The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

The Craterian Theater

    The Medford Theater Company, which will build a new theater on North [sic] Central Avenue opposite the Ulrich grocery, filed articles of incorporation last week with the secretary of state at Salem under that name and for a capital stock of $50,000, with J. H. Cooley, Porter J. Neff and Chas. R. Cooley as incorporators.
"Local and Personal," Medford Mail Tribune, February 4, 1924, page 2

New One for Medford, Ore.
(Special to THE FILM DAILY)

    Medford, Ore. — George Hunt is replacing his Page theater, destroyed by fire a few weeks ago, with a $200,000 modern fireproof building to seat 1,200, and will be ready in September.
The Film Daily, June 19, 1924, page 5

New Wurlitzer for Craterian Theater

    The mammoth Wurlitzer for Hunt's new Craterian Theater has arrived and was unloaded last Thursday. Six large trucks were required to haul it, and the theater management held a sort of a parade hauling it down Main Street and around the city for a few minutes before unloading.
    The console is on display at the Rialto and is causing a great deal of comment. It is the largest theater organ in the state with the exception of the Liberty organ in Portland.
    The console is made with three manuals and has so many tablets, stops, etc. that it looks like the operator would have to be a magician to play it. It is made of solid mahogany and is beautiful. If this is a sample of the equipment the Hunt company is installing in the new theater, it certainly is going to be one of the greatest show places in the state.
Medford Mail Tribune, September 8, 1924, page 5

    So successful was the big New Year's Eve frolic at the Craterian Theater last night that manager Hunt will make it an annual event hereafter, and a more elaborate one. Friday night's joyous affair was in the nature of an experiment which worked out so successfully that the experience gained then make improvements to the general hurrah program hereafter.
    It was a large crowd that assembled at the theater, and they had a great time in speeding out the old year and welcoming in the new one. All became young again.
    Hundreds of good-natured jostling people were assembled about the theater entrance at 10:30 p.m. waiting to get inside to enjoy the fun that was to begin at 11 p.m. The doors were opened at 10:45, and in 15 minutes the theater was filled up with a happy and noisy bunch of celebrants.
    As each person passed into the lobby he or she was supplied with fancy paper headgear, bells, horns or some other noisemaking instrument, and confetti. As the large audience pranced to their seats and got settled, there began a jolly racket of all kinds of noises from the instruments and throwing of confetti, and many persons shouting in loudly exuberance of good feeling.
    Much of this racket was kept up all during the vaudeville program, only quieting down somewhat during several of the speaking acts. It was probably the first time in Medford that a feature moving picture was witnessed to the accompaniment of all kinds of noise, including the orchestra playing jazzy stuffy and such inspiring tunes as "There Will Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight."
    The program lasted over two hours, during which the audience, accompanied by the orchestra, sang "Bye, Bye Blackbird."
    The new year was ushered in a minute or so before midnight from the stage in an artistic and novel manner when little four-year-old Eloise Giblett, in fairy garb, burst out from the face of a big paper clock on the stage, amid loud shouts of greeting from the audience, and did a Charleston dance.
    Among the vaudeville acts were stunt and fancy roping by Pee Wee Le Beau; Marsh & Mack, female impersonators and singers; the Isabelle Mille company in a sketch; an act known as the Western Breeze; the Three La Mours in an athletic diversity and an afterpiece in which all the performers took part.
Medford Mail Tribune, January 2, 1927, page 3

    The moving picture theaters were open as usual last night, only that all persons under sixteen years of age are forbidden to attend them, and all other public assemblages, as well as forbidden to be on the streets, by the special emergency infantile paralysis ordinance passed by the city council yesterday noon.
    There seems to have been a misunderstanding by a large part of the public, despite that the facts were plainly published in yesterday afternoon's Mail Tribune, for the theater patronage last night was greatly curtailed to what it had been. At 8 o'clock the audiences at the Craterian and Rialto theaters only numbered about 50 persons at each. Later on this attendance was increased, but was very much less than the usual Thursday night attendance.
    It seems that many people only read a part of the emergency quarantine story, or just glimpsed [sic] it over, for quite a number of passersby during the evening stopped in front of the entrance of each theater and asked the ticket cashier how long the theater would be closed. They expressed joyful surprise when told that the theaters were open as usual and had not been closed at all.
Medford Mail Tribune, September 30, 1927, page 5

