(Photo courtesy of Vintage Roadside-- click image to enlarge.)
While poking around searching for some old photos on the Web a couple of nights ago, I came across a literal blast from the past. A Flickr photo page from Vintage Roadside Productions offered up this vivid photo of the downtown district of my hometown, Lakeview, Oregon, pop. 2,500. The photographer estimates that it was taken sometime in 1960, the year I was born, and a look at the automobiles parked on the street bears this out. That bank building, quite the totem of modern architecture for a cow town like where I was hatched and grew up, still stands, with only a minimal nod to technological progress—there’s an ATM kiosk at the front entrance now. The Indian Village Restaurant and Bar has a different colored paint job, but otherwise remains as you see it in the picture, and I’d wager the menu hasn’t changed much either. (Prices have gone up, of course, but no Lakeview resident would be much surprised to learn they’re still cutting steaks from 50-year-old cows.) I also love how the caption underneath the photo characterizes the scene as “a fairly quiet day in downtown Lakeview”-- as if there were much of any other sort of day on the Lakeview calendar, excepting the usually raucous Labor Day weekend, which annually plays host to the Lake County Round-Up and Fair.
But it was the end of the caption that really caught my eye: “Visible are the Indian Village Restaurant and the Marius Theater.” I have long searched for photos of this old movie palace with nary a ripple of success, and even this photo, with the Marius barely visible down at the end of the street, is only a partial treasure. But given that the Marius was the theater where I saw my very first movie, I’ll take it. I was only three years old, and my mom and Aunt Norene, having no idea what kind of rock they were about to push downhill, took me to the Marius to see the Abe Levitow-directed cartoon feature Gay Purr-ee (1962), written and animated by Chuck Jones and featuring the voices of Robert Goulet, Judy Garland, Red Buttons and Paul Frees. The movie bears an interesting resemblance to Disney’s The Aristocats, which would come along eight years later, and it is far from a classic. But it’s also no stretch to imagine a pre-school film buff getting his fuse lit by movies far duller than this. Though I cannot recall anything specific about it (I haven’t seen it in probably 35 years), I still get a strange frisson of vague memory whenever I catch the girls watching it on DVD.
As for the fate of the Marius, it was razed around 1965 to make way for a USDA Forest Service administration building, and therefore I have absolutely no memory of the exterior or interior of the theater. Seeing this picture was my first real vision of what the big movie palace at the corner of 1st and “D” Streets in downtown Lakeview looked like. The owner of the Marius, who also owned the town’s other walk-in and the drive-in, had his office in that building, which was officially called the Marius Building, and there were a couple of times when his son and some other friends and I went exploring the basement and foundation areas. We were surprised to find the main stage construct still intact, and we even discovered some old remnants of the theater box office—a façade and some cash register and ticket-dispensing constructs. It was a fascinating adventure, spelunking around the ruins of an old movie theater that existed only as an inaccessible memory, an important place for all of us that we had no recollection of actually seeing with our own eyes.
The picture provides a tantalizing hint of the theater’s place of majesty in the middle of town, and it has really piqued my interest in getting a closer, better view. I can only hope that someday soon someone with an old collection of photos of the town might discover some pictures of the Marius that might provide a new perspective on an old ghost, and that those pictures might find their way to a scanner and an open Web address.
Here’s a look at some other old single-screen theaters that are still in operation in Oregon and Washington. (Take a peek at the website for the Egyptian Theater in Coos Bay, Oregon, and get your heart warmed over a small town who knows the treasure they have on their hands and are quite active in its preservation.) And of course, Cinema Treasures will lead you to pictures of old and new movie houses from wherever you may be.
Question: What was the first movie you can remember seeing, and where did you see it?
(By the way, if this query piques your anticipation for another SLIFR quiz, fret not—there’s a new one just around the corner. It’s been a while, but the professorial staff has regrouped and is ready for another school year. Stand by!)
(Photo of the Royal Theater courtesy of Iwantmyownname-- click the image above to enlarge.)