Liberty Theatre turning 85

Camas venue will celebrate milestone anniversary Thursday

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

Published:

 
photoWhen the theater opened in downtown Camas in 1927, it was the Granada Theater.

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If you go

What: 85th anniversary of the Liberty Theatre, with a showing of “The Jazz Singer” (1927).

Where: 315 N.E. Fourth Ave., Camas.

When: 5:30 and 7:45 p.m. Thursday.

Cost: $3.75. First 25 guests receive free commemorative poster by Blythe Ayne.

On the Web: Liberty Theatre

The grand dame of downtown Camas, the Liberty Theatre, will celebrate her 85th birthday on Thursday with pomp and circumstance.

The Granada Theatre — later renamed the Liberty — opened on June 14, 1927, with the motion picture "Lost at the Front," billed as "A war comedy that calls for bursting laughter as well as shells."

Ticket prices were 10 cents for children and 30 cents for adults.

For the anniversary gala, managing director Rand Thornsley had hoped to show "Lost at the Front," but the film is among the silver screen's lost treasures.

Instead, he will show the 1927 film "The Jazz Singer," starring Al Jolson. The world's first motion picture using synchronized dialogue sequences, this classic signaled the end of the silent film era and the beginning of "talkies."

The theater originally offered both movies and live productions on the 25-by-30-foot stage. At the grand opening, live music was performed by radio station singers Hugh Walton and The Three Janes, with Professor Wood playing the pipe organ.

Portland architect P.M. Hall Lewis designed the elegant theater in Moorish/Spanish style. In 1927, during the economic boom of the Roaring Twenties, no expense was spared.

The 800 sumptuous seats cost $6,000 and the pipe organ cost a whopping $12,000. The total cost was $75,000, a hefty sum at the time.

To put things into 1927 perspective, shoppers in Vancouver's bustling downtown could buy ladies' rayon hose for 35 cents and men's felt hats -- a wardrobe essential -- for $1.95.

A 1927 Chevrolet Coupe cost $777. Gasoline to fill it was about 15 cents a gallon.

For more than 80 years, the Liberty's marquee welcomed moviegoers to the popular entertainment destination in downtown Camas.

After a fire gutted the Liberty in 1994, the owners refurbished the theater, but the pipe organ was not reinstalled.

For about 18 months, from August 2009 until March 2011, the Liberty shut down. She sat vacant and forlorn.

In early 2011, the Rootstock Capital Management LLC leased the property from owners Gary and Marilyn Webberly, and Thornsley stepped up to manage the historic theater.

Thornsley's big plans for the old girl include extensive remodeling of the landmark theater. Today, the renovated main theater seats 348. Most recently, he added an intimate 26-seat studio theater and named it The Granada as a nod to the theater's original Spanish name.

In The Granada, Thornsley plans to show art and independent films.

He has found a programming mode and family-friendly price that works for Camas. All movies are $3.75, except on Tuesdays, when tickets are $3.

Thornsley commissioned a commemorative anniversary poster from Camas artist Blythe Ayne. Posters will be given to the first 25 guests to arrive at the showings on Thursday.

He invites people to dress in 1927 fashion and to join him at the Liberty for her 85th birthday bash. Felt hats optional.