Andy Zimmerman

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Andy Zimmerman - Ninety years ago this month, the hottest ticket...
Ninety years ago this month, the hottest ticket in town ushered in an era that continues today. On May 28, 1926, the 1,435-seat theater on High Street SE opened its doors for the first time. The Elsinore Theatre w as the brainchild of m ovie-house owner and l awyer George Guthrie. I t got its name from William Shakespeare’s tragedy “Hamlet.” Construction was expected to last five or six months, according to the Capital Journal, but it took more than a year “due chiefly to Mr. Guthrie’s insistence that the English Gothic architectural scheme, which prevails throughout, be executed faithfully even to the most minute detail of interior construction and decorative design and coloring.” The Elsinore cost about $250,000 to build, which amounted to $10 for every person living in Salem, population 25,000 i n 1926. The interior decor included a royal Ker- manshah rug with a “ Tree of Life” design, p aintings and Shakes pearean-themed s tained-glass windows, created by Povey Bros. Among the works that continued to be enjoyed today: “The trusses on the west, or entrance side of the foyer, frame a group of three beautiful art windows interpreting the scene from “Hamlet” where Hamlet greets and advises the wandering players as they arrive at Elsinore,” the Capital Journal reported on May 27, 1926. “The central panel of the group, which is done in antique and cathedral glass with a prevailing b lue tone, pictures the three figures of Hamlet, Rosencranz and Guilden- stern. The giant panel on t he left shows four stroll- i ng players and that to t he right carries the f igure of Polonius, chamberlain of the court. The central panel is surmounted by the ancient Danish coat of arms in true colors.” The Wurlitzer organ was the second biggest in Oregon at the time of the Elsinore’s opening, according to the Capital Journal. Guthrie told the Oregon Statesman in an April 4, 1955, story the 2,000-pipe organ cost $22,000 to install. The original organ was removed a few years later. Guthrie told the Capital Journal in 1926 on the left rear wall of the foyer w as “the most beautiful thing in the whole theatre,” a tapestry depicting men at the edge of a fore st with their hunting d ogs, which was woven i n 1676. T ickets to the long- awaited opening were sought after, and residents gathered early for the 7 p.m. opening ceremonies and the Cecil B. DeMille film “The Volga Boatman.” “Even before the dinner hour was over, a crowd gathered from every block in the city, began to stream toward the Elsinore — as if the town had only one door and that the magic, wide portal of the magnificent new theatre,” Oregon Statesman reported on May 29, 1926. The cost to attend the E lsinore on opening day was 75 cents; seats in the loges were $1. The Oregon Statesman r eported there were “girl u shers,” dressed in blue w ith red collars, who led p atrons to their seats — a ll of which were re- s erved on opening night —to see the theater and the film. Larry Simpson and his orchestra provided a half-hour performance as part of the festivities. Judge Percy Kelly presided over the dedication of the theater. The O regon Statesman said G ov. Walter Pierce told t he audience that while t he east may have provided the artists, the idea, the dream, it was in the west that the structure came to its culmination — that the eastern sun is the sun of dreams, but that it is the westward sun that is the sun of a hope fulfilled. “My workman have been more than good. I hope you like it — I like it myself. I have seen worse,” Guthrie told the crowd. Opening exercises closed with the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” on the organ, and a flag was shown on the screen. The theater later host- e d Fanchon and Marco Vaudeville stage shows, Zollie Volchuk’s Zollie’s Gang Mickey Mouse C lub gatherings and e ntertainers such as E dgar Bergen and Char- l ie McCarthy, Ethel Barrymore and John Philip Sousa and his band. As the decades passed and the theater changed hands, it primarily was used to show movies. It w asn’t until the late 1970s a nd early 1980s when the i dea of saving and refur- b ishing the theater took r oot. Residents in 1981vot- ed overwhelmingly against a plan to have the city purchase the Elsinore and renovate the building into an arts center, but supporters continued to work. It wouldn’t be until 1993, w hen the Elsinore was p urchased by Salem T heatre Auditorium G roup Enterprise — known as STAGE — that the downtown Salem jewel’s future as a performing arts center would be secured. In a 1926 editorial, Capital Journal publisher George Putnam wrote: Guthrie “has set an example that our city builders in the future may well copy, in making Salem famous as a city of beautiful buildings, an ideal that could be easily realized if the ‘get the rent’ builders had only a little faith and taste.” Andy Zimmerman is a former Statesman Journal copy editor who writes a column about l ocal history twice per month. You can contact him with comments or suggestions for future s tories at SJTime C Salem’s jewel still shines bright at 90 WILLAMETTE HERITAGE CENTER The Elsinore Theatre is seen with its Warner Bros. marquee lit in the early 1930s. LOST SALEM Do you know of an iconic Salem event, location or business that has been lost to h istory and should be remembered? Send suggestions to TIME CAPSULE S ANDY ZIMMERMAN SPECIAL TO THE ST ATESMAN JOURNAL

Clipped from
  1. Statesman Journal,
  2. 29 May 2016, Sun,
  3. Main Edition,
  4. Page E2

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  • Andy Zimmerman

    Ferg89 – 02 Feb 2017