Opening in 1913, by manager and owner C.E. Oliphant, the Alta Theater quickly became an exhibition juggernaut in Pendleton by actively seeking out quality performances for the theater and implementing high efficient promotional techniques. Competition was prolific seeing that many well established theaters had already inhabited the Pendleton area such as The Cosy, Pastime, Oregon, and the Grand. However, Mr. Oliphant was no rookie in the exhibition world. He had previously owned a theater and was well equipped with the knowledge of how to run and promote a business, an established network of connections throughout the industry, and a wife who was an entertainer and performed at the theater.
Upon opening, the Alta hit the ground running throughout 1913 by actively finding quality performers and acts bringing attention rapidly to the theater in its preliminary stages. With so many quality acts so early, the theater achieved a reputation of “high class” very early and earn a level of prestige that could almost be seen as haughty.
In fact, one of the first and most efficient moves by the management was signing with General Film Co.’s “exclusive services” (1). This enabled the theater to receive the company’s top of the line films before other exhibitors. One of the pioneer theaters, the Pastime, actually responded with an article in the East Oregonian trying to denote the level of prestige that this title gave by giving a more banal description of what the program entails (2).
Complementing the excellent acts, Mr. Oliphant promoted the theater relentlessly throughout the first couple of years. Within the first couple of months of business, Oliphant had the city place one of its two new public water fountains in front of the Alta, a subtle technique that seemed to work (4). Oliphant made sure that the theater was well known for its quality performances, but he also utilized the venue with several events that were city wide and open to the public, showing the quality of the theater. Memorials, club benefits, and other events were used to show and tell the theater letting everyone know that they were efficient and well equipped to entertain anyone (5).
Everything stated was done in 1913, its opening year! The outstanding management by Mr. Oliphant did not go unnoticed. Late in 1913, a convention for motion picture exhibitors of Oregon was called in Portland and the top managers from theaters throughout the state which Mr. Oliphant was promptly invited to as the Pendleton representative (6). The following year, the Alta progressed just as efficiently if not more efficiently. To further the quality of the theater, Oliphant purchased a $3500 Fotoplayer, which is essentially a hybrid of several instruments including a piano, organ and a few others (7). It required a musician with great talent to be used effectively properly, which only attracted more patrons to the theater. Along with this, the theater started to portray a new approach to advertising: sex appeal. Newspapers began to regard the quality of the female performers the Alta had to show and how they were a more sophisticated type of beauty that dressed modestly and had a type of class not normally found in performing women (8). In March 1914, Oliphant collaborated with some of the local clothing shops and had a “style show” with the latest fashion and “pretty girls” to show them off (9). This was a strategic move seeing as some of the main competitors in the Pendleton areas, such as the Orpheum and the Pastime, had reputations of securing “clean” content for their viewers. The Alta was able to give their viewers what its competitors could not, in a relatively dignified and classy manor both upholding its reputation and rendering itself a sort of edgy and ambitious institution.
One of the last moves that really put the Alta on top, was in May of 1914 when the managers of Alta signed a contract with Pathe to receive weekly motion pictures of current events (10). By doing this, it allowed the Alta to have fresh stories weekly keeping their frequent viewers informed with the most recent events as well as highly entertained. By this time the Alta had become a seemingly unstoppable force in the exhibition industry of Pendleton in a mere span of two years, and continued to be one of the most dominant theaters in Pendleton for many years.