Liberty’s lighted sign brings new attention to historic theatre in La Grande
By Ginny Mammen
At 4:30 p.m. Dec. 31, a new bright light shown down the main street of La Grande. This symbolized both an ending and beginning of a project undertaken by the Liberty Theatre Foundation to bring back to life a theatre that began as a vaudeville house in 1911.
The building housed a theatre from November 1911 until May 1959 under the names of Orpheum, Arcade and Liberty. The theatre went dark in 1959 and was converted into retail space. In 2010, a group of dedicated citizens came together to restore the theater and the Liberty Theatre Foundation was born.
Five years of planning, façade work, more planning, demolition of the retail inserts, and still more planning finally led to the creation of a sign that would tell those who saw it that someday the Liberty Theatre would again be a vibrant part of not only La Grande’s downtown but all of Eastern Oregon.
With the generous support of State Historic Preservation Office and Oregon Trail Electric Co-op grants, Carlson Sign of Bend was contracted to reconstruct the Liberty sign which had been affixed to the building in October 1930. Everyone involved had to be extremely creative as there were no detailed descriptions of the sign and no color pictures—only black and white. Some carpet scraps in the balcony gave a hint of the burgundy shade that was used inside the theatre in the 1930s to help decide the color which was finally chosen for the sign.
Three days before Thanksgiving, the sign was trucked from Bend to La Grande and during that week, including Thanksgiving eve, four patient proficient employees worked diligently to prepare the building and gently lift the 20-foot sign into place. Topping this was a four-foot detailed eagle with a wingspan of nine feet. Even without the lights being lit it was a beautiful work of art.
With the lighting of the 418 LED light bulbs on Dec. 31 the sign became a symbol of something wonderful to come.
Ginny Mammen is a supporter of the Liberty Theatre Foundation.