Yearly Archives: 2015

Crowdfunding raises $2,105!

Sign Thank You Twitter-1

The Liberty Theatre Foundation would like to thank all of our donors and supporters of our first even crowdfunding campaign. We are so proud of how our community stepped up and made this possible!

Stay tuned for updates and information about the sign project! We hope to have this project completed by the end of the summer.

Kathrine Hensel

Anonymous 2
Chantell Cosner
Blake Galbreath
Sarah Garelle
Mary Helen Garoutte
Earlene Lamb
Mika Morten
Todd Tschida
Jeff VanVickle

Anonymous 1
Anonymous 3
Gabe Barber
Christopher Jennings
Kara Rudd
Jim Rygg
Tim Williams

Carol Campbell
Jon Franklin
Michael Jaeger
Mary Koza
Ted Kramer
Kelly Richards
Marvin Smith
Eric Valentine
William Whitaker

Brent Smith


Next Weekend: An Old-Fashioned Dessert Social

Dessert Social FB Cover(1)

Who doesn’t like a little dessert on a warm summer evening? Next weekend, head over to the Market Place downtown La Grande and join us for a special summer fundraiser to support the restoration of the Liberty Theatre’s facade.

Volunteers will be making a scrumptious selection of desserts to go with locally made ice cream. The event will also include live music and a pie walk. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for children under the age of 10. A family of two adults and two children is $20. Tickets can be purchased at the door, at the La Grande Farmer’s Market or online here.

Several raffles will take place in conjunction with the event including a 50/50 raffle and a vacation giveaway for four to Silverwood Theme Park. 50/50 tickets are $2 for 1 and $3 for 5. Tickets for the family vacation are $15 for 1 and $25 for 2.

For more information about the dessert social, call (541)626-3051 or email

Sign Crowd-Funding Campaign Launched

This Monday the Liberty Theatre Foundation launched its first-ever online crowd-funding campaign! With a modest goal of $2,000, we are hoping to raise a portion of the fund necessary to recreate the Liberty’s iconic 1940s era eagle sign and place it on the building once again. Our objective is to complete this project by the end of the summer.

The sign budget is approximately $40,000. This includes fabrication in Bend by Carlson Sign, shipment to La Grande and installation on the Liberty. We have applied for several grants for this project but ultimately $10,000 will need to be raised from within our community.

Between now and July 12th, you can contribute here to our online campaign. We do have perks available for those who give and no gift is too small. Together we can light up the Liberty!

Frederick Mercy’s Many Liberty Theatres

Frederick Mercy, Feb 1937

Frederick Mercy, Feb 1937

Theaters all around the country sport the name “Liberty.” If they do not now, some likely were named Liberty at some point in their history. Liberty is a common theater name, much like Star, State, Dime, Gem, Fox and even, as our last post illustrated, the Orpheum.

Most of these Liberty Theatres have little in common and were rarely owned by the same owner. This however is not the case with a series of Liberty Theatres in the inland northwest, our Liberty among them.

Frederick Mercy was born in New Jersey in 1877. He and his farther owned a hat manufacturing business which Mercy successfully built to include a chain of hat stores in New York. He later sold the business and relocated to San Fransisco to take on a new enterprise, motion pictures.

The Yakima Liberty Theatre, 1941

The Yakima Liberty Theatre, 1941


In 1912, Mercy moved to Yakima, Wash. He purchased the Majestic Theater and renovated it to seat 800 patrons. He later acquired the Empire and then built the Yakima Liberty Theatre. This Liberty would open in 1918 and would operate until the mid-1960s. It was then gutted to serve as a bank.

But Mercy’s story doesn’t end here. Him and his son Frederick Mercy Jr. would begin to purchase, remodel and operate theaters in towns all around the region.

Mercy’s theater acquisitions included Libertys in Walla Walla, Sunnyside, Kennewick, Pasco, Toppenish and of course La Grande and by 1932, the Mercy’s had acquired 14 theaters. Sadly, most of these theaters are not open today.

The Toppenish Liberty Theater in 2005.

The Toppenish Liberty Theater in 2005.

An exception to this is the Toppenish Liberty Theater. This theater was opened as the Lois Theater in 1921. It wasn’t until 1927 that Mercy purchased the theater and renamed it the Liberty. It was later acquired by Howard Hughes in 1931 (yes, the Howard Hughes) and screened films until 1984. There was discussion of demolition by fortunately, the theater was restored and currently operates as a community performance center today.

The Walla Walla Liberty Theater is an example of unique theater conversion. If you have a chance to visit downtown Walla Walla, visit the Macy’s store. The juniors section of the store is inside the converted theater. The walls and ceiling remain intact but a false floor covers the stage and original seating, which is rumored to still be in place under the floor. The Walla Walla Liberty opened in 1917 and was built in a unique craftsman style, much different than other Libertys. It was purchased by Mercy in 1927 and it was converted to retail in 1990.

