The northeast corner of Fourth Street and Madison Avenue again shone bright Friday night — as it had for more than half a century.
Hundreds lined up on the sidewalk on Madison across from the theater for the grand event at 6:45, when Mayor Julie Manning — after thanking the many donors and volunteers whose efforts over the past five years made the moment possible — counted down to the big moment when loud applause, oohs and aahs greeted the brilliantly relit marquee. (See video at gazettetimes.com)
The “W” in the middle of the marquee again twinkled with hundreds of small, clear electric bulbs, and neon tubes along the red-and-white marquee glowed rosy red and lime green, as they first did in 1950. (See timeline).
“That’s what I remember,” said Ardelle McChesney. She and her husband, Tim, were born and raised in Corvallis, and they came to see the most visible restoration of a theater that held so many memories.
Ardelle McChesney worked at the theater in 1969, when she was in high school, selling concessions — and sometimes being forced into the role of babysitter.
“People used to drop their kids off there for hours,” she said.
Since previous owner Regal Cinema donated the building to the Friends of the Whiteside and the Whiteside Foundation in 2008, countless donors and volunteers have contributed money, materials and labor to renovate the 1922 theater. Regal closed it in February 2002 due to declining ticket sales and a broken main sewer line, the biggest on a long list of needed repairs.
Among those who sipped champagne in the theater’s grand mezzanine Friday was Kimberly Howard, the trust manager for the Oregon Cultural Trust, which gave the Whiteside Foundation a grant that largely paid for repair of that sewer line.
“Well, we couldn’t actually put her name there,” said B.A. Beierle, a member of the Whiteside Foundation, indicating a large poster on display that gave credit only for “sewer repair” to the Oregon Cultural Trust.
Other major projects completed so far include repairing the restrooms, exterior masonry, strengthening internal supports and the fire escape, and rehabbing the original organ. New seats and carpeting inside, fresh paint and restored artwork all glowed at Friday’s event.
Three-year-old Emma Burgess, held in the arms of her father, Michael Conrad, was taking it all in.
“She practically grew up here,” Conrad said. Although the theater has been closed for much of her lifetime, Conrad is one of the former employees (1987 to 1996) who has been quietly and steadily working to bring it back. It means a lot to him. He proposed to his wife, Louise-Annette Burgess, on the marquee of the Whiteside. Both of them also worked at the single-screen State Theatre on Third Street, which was torn down in 2004.
The Whiteside’s future looks far brighter, said George Pearson, the former head of the foundation, during one of the many toasts made during the evening:
“We wanted to have this celebration in the Whiteside’s 90th year,” Pearson said. “And we made it by one day.” “Hip, hip .... hooray! Here’s to 90 more years!”
The film showing at the theater on Friday was a recap of the many projects and people that brought the theater to this point. As the jazz band Sandbox played, the near-capacity crowd came down the theater aisles to enjoy a slice of white cake, decorated with a large W in honor of its 91st birthday today.
In addition, people dropped a cash “vote” into one of about 55 or so paper bags labeled with the titles of blockbuster films. The bag with the most “votes” will be the one selected as the first film to be shown at the Whiteside since “The Fellowship of the Ring” was screened there in 2002.
When will that film show? What will its title be? That is a chapter to be determined. Still needed is a new large “silver screen” and sound system, in the ongoing return of the Whiteside. More information about the history and ongoing restoration project is available at http://whitesidetheatre.org/.