    A record-breaking crowd of 1200 children took advantage of the generosity of George A. Hunt this forenoon by attending the annual Christmas matinee at the Craterian Theatre, where children commenced to gather an hour before the show commenced at 10:15. Included in the huge crowd were numerous out-of-town children, who had journeyed to the city especially to see their favorite, Harold Lloyd, in "For Heaven's Sake," one of the popular comedian's comedy successes.
    Carmen Evans, doorkeeper at the theatre, showed effects of the rush by dusty pants cuffs where seemingly hundreds of shoes had scuffed against them as their young owners hurried to gain seats inside the theatre. He seemed a bit tired, but in his eyes shone a light that it had made him happy to see the happiness of the many youngsters who had rushed by to see the show.
    Two boys were in such a hurry that not even the door stopped them, as one pushed the other through the glass of an entrance door. Outside of breaking the glass, no other damage was done.
Medford Mail Tribune, December 24, 1927, page 3

Vitaphone to Open May 24th Hunt's Craterian
    The crew of engineers and installation men from the electrical research offices in New York are rapidly working on the Vitaphone installation at Hunt's Craterian Theater this week, and all will be in readiness to present this much-waited-for attraction to Medford people on Thursday, May 24th.
    George Stringfellow, who is here in charge of the installation, assures Mr. Hunt that everything will be in tip-top shape and that he is also getting the most complete and perfect installation that has been been opened on the coast.
    The opening attraction with the Vitaphone will be "The Jazz Singer," starring Al Jolson, which will run for one week starting Thursday, May 24th.
Medford Mail Tribune, May 17, 1928, page 8

Al Jolson First on the Vitaphone
    The presentation of Vitaphone and Movietone to the patrons of Hunt's Craterian Theater marks one of the greatest achievements in the history of motion pictures in Medford, and the greatest event in the history of the theater.
    The Vitaphone brings to our city a new era of entertainment as startling and amazing as was the first motion picture witnessed some 20-odd years ago. Few people realize until they have seen and heard this marvel of the age just what they have in store for them. You are going to enjoy seeing and hearing the world's greatest artists, see them act, hear them speak, sing and play.
    The first on the Vitaphone program at this theater will be Al Jolson in "The Jazz Singer," a picture that follows quite closely the life of this world-famous comedian. Ordinarily when one thinks of Jolson they think of a happy blackface comedian who knows nothing but fun, but not until after you have seen and heard him in this great production--heard those mammy songs as he pleads them from his very soul--you don't know the Al Jolson whose songs you have enjoyed both on stage and on records.
Medford Mail Tribune, May 18, 1928, page 5

    An event of outstanding importance, theatrically, cinematographically and scientifically, is the installation in Medford of VITAPHONE, that created a veritable sensation when it was introduced in New York last August. The Vitaphone opens here on Thursday, May 24, at Hunt's Craterian Theater, with Al Jolson in "The Jazz Singer."
    Vitaphone is an invention of the Western Electric Company and the Bell Telephone laboratories. Said to be the greatest development in the movies since the perfection of the movies themselves, Vitaphone synchronizes voice and sound with motion, an effect engineers have been working for ever since the successful animation of pictures. The two large industrial companies achieved the goal and are giving to the public the result of their joint efforts.
    Vitaphone presents a long list of artists, vocal, instrumental and actorial, including Anna Case, Mischa Elman, Giovanni Martinelli, Al Jolson and Elsie Janis, five of the most celebrated artists in the country. In addition, as if to prove the range and versatility of the instrument, Will H. Hays, head of the movie men, delivers an address, and the Philharmonic Orchestra, under the leadership of Henry Hadley, one of the greatest musical organizations in the world, are seen and heard as if they took their turns on the program in the flesh.
Medford News, May 20, 1928, page 8