On September 1, 1930, Inland Theaters, Inc. (Mercy Jr & Sr.’s business name), acquired both the Liberty Theatre and the Granada Theater. An article in the La Grande Evening Observer states,

In the next few days, many changes will be made in the two houses. Redecoration will be extensive. Comfortable loge seats will be installed. Additions to the equipment will be made which will make a distinct improvement in the quality of the sound and of the projection of our pictures. Wherever a Mercy theater is to be found you will find a theater equal in quality to any in the entire United States. It is our intention that the same will be true of our La Grande Theaters. In making these changes it is our indention never to lose sight of the fact that patrons who pay for entertainment in our theaters are entitled to the best entertainment we can offer and to all the efforts we are able to provide. A date for a reopening under this new policy will be announced soon.

The La Grande Liberty Theater in the 1940s.

The La Grande Liberty Theater in the 1940s.

Mercy would eventually sell his La Grande theaters to Francis Greulich in the mid-1940s. Francis would own the Liberty for many years till its closure in 1959 and its conversion to retail. The Greulich family still own the Granada today.

As for the Mercy Family, fourth-generation owner-operator, Steve Mercy still carries the torch. The family owns and operates three theaters in Yakima, The Majestic, Yakima Cinemas and the Orion Cinema.  The Orion is a recent addition to the mix as a newly opened cinema-pub that serves meals and caters to the 21 and over crowd. The Majestic is a 10-screen theater and Yakima Cinemas is a multiplex as well.

Mercy’s legacy is nearly forgotten in the communities where his theaters once stood. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to bring one of the theaters he stewarded back to life, the last of Mercy’s Libertys.



Liberty Theatre in Yakima opens on March 12, 1918. – Essay

Bygone Walla Walla- Frederick Mercy and the Liberty Theatre

Puget Sound Pipeline- Liberty Theatre

Jubilee in Yakima: Mercy family celebrates 101 years with Orion Cinema & Mickey’s Pub

What is “Vaudeville”?

The Orpheum/Arcade in 1916.

The Orpheum/Arcade in 1916.

The Liberty Theatre was originally opened in 1910 as the Orpheum Theatre and became the Arcade in 1915. In those early days the theater housed primarily live performances and a few silent films.  If you have ever taken a tour of the Liberty Theatre, you may have heard that the theater was originally a “vaudeville house.”

The Vaudeville genre was much like a variety show with comedy sketches, music, dance and possibly even a bit of burlesque, though the latter is probably less likely in the case of the Orpheum/Arcade. Most of the acts were unrelated and strung together for an evening of entertainment. The performances usually appealed to the working and middle class likely as a result of both content and the cost to attend, 15 and 25 cents (about $3.80 and $6.40 in today’s dollars).

Vaudeville was popular throughout the beginning of the 20th century, though its origins date back to 1860 and earlier. It was different from other live performances because shows were often comprised of touring groups rather than local performers.  Many of these groups toured in circuits. One particular circuit was the “Orpheum Circuit” which stretched from coast to coast but had its early roots in San Fransisco. Financiers built Orpheum theaters all over the country to house touring performers. Our La Grande Orpheum was not among these theaters but rather, taking on the popular name of the time.

The Isis Theater, just one of the many silent movie houses in turn-of-the-century La Grande.

The Isis Theater, just one of the many silent movie houses in turn-of-the-century La Grande.

Before the Orpheum was built, there were many theaters in La Grande including The Dime, The Scenic, The Electric, The Pastime, The Isis and The Lyric. The largest and most notable of these was Steward’s Opera House which opened in 1890 and closed in 1913. Steward’s Opera House was the only theater with enough space to stage performances but even then, it lacked adequate means for staging touring performances.

The Orpheum opened November 1910 to rave reviews. The La Grande Observer reported, “Vaudeville will make its second debut in La Grande next Monday night when the finest vaudeville house in the Northwest, size of the town considered, will be thrown open.” The Observer reported that the theater would seat 632 comfortably and was “equipped with water toilets and every convenience.” It is debatable how “convenient” we would find 4 toilets for 632 people today!

A fly loft was added later to increase the amount of space and facilities for larger acts but by the late 1920s, entertainment was beginning to shift. With the revolutionary “talkies” came a reduced audience attending live performances. By 1940 the Liberty was showing almost all films with the occasional school play serving as the live performance.

As a whole, vaudeville itself was fading by the late ’20s. Most theaters built for the purpose converted their facilities to show films. Some famous performers went on to try their hand at film and radio but most faded into obscurity. Vaudeville itself had an heavy influence on the kinds of entertainment viewers watched on the big screen but the art of the live performance was mostly gone.

The Liberty Theatre closed in 1959 after the TV became a fixture in most people’s homes. (That is a blog for another day.) Fortunately, most of the structures, such as the stage and the fly loft, were untouched. When the Liberty reopens it will become a home for live performance once again, reawakening our community to the fun and joy that comes with a live production.



Liberty Theatre National Trust for Historic Places Application, Narrative. June 5, 1999

“Orpheum Circuit”


Corporate Volunteer Programs

Volunteers chip in during a work party in March.

Volunteers chip in during a work party in March.

