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Historic Theatre Inspiration for La Grande

August 28, 2012

By Dale and Ginny Mammen

A gathering of several hundred passionate people can generate enough energy to bring up the lights in historic theatres across the nation. This is what happens when the League of Historic American Theatres (LHAT) meets for its annual conference. The gathering this year was hosted by San Diego Theatres at the Westgate Hotel in downtown San Diego, California. We were privileged to join these inspiring individuals who make miracles happen with the assistance of a 2012 Elisabeth Walton Potter Oregon Heritage Preservation Scholarship.

The Liberty Theatre in La Grande in 2009.

We have been involved with the restoration and preservation of the 1910 Liberty Theatre in La Grande, Oregon for nearly three years. Our time has been spent in securing the property, establishing a 501(c)(3), and working with various architects, grant writers, and financial advisors. It was time for us to join with others who had previously traveled this path and could offer us guidance and encouragement to see the project through to the end.

Concept rendering of the restored Liberty Theatre.

For three-and-a-half days programs were offered covering subjects from fundraising to ticket sales; reopening dark venues to digital cinema; and forensic paint analysis to the effect of an historic theatre in revitalizing a downtown. We took in as many sessions as possible and listened as new ideas were created and old ones were shared. During breaks and meals we visited with numerous creative people who were more than willing to network in all aspects of bringing new life to a dark theatre.

There were opportunities to talk with vendors who provide services and equipment necessary to make a theatre a vital community asset. For example, I talked with a seat manufacturer whose company had been in business for over a hundred years and learned that with a photo of our seats he could tell if their company had manufactured them. If so they would be able to provide reproductions for us.

We came home enthused, full of information, and with a list of new contacts anxious to share their experiences and knowledge. We are now so full of energy and useful information that it has been infectious in our community. Membership in a group such as LHAT or another one that meets the needs of your project is highly recommended.

The greatest outcome of this experience was our renewed conviction that preservation of the past is one of the best ways to enhance our future. Our town needs to be rejuvenated and saving the best of the past is a way to do it.

Dale Mammen is president of the Liberty Theatre Foundation, created to restore the 1910 Liberty Theatre as a performing arts center for northeastern Oregon. Ginny Mammen is active in the Liberty Theatre Foundation, Inc. and also in La Grande Main Street.

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