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CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) — A few blows from a hammer, a yank on a crowbar and a few pounds of elbow grease, and the concrete façade on the front of the Whiteside Theatre came down last Sunday morning. And for the first time in more than 50 years, the original exterior of the historic 1922 show palace was bathed in sunlight.
Whiteside Theatre Foundation members spearheading the restoration project recently found a black-and-white photo of the theatre in a January 1923 edition of the Gazette-Times. But, with more than 92 years of facing the elements and the ravages of time, members waited Sunday morning with bated breath in hopes of seeing the wall in person for the first time. When the concrete and stucco wall finally came down, several oohs and ahhs gave way to wide grins on the faces of the dozens of volunteers as they saw the original pale green wall, complete with poster cases.
"We didn't know for sure what would be under the panels until we pulled it off," said Doug Sackinger, chair of the Foundation's building committee. "We're all very pleased to see the wall underneath looks very much like the January 1923 photo taken in the Gazette-Times. We think this is going to provide a lot more visual appeal to pedestrians walking by than what was there before."
The Whiteside Theatre — which survived two fires — was closed as a first-run theater in 2002 by its former owners, Regal Cinema, and stood empty for six years. But when a move was made to gut the theater's interior for renovation as retail space, the Friends of the Whiteside formed to save Corvallis' fanciest movie house, and in 2008, Regal Cinema essentially gave the theater to what has since become the Whiteside Theatre Foundation.
"I think a restoration of this original wall is in the cards," Sackinger said. "We'll have to discuss it and raise some funds to do some of the work, but it's already looking a lot better if you ask me."
Foundation members speculated that the concrete and stucco wall was built to cover the original front in the 1960s when studios began shipping larger posters to theatres. Regal officials built a much larger poster case to accommodate the change, but were denied permits to remodel the building on the National Register of Historic Places. So, for several decades, the "temporary" plain concrete and stucco wall stood to greet potential theatre goers on the street. But it likely repelled more customers than it brought into the theatre, said Louise-Annette Burgess, a founding Whiteside Theatre Foundation board member.
"A lot of people for years would think we were still closed because of that wall," she said. "We're so relieved that the original wall is in such good condition and I think a lot of people will be excited to see it."
Burgess added that customers coming to the Whiteside Theatre expect to see a classic, vintage look and that many had expressed disappointment with the remodeled exterior wall.
"I think (knocking it down) was critical for the survival of the building into the future," she said. "People come to the Whiteside Theatre to relive their childhoods and remember how things used to be. It's almost like a time capsule."
So far, the Foundation has helped repair a broken sewer line and a damaged structural column, reinforcement and repair of the fire escape, and rewiring of the theater's signature marquee. Hundreds of people turned out in November 2013 to see the refurbished marquee light up the downtown night for the first time in more than a decade. But Foundation members say there are still many more renovation projects left to be completed.
"The Whiteside Theatre Foundation is all about rehabilitating the building and restoring it to its appropriate place in our downtown," Burgess said. "We're very excited to be able to return the Whiteside Theatre to its rightful place as a vital part of our economic structure downtown and restore the classic look we all love."
Information from: Gazette-Times, http://www.gtconnect.com
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