In our tours of old restored movie theaters, we have found two types of owners: those who are personally invested in the dream of restoration and are eager to tell the history of the theater and those who represent corporate ownership that is interested in an investment.
When we called Jeff Darling, the General Manager of the Cascade Theater in Redding, CA, and asked, "Could we take photographs of the theater's interior?", his answer, "Aaaaaab-sooo-lute-ly" convinced us that he was certainly in the former group.
Built in 1935, the Cascade's restoration was undertaken through an innovative partnership between Southern Oregon University and its public radio network, Jefferson Public Radio (JPR); the JPR Foundation, a private non-profit group organized to support JPR’s activities; and the Cascade Theatre Restoration Steering Committee.
Approaching the theater late one weekday morning, we saw the marquee announcing "a foodie film series combined with cooking demonstrations by local chefs and presentations of the evening's signature drink by expert mixologists."
The ticket office was not yet open, but this reproduction of the original booth would be the place to purchase tickets for performances of artists ranging from Bruce Hornsby and a revival tribute to Pink Floyd to the Moscow Circus and an innovative HD Cinema Series of The San Francisco Opera in the next six months.
We met Mr. Darling in his office just off the lobby of this art deco theater. He pointed out the Ladies of the Lamp mural that was most representative of the art deco style.
His enthusiasm was catching as he described the restoration work that spanned five years (1999-2004). The work required on the ceiling scrollwork, which had been painted over in one of the theater's earlier uses, was painstaking and slow. During this period, tours through the lobby included climbing scaffolding to get a closer look at the work.
Once the paint was removed, gold, silver, and copper foil could be applied to the surface.
When the theater opened in 1935, there were 1348 wooden seats. Today there are 1001 seats; Kate and Jeff occupy two of the seats during their conversation.
The aisle seats are reproductions of the originals.
The ceiling murals (left and below) were damaged by years of cigarette smoke and were covered by latex paint in 1970. Greek mythology themes were portrayed in this mural. Others showed stages of life.
The pastels were pale, and the images were especially difficult to reproduce in these photos.
Chandeliers were recreated based on original design drawings and replaced the fluorescent fixtures that had been around since 1970.
This beautiful ironwork on the railings of the stairs leading to the balcony could only be found in buildings of decades earlier.
The Cascade Theater restoration team conducted extensive interviews with operators of small town restored theatres. These operators identified some significant obstacles, but those who have been involved in theatre restoration projects unequivocally recommend this approach.
In Redding's case, as in the cases of other towns we have visited, restoring the Cascade Theatre has been identified as a central component of revitalizing Redding’s downtown.
Although we found very few people on the block's sidewalks when we left the theater, this was very unlike, we learned, the crowded sidewalks, restaurants, and bars before and after a performance at the Cascade.