The Tower’s Transition from 1940 to 2004
by RENEE PATRICK Cascade A&E Editor
The Tower Theatre’s history is a rocky one. What started as a movie theatre in the growing mill town of 1940, fell into disrepair decades later, forcing the doors to close. New life was to come however, and through the efforts of a capitol campaign, millions were raise for the restoration of the iconic piece of Bend’s cultural history.
Movies, Movies, Movies
Movie fever came to the high desert in 1940 when the Tower Theatre was first completed. Built in only three months, the original construction included imported travertine marble from Italy, a women’s lounge on the mezzanine floor embellished with knotty pine and a seating capacity of 998. The Tower rose 78 feet above the street and cast a glow with its 1,200 feet of neon tubes of green and gold.
The popular movie Four Wives opened the doors to the first movie-goers and ushered in an era of first-run shows ranging from Disney cartoons to news, shorts and feature films. Primarily a cinema, the performing arts took to the stage from time to time and in 1948 the Theatre added a weekly amateur hour, fashion shows, variety shows and even a performance by the General Platoff Don Cossack chorus from Russia.
The Theatre couldn’t keep pace when multi-screen theatres came to the high desert, and when the owners, a large movie theatre chain, choose not to invest in any up-keep or renovation, the doors closed. A partnership came forward in 1994 and purchased the Theatre. Win and Laurel Francis, Michael and Pat Forman, and Bruce and Sandi Hinchliffe wanted to redevelop the space for retail and office use.
“We thought it would be better for commercial use,” Win Francis recalled, “other people thought it could be a performing arts theatre…ultimately it was the best use for the community, not necessarily financially!” The partnership quickly became invested in the idea of a public theatre when the idea was presented, and with the goal of gauging the demand for a theatre, gave the Regional Arts Council of Central Oregon a discounted lease to operate as a multi-purpose venue.
Thousands of people visited the Tower Theatre over the next two years despite continued disrepair and lack of heat. In 1995 the City of Bend purchased the building and agreed to hold the property until a private non-profit organization could purchase, restore and operate the Theatre, but once again deterioration forced the doors to close in 1996 until the changes could be made.
With the enthusiasm of the previous two years of programming, it was clear Bend wanted a theatre. Gary Capps, executive director of Bend’s Chamber of Commerce, banded a small group of volunteers together to work on a fundraising campaign, which grew into 30 dedicated residents, to begin the surmountable task of bringing new life to the Theatre.
In 1997 the City challenged the group to generate $300,000 in cash and in-kind pledges for support of renovation efforts, it was there the Tower Theatre Foundation was formed as a non-profit and successfully presented the City with $362,590 only a month later.
The Return of the Tower
Launched in 1999, Encore! The Return of the Tower Theatre capitol campaign was created in order to secure funds to purchase, renovate, endow and operate the Theatre. When it became clear that the renovation project was larger than just restoring utility to the building, the campaign goal became $4.2 million and by 2001 the building was purchased from the City of Bend.
Clella Thomas, who co-chaired the Encore campaign with Pamela Hulse Andrews, recalled, “I hoped that renovating the 1940’s Tower Theatre would not only preserve a bit of Bend’s past, but would provide Central Oregon with a badly needed, attractive, comfortable gathering place for cultural events, entertainment, meetings, lectures, films, educational activities, non-profit fundraisers, etc.”
“There were three goals,” Francis shared, “one, to create a community performing arts theatre that did everything; two, saving an icon, it was a part of Bend that needed to be taken care of and three, at that time downtown was hurting, Bend needed a nighttime venue.”
The renovation designs were headed by DKA Architecture and Design P.C. and also included Candela Theatre consultants and B.R.C. Acoustics of Seattle, Interface Engineering of Salem, W&H Pacific as well as Foundation board members including interior designers, event promoters and community leaders.
Construction began in 2002 by Kirby Nagelhout Construction and included the expansion of the interior space from 10,432 to 13,630 square feet, an expanded basement for an orchestra pit with a motorized sypra lift, new box seats, an expanded lobby area, high quality sound and lighting equipment, a video projection system and a full 35mm film projection system.
