Liberty Theatre hosts its 4th Annual Gala

Join us for our 4th Annual Liberty Theatre Gala at 6 p.m. November 12, 2016 at the Presbyterian Friendship Center, 1204 Spring Ave. in La Grande. The evening meal will be catered by Chef Merlyn Baker. As usual, we will have both a silent and oral auction as well a raffle. Entertainment will be provided by the Matt Cooper Jazz Trio, and plenty of new and exciting things are in store, including a Dessert Dash.

Tickets for the night are $60 each or 2 for $110 and include hosted wine. Tickets are available at John J. Howard & Associates, 1207 Adams Ave. in La Grande.

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Jeffrey Foucault comes to the Stage Door



Jeffrey Foucault is the type of songwriter-as-craftsman that will never go out of style —disdainful of trends and hype, and valuing the work of songwriting and performing above all. He radiates a timeless, unfakeable cool; tough, stoic, and magnetic. Foucault is the Midwestern workingman’s poet as played by Gary Cooper. He will be performing throughout the U.S. this fall.

The New York Times calls Jeffrey Foucault’s recent album, Salt As Wolves, “immaculately tailored” and the Boston Globe says it’s a “marvelous record.” NPR’s Morning Edition calls Foucault, “pure songwriter” and notices he “finds beauty in small towns and simple truths.” Salt As Wolves debuted at #1 on the iTunes Blues Charts and peaked at #4 on the Billboard Blues Charts and is currently in rotation on SiriusXM’s Bluesville, Outlaw Country, and The Loft channels.

“Salt As Wolves” is a line from Othello describing boldness; a fitting title to frame a record of blues played bold and loosely, without rehearsal or cant. With his fifth collection of original songs Foucault stakes out and enlarges the ground he’s beenworking diligently all the new century, quietly building a deep, resonant catalog of songs about love, memory, God, desire, wilderness and loss. Cut live to tape in just three days in rural Minnesota, Salt As Wolves moves like a vintage Chess record, with an openness and dimensionality that beckons the listener further in.

Foucault’s tour started September 7 in Decatur, GA and most dates pair him with former Morphine drummer and tour partner Billy Conway. The Luther Perkins to his Johnny Cash, Conway is a truly sympathetic collaborator to both frame and fire Foucault’s terse brand of minimalist Americana.

Join us at the Stage Door Theater on Sunday, October 2 as we welcome Foucault to La Grande. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and music starts at 7:30. Tickets ($20) are available online.

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Stage Door Theater springs back to life

The Liberty Theatre Foundation is pleased to announce two upcoming performances in its reconfigured Stage Door Theater.

Folk singer/songwriter Anna Tivel will celebrate her new album, “Heroes Waking Up,” with an intimate show at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, May 15. Local band Correspondence School will open for Tivel.

The show is free to attend, but seats are limited. Doors open at 7 p.m.

Later that week, the Liberty Theatre Foundation will present a radio drama, “What Probably Didn’t Happen to Columbus,” an original script written by Steve Hendrix, a member of the Liberty Theatre Foundation Board of Directors. In partnership with KLBM SuperTalk Radio, the drama will be broadcast over the air and in front of a live studio audience. The show starts at 7 p.m., but those in the audience should arrive no later than 6:45 p.m. to be seated. Tickets are $5 and available at Community Merchants, just next door to the theater in downtown La Grande. Those who aren’t in the live audience are encouraged to tune in to the show on 1450 AM.

Both performances will be held at the back of the theater, with entry from the alley door.

“With the help of some talented EOU theater students, our Stage Door Theater has returned to use as we continue working toward the overall restoration of the Liberty,” said Foundation Executive Director Kelly Ducote. “This little black box theater as it is currently configured seats about 30 people.”

Ducote looks forward to future opportunities for the space.

“We’re so happy to have a great night of music planned, and for that to be followed by a fun, old-fashioned radio drama,” she said. “It’s just a taste of what’s to come.”

Posted in Liberty Theatre

OTEC issues $8,400 rebate check

OTEC's Nancy Van Sickle, right, presents Liberty Foundation Board Co-Chair Dale Mammen and Executive Director Kelly Ducote with the rebate check.
OTEC's Nancy Van Sickle, right, presents Liberty Foundation Board Co-Chair Dale Mammen and Executive Director Kelly Ducote with the rebate check.

