Known Years of Operation

Oct 5, 1926 - Jan 1, 1990

Number of Seats



Frank D. Bligh

Bligh's Capitol Theatre opened in Salem, Oregon in 1926 and remained open through the early 1990s. It became one of the best silent movie and vaudeville theaters in Salem. It was located at 542 State Street and owned by Frank D. Bligh. Mr. Bligh, who was from Canada, later moved to Oregon with his father in 1910.

Frank Bligh’s father, T. G. Bligh, was also a businessman who had been an owner of multiple theaters and hotels, including the Bligh theater prior to his death. “Thomas Gregor Bligh came to Salem from Vancouver, BC, in 1910, practically penniless. At the time of his death, he was making ready to open the new Salem Hotel at High and Ferry as well as making plans for a large opera house, theater, and business block on the site of the old Salem hotel at High and State” (1). 

When T.G. Bligh passed away in 1924, Frank Bligh purchased the building and opened the theater with the new name. Bligh's Capitol Theatre opened to the public on October 5, 1926. Approximately 10,000 people came to the opening to tour the new theater. Guests were not charged an entrance fee for opening night (3).

The theater was decorated using a mix of orange and green colors, with terra cotta architecture and Florentine-style interior. The dome-shaped, stained-glass marquee was one of the theater's most beautiful features, as it was a miniature version of the state Capitol dome. 


Capitol Theater, 1928 Bligh's Capitol Theater, 1928. Courtesy Marion County Historical Society.
Bligh's Capitol Theater, 1928. Courtesy of Marion County Historical Society.

Other features included two glass rooms. One room was a smoking room, and another was called the crying room. These separate rooms allowed guests to continue to watch shows while either smoking or caring for their children. The theater also had its own organ. "The $25,000 Wurlitzer organ was built with its own elevator, allowing it to be raised and lowered from view of the audience" (7). 

Bligh's Capitol Theatre hosted a variety of entertainment options, including vaudeville shows, silent movies, live plays, and talking movies. In the 1940s, Warner Brothers operated the theater. By the 1950s, the theater primarily only showed second-run movies. The theater used several different ways to promote activities, including newspaper advertisements, charity events, and contests that included large prizes such as trips to Hollywood (6). 

Program at Bligh's Capitol Theatre, 1926
Daily Capitol Journal, Nov, 13, 1926, p. 11.
Capitol Theatre Contest Entry Form
Daily Capitol Journal, Nov. 13, 1926, p. 11.

The theater used a variety of promotional strategies, but the main one was the use of contests and prizes. By using contests the theater was able to interact with the community. One ad for a Hollywood screen test is above.

According to the Sanborn Fire Map, some of the other companies surrounding the Capitol Theatre included Montgomery Ward & Co, Pacific Fruit & Produce Co., Industrial Supplies, Elsinore Theatre, and several parking structures (4).

There was a fire in the theater in 1935 which caused severe damage. In 1990 when the theater closed, the last two movies shown were “Total Recall” and “Back to the Future III.” The Capitol Theatre was ultimately torn down in April 2000 because of too much structure decay. The site is now a parking lot.

Works Cited

    1. “Auto Smashup Fatal to Two.” The Oregon Statesman, 4 Nov. 1924, p.1.
    2. “Bligh Visits Theaters.” The Oregon Statesman, 17 May 1925, p. 13.
    3. “Capitol Opens Tonight.” The Oregon Statesman, 5 Oct. 1926, p.9.
    4. Capitol Theatre. 542 State Street, Salem, OR. Digital Sanborn Maps.
    5. Capitol Theatre. “Peace and Charity.” The Oregon Statesman [Salem], 19 May 1927, p.12.
    6. “Contest Winner Gets Movie Trip.” The Oregon Statesman, 11 Nov. 1926, p.3.
    7. Evans, Russ. “Capitol Theatre, Salem Oregon.” Puget Sound Theatre Organ Society, 2004,
    8. Hillman Fuel Company. “We Congratulate Mr. F.D. Bligh.” The Oregon Statesman [Salem], Oct. 1926, p.10.
    9. Rondema, Jessica. “Capitol Theater (Salem).” The Oregon Encyclopedia, Sept. 2019,
    10. Salem Boys Chorus. “Salem Boys Chorus.” The Oregon Statesman [Salem], 28 Feb. 1928, p.10.