The Foundation wanted to restore much of the original design, while enhancing the art deco style. Interior Designer Charlene Dempsey selected the palate: terracotta, gold, yellow and purple on the interior and yellow, brown and burgundy on the outside. Local artist David Kinker was commissioned to paint murals in the restrooms and with his brushes created three-dimensional art deco murals.
The renovation was truly a community effort, and after the culmination of 10 years of work, the Tower Theatre opened the doors again on January 30, 2004. “Of all the projects I’ve had the blessing of being part of since moving here in the late 1970s, restoring the Tower Theater remains the one of which I am most proud,” said Tom DeWolf, co-chair of the Tower Theatre Encore Campaign. “The group of people that made it happen worked so hard for so many years. I’m forever blessed by being able to work with them to realize this dream.”
Tower Theatre Foundation Founding Members
Pamela Hulse Andrews
Bob Chandler, Jr.
Maralyn Thoma Dougherty
Marion “Squiggs” Palmateer
Marty (Smith) Brazil
The Tower Theatre Today
The Tower Theatre is celebrating the 10 years since the renovation of the iconic Bend building, but more influential than the new paint, carpet, stage and chairs of 2004 lies the achievement of their original mission: to provide a wide variety of programming for every demographic, support local organizations and develop a youth educational program.
“I am extremely pleased with how well the Tower has met my dreams and expectations in the first 10 years since its reopening!” commented original Foundation Board Member Clella Thomas. “It has enriched the lives of a broad mix of Central Oregonians and attracted tourists as well. There is nothing ‘elitist’ about the Tower. It is a very welcoming place for all…When the lights are on at the Tower, downtown Bend seems to come alive.”
“The building turned out terrific,” said Win Francis, an early owner of the Theatre, “It’s certainly been used a lot, that is wonderful. The idea of having a full range of use to benefit the community and bring people downtown has been a great anchor for downtown in the evening.”
There is no doubt that the Tower has acted as an anchor for downtown Bend; restaurants, shops and bars benefit greatly from the increased traffic Tower shows bring. It can be difficult to quantify how much the Tower Theatre has impacted Bend in the past 10 years, but using an economic impact calculator developed by Americans for the Arts reveals that just in the 2013-14 season the Theatre is poised to contribute over $2 million dollars to our economy.
As for paving the way for other local arts and cultural programming to thrive, Thomas shares, “The Tower has played a key role in the increased interest in and availability of cultural and performing arts activities in Bend. I have seen tremendous growth in our community’s support and demand for more arts and educational opportunities…The numerous performances the Tower has brought to Bend over the last 10 years has made us hungrier for more.”
The Tower Theatre has taken a leadership roll in the arts community in both the formation of the Arts & Culture Alliance, which strives to foster collaboration between Central Oregon’s arts organizations, and the formation of the new Bend Cultural Tourism Fund which will create a public fund dedicated to promoting arts and cultural programs in Bend.
To commemorate the successful community effort to renovate the Tower Theatre 10 years ago, Executive Director Ray Solley has lots of ideas brewing. “We want to draw attention to the fact that the building hasn’t always been like this. It was a decision by the City Council and by the stakeholders who said we are going to save the building and turn it into a performing arts center…We also want to share with people a lot of our milestones.”
Several notable accomplishments of the past 10 years include celebrating their 400,000th patron at the recent Spamalot production and hosting 1,734 events, of which 73 percent have been for non-profit use. During this time, revenues have increased nearly 10-fold, from $119,290 at June 30, 2004 to $1,134,782 at June 30, 2013.
Solley and the Foundation’s board of directors have also committed to providing a wide variety of programming in 2014 with hopes to mix and match a wide variety of people. “The guitar festival in January will feature professional guitar players from around the world,” Solley said. “They will be doing professional concerts and workshops at the schools and on the stage and different groups of students will be performing as opening acts for these performers.
“We are trying to underscore the fact that the Tower is an accessible venue for everybody in Central Oregon as well as a showcase for pretty much any kind of performer around the world…January 30 is the last night of our Bend Guitar Blast, and four guitarists from around the world will be capping off our festival on the Tower’s anniversary.”