OTEC’s Nancy Van Sickle, right, presents Liberty Foundation Board Co-Chair Dale Mammen and Executive Director Kelly Ducote with the rebate check.

The Liberty Theatre Foundation is thrilled to have installed its replica blade sign in November 2015. Just this week, Oregon Trail Electric Consumers Cooperative came to visit the Liberty in order to issue an $8,400 rebate check for the Foundation’s use to energy efficient LED light bulbs in the sign:

Members of the Foundation board have been in communication with OTEC for this program long before our sign was installed. The sign itself is an exciting symbol to our community that the theater is coming to life. Built and installed by Carlson Signs, it is a replica of the blade signed that was adorned to the theater’s facade in the 1930s. Its 414 1.4 watt LED bulbs estimated to save approximately $2,871.00 annually when compared with a 25 watt incandescent bulb.

We are so grateful for our community partners, like OTEC, who help move our restoration effort forward.

Read the full release from OTEC here:

Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative delivers $8,400.00 rebate check to the Liberty Theatre Foundation.
Earlier this week, Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative visited La Grande’s historic Liberty Theatre and presented an $8,400.00 lighting rebate check to the Liberty Theatre Foundation.
“Approximately, three years ago, in on-going support of the Liberty Theatre Foundation’s efforts to restore our iconic Liberty sign, OTEC and the Foundation began working together to determine the scale of the project,” said Dale Mammen, president of the Liberty Theatre Foundation Board of Directors. “We worked closely with OTEC Energy Program Representative, Nancy Van Sickle, and we were hopeful the newly constructed sign would qualify under the energy efficiency program.”
“There are a few different categories that lighting projects can fall into under OTEC’s energy efficiency rebate program,” said Van Sickle. “Once we had determined the sign was going to be an exterior new construction, it was one of the simplest rebate calculations I’ve ever done. Now the sign is up, the lighting rebate check is delivered and it is just amazing!”
Carlson Sign of Bend was contracted to reconstruct the Liberty sign which had originally been affixed to the building in October 1930. Three days before Thanksgiving, the 20-foot sign was trucked from Bend to La Grande and installed into its historic location.
The sign boasts an American bald eagle at the top with a wing span of nine feet, as well as, 414 1.4 watt LED bulbs estimated to save the theatre approximately $2,871.00 annually when compared with a 25 watt incandescent bulb. The theatre will instantly have a 10 kilowatt (kW) demand reduction with an initial rate of return of 68.7%. Additionally, since LED bulbs are more efficient and will not need to be changed out as often as a traditional incandescent bulb, operations and maintenance savings are expected to be $395 annually.
“It is always a great thing when OTEC has the occasion to partner with our community and community members to work on lighting efficiency projects in our service territory,” said Lara Petitclerc-Stokes, OTEC’s Manager of Communications and Government Affairs. “Our rebate incentive program has allowed OTEC several opportunities, most notably within Union County, to provide rebates and simultaneously reduce electrical demand for capacity with partners like Boise Cascade, Grande Ronde Hospital and the Elgin Opera House. It is wonderful that through the work of OTEC’s energy efficiency team we are now able to include the Liberty Theatre into this program.”

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Kelly Ducote named Executive Director

Kelly Ducote has been named Executive Director of the Liberty Theatre Foundation, the nonprofit working to restore the historic downtown La Grande theater.

Ducote began work in her position Jan. 25. She holds a degree in journalism and political science from Louisiana Tech University and previously was the assistant editor at The Observer newspaper in La Grande.

“We are delighted to have Kelly as our Executive Director,” said Liberty Theatre Foundation Board Co-chair Michael Jaeger. “She brings a sophisticated skill set and excellent experience that will serve the Liberty Foundation well.”

Ducote’s focus will be on grants, gifts, and contracts as well as public relations.

“She will keep the board and volunteers on task so that we can meet our goals to open the theater,” Jaeger said.

Board member Brent Smith said Ducote is an intelligent and capable writer who understands the vision for the theater as “La Grande’s living room and the hub for arts performance in Eastern Oregon.”

Ducote said her first priority is to get the organization back up to speed as the nonprofit was without an executive director for several months.

“I look forward to the challenge ahead and to the day we can open the Liberty back up for our community,” Ducote said. “There is much work to be done, but I am confident that with the help of our community partners and generous grantors and donors this is a dream that will soon become reality.”

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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


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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

Posted in Liberty Theatre

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!

Posted in Liberty Theatre

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

Posted in Liberty Theatre

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”


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