Al Jolson Vitaphone, Tomorrow
    The coming presentation of Al Jolson in "The Jazz Singer," at Hunt's Craterian tomorrow, is being awaited with considerable pleasure. It is in this picture, adapted from the celebrated play, that the blackface comedian makes his debut on the screen and is also the introduction of the Vitaphone to Southern Oregon people.
    The story it tells is not only full of appeal, but strikes a sympathetic chord that is not to be denied. Further than this, it is the first motion picture in which the Vitaphone is used in all of the musical sequences. Heretofore this marvelous instrument has merely supplied the musical accompaniments to pictures, but in "The Jazz Singer" it is used in several of the sequences with tremendous effect. Through it Jolson is seen and heard singing six melodies, some of them old favorites and others songs that promise to have lasting popularity. One of the songs, composed especially for the picture, is entitled "Mother, I Still Have You," and it is one of the comedian's greatest hits. In these Vitaphone numbers, Jolson's screen shadow has been as loudly applauded as the singer ever was in real life. "The Jazz Singer" is spoken of as the supreme triumph on the screen, and such it proves to be. There is a great cast surrounding Jolson in the picture, prominent among its members being the dainty May McAvoy, Warner Oland and the world's greatest cantor--Josef Rosenblatt.
Medford Mail Tribune, May 23, 1928, page 6

Medford News, May 24, 1928

    No greater tribute could be given Vitaphone, or talking movies, than that it is so perfectly natural that an audience, hearing it for the first time, is not conscious of any novelty.
    In the first performance of Al Jolson in "The Jazz Singer" at Hunt's Craterian yesterday afternoon, one went away with the impression that he had witnessed a superb spectacle.
    There was something of a start at the opening of the film when Will Hays, motion picture industry czar, appeared on the screen and spoke aloud. When the feature picture started, the vocal portion of the bill was so harmonized with the film itself that nothing seemed unusual or out of place.
    The usual subtitles flashed on the screen carried on most of the work of developing the picture. Only when Al Jolson sang, or when there was other singing, did the picture speak. One scene where the star spoke with his mother was made audible.
    The only thing uncanny was to hear a wonderful musical accompaniment, and notice that Betty Brown, organist at the Craterian, was not at her instrument. Vitaphone carried the musical score as well as the featured vocal selections.
    There can be little doubt but that George Hunt has performed a real service for this section of Oregon by making this type of entertainment possible.
Medford News, May 25, 1928, page 2

    The case of the dead coming suddenly to life could not have thrilled the large audience gathered at Hunt's Craterian Theater more last night than the first words which Al Jolson, the "Jazz Singer," pronounced verbally from his position on the shadowy and heretofore silent screen.
    Although warned through the newspapers and advance publicity the nature of the Vitaphone, the audience was obviously enraptured when it actually heard the first sound of a human voice in the show, and there was considerable craning of necks among the spectator-auditors as they endeavored to make sure they were not being tricked by some "real" actors planted somewhere on the stage.
    The show opened with an overture by the New York Symphony Orchestra, which came over the Vitaphone with impressive effect. This, with the introductory speech, elaborately accompanied by gestures, delivered by Will Hays, who has been partially instrumental in the development of the Vitaphone, together with the opening curtain, made the show surprisingly realistic and at once created an atmosphere necessary for its perfect enjoyment.
    The most commendable features of the new Vitaphone invention are the naturalness and trueness of tone, and the perfect synchronization of voice with action.
    "The Jazz Singer" was particularly effective in that the only words spoken were when the principal character was being featured.
    The ragtime-souled boy runs away from home, and no word is spoken in the following sad scenes in the home until his return years later, a well-known jazz singer. When the silence in the old house is broken then, by the first words sung by the singer to his mother, the effect is startling.
    "The Jazz Singer" opened yesterday at Hunt's Craterian Theater for a six-day engagement, playing four performances a day. George Hunt, who gave Medford theatergoers the earliest possible benefits of this new invention, is to be commended for his true civic spirit and congratulated for the success of the local installation of the Movietone and Vitaphone at an expense of $20,000.
    Only the Vitaphone is used in "The Jazz Singer."

