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The war on theaters goes on, but the Lake battle is a victory

Some of the fondest memories echoing around in my 66-year-old brain are the ones that have to do with movies.Kelly

They were stirred just a bit this past week when I read the story in the Lake Oswego Review about the reopening of the Lake Theater on State Street.

Whew, I thought — another one dodges the bullet of progress. I’m still in mourning for other favorite theaters that went away and did not come back.

The Film Fair in downtown Beaverton (where I saw “Days of Heaven,” for pete’s sake) had some of the best seats in the metropolitan area — rivaled only by the huge, comfy chairs a few blocks away at the Westgate Theater, where I saw “Halloween.”

Movies are kind of a big deal to me.

Early on, it was my mom who tipped me off that there were some gems to be found in that great television wasteland after the 11 o’clock news. With some counseling from her, I discovered such old black and white goodies as “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “We’re No Angels” and an assortment of Tracy and Hepburn classics.

But that was nothing compared to the glorious experience of sitting in a dark theater watching a building-sized screen. For that, I have to credit my Grandma Kelly because she was the one who took my brothers and me to downtown Portland — to the Paramount, Fox, Broadway, Orpheum and the Music Box to see the latest movies.

After scrubbing us within an inch of our lives with a wash cloth that I swear could take the paint off of a ‘56 Plymouth and then dressing us up in our Sunday best, Grandma would herd the three of us down to the corner to catch the Fessenden bus for the trek downtown, always (much to our chagrin) introducing the bus driver to her grandsons who were visiting from out of town. Once on Broadway, we would take our pick of whatever shoot-em-up could produce a majority vote from the Kelly boys. I remember one sublime occasion when we emerged from the Paramount into the sunlight (already having devoured a newsreel, cartoon and a lengthy feature), gazed across the street at the giant, million-light marquis on the Fox, where John Wayne was starring in “Hatari” — and danged if we didn’t march over there and do it all over again.

No feeling in the world that could rival the joy I felt on a Friday night in the Waldport Theater, almost hidden on the far end of Old Town, as I looked at the phosphorescent clock dial just to the left of the movie screen. It’s just a little after 7, I’d observe, and the first part of the double feature is just beginning. After this there will be short subjects, previews of coming attractions, a Looney Toon (best cartoons ever!), an antiquated newsreel and THEN another full-length feature film. Be still, my heart.

And the next day would be Saturday, when I would huddle up with best friend Dennis Jones and relay to him everything I’d seen the night before — and by everything, I mean every minute of both movies, scene by scene.

It was at the Waldport Theater that I saw all the major Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals, enough westerns to put a normal kid in a coma and such classics as “Gone With The Wind,” “Moby Dick,” “The Great Escape” and “Judgment at Nuremberg.”

Finally, once I’d survived my childhood and escaped from the Oregon Coast, I took up with the girl who would eventually become The Other Person Who Lives At Our House (TOPWLAOH). She was, after all, from the same community.

On our first ventures out of town, we were drawn to Portland theaters. where we saw “Doctor Zhivago” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Later, we would sit through those good but bummer ‘60s flicks where the main character always died (“Bonnie and Clyde,” “Sand Pebbles,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “Joe,” “Easy Rider,” “Midnight Cowboy,” “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”, etc.

But in the years since, a lot of good old theaters have bit the dust.

Pretty much all the vintage classics on Broadway are gone. Oh sure, there’s the Paramount, which may have changed its name back to its original Portland Theater, but they don’t show movies there anymore.

Also gone is the Sellwood Theater, now (gulp) a Columbia sportswear outlet store.

The smaller cluster of theaters in the KOIN Tower was one of the best places to see the oddball little movies I grew to like in my older years. Of course, its place was taken by the Fox Tower and Broadway — both OK, but a little corporate for my taste.

Others survived only to serve other purposes. The Aladdin, once a porn palace, became an outstanding music venue.

No, the best places to watch movies, in my estimation, are still the older, neighborhood theaters: The Moreland, Cinema 21, Cinemagic, the Hollywood, the Laurelhurst and, yes, by God, the Lake.

Three decades ago, when I was working in the newsroom at the LO Review, the Lake went from a grand old neighborhood theater (much like the Moreland across the river) to becoming one of those small, modern multiplexes — the same fate that befell the Bagdad and others around town.

Now it rises once again from the ashes. It kicked off its new life in style, with the showing of the latest opus from Wes Anderson, “Grand Budapest Hotel.”

Welcome back, old friend. State Street seems normal again.

Former managing editor of several community newspapers, including the Lake Oswego Review, Woodburn Independent and the Times papers, Kelly is chief of the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.



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