The La Grande Liberty Theatre has a rich history. The building was originally opened as the Orpheum Theatre in 1910 by owners Stephen A. and Madlin Gardninier. Early shows at the Orpheum were vaudeville performances rather than films. The stucco and brick structure was constructed as a two-story building with a three-story fly gallery over the stage. The lower floor sat 438 people and the upper balcony held 182 people.
The Orpheum’s name was changed to the Arcade Theatre in February 1911 and became a movie house. It cost 10 cents to see a film at the Arcade. The theater underwent a major upgrade during this time which included a complete transformation of the facade. This original facade remains today. The Arcade Theatre had its first “talkie” test in 1929 as the era of the silent film began to fade. Then in 1930 the theater was purchased, redecorated and opened as the Liberty Theatre.
The theater became La Grande’s pride and joy because it was the “fanciest” theater of its time. The Liberty Theatre closed its doors May 4, 1959. The stage, basement, dressing rooms, bathrooms and projection room and balcony were not used after the building closed. In 1962 the building was converted to retail space.
Pieces of the Liberty’s many eras can be seen throughout the theater. Some of the original 1930s seats remain in excellent condition and are used in the Stage Door Theater, the small temporary performance space behind the retail area. Light fixtures from the 1920s still hang in the balcony lobby. The colorful wool carpet in the balcony remains in excellent condition despite being nearly 70 years old. The Liberty’s original chandelier and plasterwork remains much as it was when the theater closed.
The Liberty Theatre’s restoration plan includes the preservation and replication of these unique features. The theater will also be outfitted with stage lights, sound and projection equipment to accommodate the needs of both film and live performances.