Keep your ears open for further information about celebrations, there will be a birthday cake, a sing-a-long to Grease in March and Solley shared tentative plans of a New Year’s Eve bash that will propel the Tower into their next anniversary in 2015…75 years.
A Founders party is in the works for February which will celebrate all the people that were involved with the renovation: board members, renovation committees and community members.
“We would love to thank each and every person individually that has purchased a ticket to an event, and to thank our loyal and dedicated members, and of course honor those who have contributed money to keep our venue thriving,” said Foundation Board President Bob Singer. “Without all of those, we would never be able to accomplish our key mission, that of providing arts and entertainment to the youth of the Central Oregon.”
The Tower Theatre Embraces the Future
“The foundation’s goal is to operate the Theatre profitably to make a broadly inclusive schedule of performing arts, civic, educational and social events available to the Central Oregon community. Some of these enriching activities include classical music, popular music, education, theater, dance, film….It will foster the growth of local organizations through a scaled rental fee and gradually develop its own eclectic event programming to present nationally and regionally known artists and speakers appropriate for its size…The Tower Theatre also represents an exceptional opportunity to assume a leadership position in coordinating and developing educational programming for adults and youth… The Theatre will implement a youth educational program including performing arts training and curriculum enhancing performances in collaboration with local schools, museums and organizations.” –Tower Theatre Foundation goals at Reopening in 2004.
The original goals set out by the Tower Theatre Foundation have not only resonated throughout the 10 years of operation, but continue to lay a clear path for the Theatre’s future.
“I read [the above goals] to my board at the last meeting,” said Executive Director Ray Solley. “Before we opened, [the board] set these goals out, and you read this 10 or 11 years later, and you say, wow, we actually did it!
“This is exactly what we have been able to pull off in 10 years and it actually mentions where we want to go now, right in the mission statement, so it’s really [amazing] to be able to say in 10 years, the building, the board and the Foundation pulled off what the initial funders and visionaries saw for it.”
The one area Solley indicated the Theatre wants to focus on at the 10 year milestone lies in growing the educational programming and that both his staff and board have come upon that direction independently.
The Theatre has hired Rebecca Kirk in a new position, Community Outreach Coordinator. Kirk has her masters degree in arts education and is helping the Tower accomplish their educational goals. “I have done some research about the gaps in the community of Central Oregon in terms of arts education,” Kirk explained. “As a result…I have come up with big long-term goals which I would call ‘dreaming big’ ideas, but are totally realistic. Namely, this involves developing a comprehensive education and community outreach department.”
Some of Kirk’s big ideas include adult programming in the form of a lecture series and hands-on performing arts master classes, collaborations with Central Oregon Community College and Oregon State University (OSU), a summer conservatory in the performing arts for teens, a pre-professional internship program for college students to learn technical theatre and arts administration, regular backstage tours for school groups and adults and an in-depth year-long performing arts partnerships with specific classroom teachers to support them in learning and using arts integration techniques.
“We are very excited about the opportunity to align ourselves with the newly expanded OSU Campus,” said Tower Board President Bob Singer. “We would like to offer our theatre to the university in hopes that they would create a theatre and/or music program that utilizes the Tower for teaching and performing.”
Solley further broke his hopes for the future of the Tower into the following: develop an endowment, become strategic partners with other non-profits and partner with the new four-year university, OSU-Cascades. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful with the growth of the arts, that the Tower is one of the anchors of a downtown arts district? Wouldn’t it be wonderful for us to the be the leaders of bringing a performing arts center to town?
“We can’t expand the building, so we either have to expand our services in the building, collaborate with other people or do functions in other locations…The board is involved with some long term planning, including building a strategic plan for the first time. The Tower Theatre has come of age in the last few years, and has made huge strides and is recognized around the north west as a great facility and a great programming venue, and now we have opportunities in education and cultural tourism.”
Kirk summed it up well: “The Tower is uniquely poised, on the eve of its 10th anniversary as a non-profit organization to expand in a sustainable way that brings the most benefit back to the community. With an incredibly talented and dedicated staff, a catalyzing of the community through local sponsors, donors, board members, advisory committee and education initiatives, the Tower legacy is expanding from bravely surviving to thriving.”