by Magdalen O’Reilly
Right in the middle of downtown Corvallis is a relic from the past. Old-timers have colorful stories and memories of their time there, but if you’ve lived in Corvallis for less than 10 years, odds are you have never been inside the Whiteside Theatre. Built in 1922 by brothers Samuel and George Whiteside, the building was a huge attraction for over 75 years. But age began to wear on the building, and after a major plumbing disaster, the entire building was closed to the public in 2002. It stood in limbo, and the town was unsure of the building’s future. After changing ownership several times, the building fell into the hands of a group calling themselves The Whiteside Foundation. Their idea is to raise money to restore the historic building. Whiteside Foundation member Lousie-Annette took us through the building, showing the progress they’ve made and telling us about their future plans for the Whiteside.
Regal Cinemas gave the Whiteside Foundation the building under the condition that they would not show first-run movies. Those terms were accepted, and the Foundation has spent years fundraising and performing repairs on the building. “When we first got the space, the bathrooms had no floors,” explains Burgess. Now the flooring has been replaced and is as close to the original flooring as possible. Safety inspectors had to be satisfied before the building could be opened to the public. But substantial renovations have been done, and the Foundation has revived it as a multipurpose venue. Shows and events are being held, and a portion of the proceeds helps to continue the restoration of the building.
The restoration has been broken into two acts. Act I: getting the building up to code, so that fundraising events could be held inside the building. Before that, they could only petition outside the doors. Act II involves generating enough funding to open the theatre to the public on a more permanent basis. Burgess likened their vision of the Whiteside to the Elsinor is Salem. The Elsinor functions as a venue for plays, ballets, concerts and films. Every Wednesday, the Elsinor shows classic films, having recently run Gone With the Wind, Psycho, and North by Northwest. Along with the other entertainment, the Foundation hopes to include classic films in their line up. “It would be great to be able to see classic movies in Corvallis instead of having to drive all the way to Salem.” said Burgess.
The Whiteside Foundation has been successful mostly due to memberships. Annual membership fees range from $25 for students and seniors, to a whopping $1000 annually to attain the title “Palace Guardian”. Members can attend private events and vote at Foundation meetings.
Currently, goals include fixing the fire escape, the marquee, and the vertical “Whiteside” sign, and repointing the facade of the building. Last year a brick fell from the wall, revealing the first sign of exterior decay. Repointing the facade involves removing the first layer of brick mortar and reapplying it. The outside, in theory, should look exactly the same afterward but will remedy any future issues with falling bricks. The repair is expensive: about $20,000. The Foundation has received a grant from the Kinsman Foundation that can provide half of the money. However, the Whiteside Foundation may only have access to this grant until summer. Louise-Annette explained with a sense of urgency, “It’s important because the IRS needs to see that people care about the project, so if anyone has been considering becoming a member, now is the time.” Upcoming events at the Whiteside include a concert by popular Portland band Floater on May 4th. So even if membership isn’t right for you, think about checking out some of the events at this historic Corvallis landmark.