What do Starbucks, AT&T, UPS and Bank of America all have in common? They are just some of many companies in our area that have corporate volunteer programs. That’s right! Many corporate companies offer incentives to encourage their employees to volunteer for community nonprofits.

Benefits vary between companies, but they sometimes include grant money donated directly from the company to the nonprofit, payed time for employees or other reimbursement.

If you are an employee for one of the following companies and are interested in volunteering with us, please contacts us here! Click on any of the company names to go directly to their corporate giving page.

AllState Insurance

AmericanWest Bank 


Bank Of America

Banner Bank

Bi-Mart – (No website. Please contact your manager.)

Boise Cascade 

Century Link   



H&R Block

Moda Health





State Farm

Union Pacific

Umpqua Bank


US Bank  

US Cellular


Wells Fargo

Miller Foundation Awards Liberty $15,000

logo 2This past month the Liberty Theatre Foundation was the recipient of a 3-year, $15,000 grant from the Miller Foundation!

This grant will be used to help our board and staff raise funds for our capital campaign. It will allow us to cover the costs of grant writing, brochures, fundraising events and other development expenses. This way gifts from our community donors will be able to support the restoration of the Liberty entirely.

We are thrilled to be working in partnership with the Miller Foundation to strengthen our community outreach and improve the two-way dialogue between our volunteers and our supporters.

About the Miller Foundation

James F. “Jimmy” Miller was born in a small community outside of Portland, Oregon in 1905. Mr. Miller began his career as an errand runner at Blyth and Co. (predecessor to UBS Financial Services) at age 14. Without much formal education, he rose to become the president of Blyth & Co. in New York in the early 1960s.  Mr. Miller lived and prospered in New York with his wife of nearly 68 years, Marion.  He returned to Portland in 1998 where he continued to invest in the markets and advise others until his passing in 2004.

Mr. Miller was passionate about learning and researched languages, history, mythology, literature, ballet, music, the arts, and other cultures. Throughout their lives, he and his wife Marion gave generously to many cultural and educational institutions in both Oregon and New York.  It was his hope that his legacy would serve as an example of what is possible given commitment, hard work, and the gift of time.

The James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation is committed to fulfilling Mr. Miller’s legacy by supporting the arts and education throughout the state of Oregon.

Upcoming application deadlines for the Miller Foundation are July 6, Sept. 28, and Jan. 4, 2016. For more information visit


All’s Well That Ends Well at the Stage Door

Alls Well PosterCreative artists are not strangers to the Stage Door Theater. Over the last three years it was the home of plays, improv, comedians, musicians of numerous genres, lectures, films and so much more. However, this April, the Stage Door Theater will host its first Shakespeare performance.

Grant Turner, director of the La Grande Shakespeare Company will open All’s Well That End’s Well on April 17.  Turner is new to La Grande, moving to the area last year. He is the founding artistic director at the Northwest Classical Theatre Company and has directed a variety of Shakespeare plays including  Henry V, The Merchant of Venice, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

All’s Well That Ends Well is a classic Shakespeare comedy which follows orphan Helena as she wins the hand, but not the affection, of the higher born Bertram. Using quick whit and clever tactics Helena hatches an elaborate plan to win Bertram over by meeting his impossible challenge, get his family ring from his finger, and become pregnant with his child, both which Bertram makes clear will be impossible.

The cast includes Rose Peacock as Helena, Cody Wyld Flower as Bertram, Kevin Cahill as LaFeu,  Thorman Hulse as the King, and Heidi Laurence as the Countess.  Other cast members and members of the company are Michael Cooper, Jessi Descos, Jessica Moran, Wylie Peacock, Chuck Peters, Anne Turner, Grant Turner and Daniel Wagner.

All’s Well That Ends Well will run Friday, Saturday and Sunday, April 17 through May 3rd.  Friday and Saturday shows will begin at 7:30 PM and Sunday matinee’s will begin at 2 PM. Tickets are $22 for adults and $20 for students and seniors. Tickets can be purchased online here or by calling (971)244-3740.


EOFF Sneak Peak Party in the Stage Door


EOFF 2013 Sneak Peak Party in the Stage Door Theater

This year, Eastern Oregon Film Festival is hosting its sneak peak party at the Stage Door Theater! We are excited to welcome EOFF fans and supporters back to celebrate and get their 2015 festival passes.

Join us in the Stage Door on Wednesday, April 8 from 6:30 to 9:30 PM. Trailers of selected EOFF 2015 films will screen at 7:30 PM.  Purchase your passes, tour the Liberty Theatre, enjoy some snacks and take part in the ongoing conversation about EOFF’s cultural, educational and economic benefits.

To become an EOFF member online:

General EOFF passes will be available here (April 8):

To become an event sponsor and be recognized as such:

Dessert Social This June

Dessert Social FB Cover

Save the date for our upcoming old-fashioned dessert social fundraiser on Saturday, June 27 at 5:30 PM at the Liberty Theatre. Come and see the Liberty, enjoy homemade dessert, live music, a photo booth, pie walk and more! Mark your calendar and watch for more details soon.

We will be looking for volunteers to assist us with this event. Please email if you are interested in helping out or donating supplies.