Known Years of Operation

Mar 16, 1915 - Sep 19, 1920

Number of Seats



R. S. Phillips

The Gay Theater Came into operation around the end of the Nickelodeon era. Most advertisements for the theater did not start appearing until the year of 1915. Before then, the theater had no announcement for a grand opening or start of operation. With the minimal amount of information on the theater in existence it suggests the theater was not in operation very long or was simply beat out in competition. Given that the Gay Theater was in operation during a period of time when there was more than 20 theaters in the city of Portland at the time the theater had its share of competition. In order for it to have stay in operation and be successful for a long standing period of time it would have needed to have some incentive for movie goers to visit its establishment.

However, most articles that mentioned the Gay Theater were for popular movies being premiered that year. Newspapers would put out a list of theaters and the locations for locals to know where the film was being shown. Since most theaters were showing the same film the choice of what theater to visit must have been based on other factors such as atmosphere and convenience. If the Gay Theater lacked the elegance of a theater palace or was too pricey in comparison to theaters nearby, it would most likely lose out to its competitors.

Sunday Oregonian, advertisement for The Iron Claw
"The Iron Claw" advertisement for the Sunday Oregonian in 1916


Fortunately, as mentioned before the Gay Theater was able to maintain its footing by participating in mass showings of popular films being released at the time. Films like The Exploits of Elaine1 and The Iron Claw2 are examples of films that were heavily advertised in multiple newspapers throughout a several month span creating a significant awareness of the films.

List of theaters showing the Exploits of Elaine
List of theaters showcasing the "Exploits of Elaine"

The Gay Theater most likely kept afloat because it was owned by R. S. Phillips. Phillips came to Portland around 19113. He was originally from Vancouver, B.C., which was often how he was referred and referenced in newspapers. He was mentioned in an article about street pavements in Portland but did not reference how or why he had extensive knowledge on the matter. He must have been some what of a figure in Portland because he was invited to private picture-plays4 and the newspaper would make announcements about when he and his wife were going on vacation5.

Mention of Phillips and the Gay Theater seem to stop after the year 1920 with no real reason as to why. For this reason it is unclear when and why the Gay Theater closed down. With the lack of information about the theater trying to diversify or appeal to the movie going experience. It could've simply just stopped having business, however, this is unclear given the know facts about the establishment.

Works Cited

  • 1Morning Oregonian. "Elaine—the Brilliant." March 10, 1915.

  • 2The Sunday Oregonian. "A New Motion Picture Serial." March 26,1916.

  • 3Forest Grove Press. "New Pavement is Cheap and Durable." October 26, 1911.

  • 4The Sunday Oregonian. Page 2 Section 4. September 19, 1920. 

  • 5Oregon Daily Journal. "Principally About People." January 7, 1914.