By Addie MaguireThe golden age of showbiz comes alive when walking down the center aisle of the Whiteside Theatre. At one time there were vaudeville actors onstage in colorful costumes or a silent film starring Gilbert and Garbo onscreen. The theater, located on Madison Avenue and 4th Street, has been proudly putting names up in lights since 1922. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and gives historical walking tours monthly.
Louise-Annette Burgess, vice-chair of the Whiteside Board of Directors, explained how one ticket in the early days of the Whiteside would buy a full evening of entertainment including vaudeville, dancing, and a silent film accompanied by the impressive pipe organ. Talking films, or “talkies,” were added to the offerings in 1928.
Brothers George and Samuel Whiteside opened the theater in 1922. They were pioneers in bringing film to Corvallis, having already operated multiple theaters in the area, including the Majestic, and were fascinated with moving pictures. Charles Whiteside, a third brother, bought into the theater in the 1930s.
The Whitesides owned the theater for 63 years until 1985 when Vida Whiteside, Samuel’s wife, sold the theater to Tim Moyer Cinemas. Regal Cinemas then acquired the theater in 1998, playing movies there until 2002. The Friends of the Whiteside Theatre group received the title for the theater in 2008 from Regal, under the stipulation that it would be a non-profit organization.
The theater is architecturally designed in Italian Renaissance style, and the art deco light fixture hanging above the rows of seats is straight out of the Roaring Twenties. The sides of the auditorium have what Burgess calls “garden spaces.” These were used in the ‘20s to bring nature indoors. For example, they would be filled with wheat stalks in the fall or Christmas trees in December.
The building has already survived two fires, one in 1927 and one in 1936, both by “undetermined” causes, according to the fire department. The first fire, in October of 1927, began backstage and was first spotted by projectionist Frank McManus, then the longest tenured employee, from the projection booth. The flames ruined the interior of the theater causing it to close for a year. The cause of the 1936 fire also remains a mystery. It was located primarily in the auditorium, but the damage was considerably less than the first.
Of course it’s only natural for there to be a resident ghost in this historical theater. When asked about possible hauntings, Burgess just smiles and says to go on the Whiteside Ghost Tour on Halloween for the more disturbing details. This year will include a Ghost Hunt, complete with ghost-busting equipment.
The Whiteside Theatre is an important part of Corvallis’ past and is widely recognized as a historical gem. Here, some of the first moving films were played in Corvallis, and it’s where incredible talent has been showcased. Thanks to the hard work of history and theater enthusiasts, energy and drama are still present in this grand theater.