The Oregon Theater Project provides a historical sketch of movie theaters in Oregon from the beginning of cinema at the end of the 19th century through the "silent era" (1896-1930). The website aims to document the history of moviegoing in Oregon–why people went to the movies, where people watched them, and what people thought about them. Movie theaters were often a vital part of the social and economic life within communities, and movies were available in towns of all sizes throughout Oregon.
While there has been a recent increase in scholarship about moviegoing in small towns and rural areas, very little research exists about Oregon. However, there is abundant evidence of a robust film culture here from the earliest days of cinema in the 19th century, in Portland certainly, but in towns large and small from Astoria to Klamath Falls. These histories can be traced and recovered through newspapers, city and county directories, local historical society documents, and motion picture trade publications, many of which have been recently digitized to allow for this kind of historical research.
The Oregon Theater Project has several objectives:
- To build an online repository of original research related to the history of Oregon movie theaters and moviegoing around the state and over time.
- To present exhibition case studies of specific Oregon theaters and cinema venues using primary sources such as photographs, advertisements, newspaper clippings, reviews, and maps
- To deepen our understanding of moviegoing in Oregon and how the region fits into a broader context of moviegoing across time and geographic space.
The Oregon Theater Project originated as a project of a University of Oregon Cinema Studies course, CINE 335 Exhibition & Audiences, taught as a collaboration between Prof. Michael Aronson and librarian Elizabeth Peterson. Students in the course engage in original research using primary and secondary sources to document local film histories and to present their findings. The majority of the content on the website is the work of undergraduate students from this class, and as such is an ongoing work in progress. The website enables all residents of Oregon—and film scholars everywhere—to easily access this information.
The theaters profiled here offer a glimpse into the history of Oregon towns as well as the broader history of film exhibition and distribution. Each profile provides basic information about the theater or venue, including the name, address, dates of operation, owners and/or managers, the number of seats, programming, promotional strategies, and other relevant information. Profiles may be incomplete as contributors discover new information in the course of their research.
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