The Palm Theatre (now the CineMagic) got into the movie game early. As of October, 1913 the Palm was boasting in the Portland Daily Journal that it offered 600 seats for its motion picture shows. This seems like an incredibly lofty claim after examining the Sanborn maps of the theater’s later incarnation, the Hawthorne Theatre in 1924, which shows the theater to be a small sliver of the block it takes residence on.
But what if it is not a false advertisement? I like to imagine those early days in the Palm: an incredibly stuffy room filled with big hats and ruffling tobacco smoke, with a noisy projector in the back and damn near 600 people packed in, sweltering from the body heat regardless of the temperature outside. That’s something else the Sanborn map indicates, a severe lack of conceivable ventilation as the bulk of the theater lays beyond a narrow hallway, crammed behind stores fronts and a corner drugstore.
The Palm (contrary to its name) was not an extravagant looking theater from the outside. It was very much a local neighborhood spot, that worked with churches and local youth. By 1914, an article in the Oregon Daily Journal was already calling the theater the Hawthorne, as it describes an exhibition from director Sam C. Jagger in which local neighborhood kids star in their own film that recounts “Coaster Auto Races” from the previous weekend. Can you imagine being a young newsie in Portland’s eastside at the time? One weekend you get to participate in this cool coaster race, and the next weekend you experience it all over again as you watch yourself on the silver screen being honored on the winner’s podium.
The Palm Theatre, in many ways, is a ghost. The exact date it opened is unclear, seeing as there is virtually nothing remaining from the early 1900’s to establish it ever existed. In fact, I would have been at a complete loss concerning this theater if I had not discovered it quickly changed names to the Hawthorne Theatre not long after it opened. How did I find this out? I cheated. I looked at the website “Cinema Treasures” and found it was progenitor to the Hawthorne and today’s CineMagic Theater. I am glad I didn’t rely on that website too heavily, however, because while it was right about the lineage, it got some dates wrong. For instance, the site claims the palm opened in 1914, and later changed its name to the Hawthorne in ’15. However, the earliest primary sources I could find on either incarnations told a different story. The Palm was opened, as I talked about in the beginning, as soon as fall 1913—potentially months earlier. And if the Palm became the Hawthorne in 1915, then why does the article from 1914 refer to the Theater as the Hawthorne? The obvious answer is because it had already changed, possibly as early as summer 1914.