an iconic movie house with a history that dates back to the silent film era, is a quiet but major step closer to being fully restored.

A steel frame for the La Grande theater’s canopy was installed Friday as part of a reconstruction project being conducted by the Liberty Theatre Foundation. The 2,000-pound frame was put in by Quiet Life Construction of Union, which used a forklift and did welding work to install the frame. Quiet Life Construction is the prime contractor for the Liberty Theatre project. 

The installation of the frame, made by La Grande metal fabricator Wyatt Williams, means that a foundation is now in place for a future canopy that will look almost identical to the one the Adams Avenue theater building had about a century ago.

“I’m excited. (The completed canopy) will boost visibility,” said Liberty Theatre Foundation member Ashley O’Toole.

The next step will be the addition of a 38-foot-by-6.5-foot roof, which will be put over the steel frame. Later, globe lights, ornate wood trim, glass skirting and other decorative elements will be added.

 “When it is finished and it is all lit up, it will look incredible,” O’Toole said.

He said the canopy is being re-created based on a photo of the Liberty Theatre building taken between 1910 and 1919. This was when the theater was named The Arcade. It became known as the Liberty Theatre in 1920.

The canopy will be below the

theater’s large sign, which was put up in late 2015 and is a replica of a Liberty sign installed many decades ago. 

The installation of the steel frame for the canopy comes about three months after 1,500 old bricks were installed on the facade of the theater’s main entrance. The bricks are from the old Central Elementary School on K Avenue, which was torn down in 2017 and replaced by the new Central school building at Second and H Street. 

The bricks resemble those of the original theater’s entrance before it closed six decades ago and are a prominent part of the re-creation of the facade of the historic building. The entrance will include not only the canopy but two sets of double doors on either side of a box office.

Long-range plans for the Liberty Complex, which contains the Liberty Theatre building and the now vacant and historic Putnam building next to it, include a bakery, an extensive kitchen and eating area, a stage for entertainers, skylights, a dressing room for theater performers, offices, living quarters and much more. The Putnam building will be restored and will match the historic look of the Liberty Theatre.

Much of the Liberty Complex work is being funded by grants, including one for $200,000 received earlier this year from the Oregon Main Street Project. O’Toole said $100,000 of this grant went to the Liberty Theatre and $100,000 went to the Putnam building restoration.

The Putnam building is owned by Dale and Ginny Mammen of La Grande. Dale Mammen is a leader of the Liberty Theatre restoration project and a historical preservation consultant for the Liberty Theatre Foundation’s staff.

Crews are also continuing to do extensive work on restoring the interior of the Liberty Theatre. The theater was built in 1910 and closed in 1959, after which its facade and lobby were torn out to accommodate retail establishments. Work being done now includes framing for the lobby and putting in a platform for wheelchair viewing. Future work includes restoring the floor and balcony seating, building a staircase to the balcony and renovating the stage.

O’Toole said that an open house and fundraiser at the Liberty Theatre will be conducted in December. The date and time will be announced later. 

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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