Medford Mail Tribune, May 25, 1928, page 4

    The audiences at Hunt's Craterian Theater the past few days were agreeably surprised when a new electrically lighted advertising drop curtain appeared on the stage between features of the film program, without any previous announcement.
    This curtain portrays a scene in Medford's business section in 1950, and while it may be somewhat exaggerated, [it] showed well-lighted, big, tall business buildings, almost skyscrapers, and many of them and other great coming improvements, prophetic of the city's future.
    Of course, here and there are scattered over the curtain electric signs on the buildings, advertising many of the city's business concerns. While these smaller signs are independent of the general illumination of the curtain, whose illumination changes colors several times while being perused, the whole makes a brilliant stage sight in the darkened theater.
    President George Hunt, in an interview, pronounced the curtain as a very artistic and quite scrumptious work of the painters' and electricians' futuristic, allegorical art, while manager S. G. Mendenhall, after looking in an old dictionary and emerging therefrom, designated the sign as a prodigious, impressionistic gem of the paragorical cubistic period.

Medford Mail Tribune, September 3, 1929, page 3

    The Fox Craterian has come in for its share of the general improvement of Fox houses in Medford. A new, magniscopic, fireproof screen has been installed to accommodate the large-size moving pictures, and today new lenses are being installed on the projection machines so that all future Craterian pictures will be shown on the increased-size basis.
    An attractive title curtain is also being installed at the Fox Craterian, the auditorium and foyer are being brightened up with new drapes, and the front has been entirely redecorated. Acoustical drapes will improve the sound in the Fox Craterian materially.
    The Craterian's staff of entertainers, including Leah Holt, organist, "Chuck" Bier, crooning tenor, and Earle Davis, master of ceremonies, will continue to figure prominently in programs presented by this theatre. Attractive stage settings, originated by Lee Ryan, will also continue to be a feature of Fox Craterian programs.

"Holt Announces Improvement in Local Theaters," Medford Mail Tribune, August 19, 1931, page 8

    George Hunt has bookings for the Craterian and Rialto theatres that are "the pick of the leading producers" and all are first-run pictures.
    "Owing to the fact that it is impossible to present the best pictures at the former prices without loss," said Mr. Hunt, "it becomes necessary to increase the prices to 15 cents for matinees and 25 cents evenings at the Rialto and 25 cents for matinees and 35 cents evenings at the Craterian."
    These prices are in keeping with the average in other cities, and the people will support Mr. Hunt in this small increase, appreciating the fact that the theatres are again home owned and the service formerly rendered the public by Mr. Hunt.
The Tattler, Medford, June 16, 1933, page 2

Medford Mail Tribune, August 4, 1935

    City police were confronted today with this question:
    Are there actual Hitler sympathizers in Medford, or was the exterior Craterian Theater exhibit wrecked during the night by ordinary vandals, anti-war cranks or practical jokers of the campus cut-up variety?
    At any rate, the police were investigating the act of vandalism in which simulated sandbags were ripped open, panels of photographs were torn out, a large searchlight from an American destroyer was knocked over. Complaint was filed with the police by Eino Hemmila, general manager of the Hunt theaters.
    The exhibit, in front of the theater, advertised "The Ramparts We Watch," the March of Time picture that opened a four-day run at the Craterian Theater yesterday. The photographs which were torn from their panels were from the motion picture "Baptism of Fire," the German film of the invasion of Poland which forms an integral part of "The Ramparts We Watch" and against the showing of which in this country Hitler was said to have filed a protest. "Baptism of Fire," it has been explained, was obtained for showing in this country after it had been seized by the British.
    The vandalism was discovered this morning. Apparently no clues were left.
Medford Mail Tribune, December 5, 1940, page 4

    Wednesday also brought a letter from Jack Matlack, exploiteer for George Hunt's four Medford theatres. Jack outlined Medford's opening drive on the war bond and stamp campaign. They mounted the Treasury Department's stock 24-sheet on a large semi-truck and drove it over the vicinity for three days prior to opening the drive. They captioned the stand: "Buy Stamps, Pledge Bonds . . . at your Medford theatres." The drive was climaxed on Sunday with the appearance of Johnny Sheffield and his military escort and the 13-ton tank which is part of the entourage.
Harold C. Donner, "Diary of a Roving Reporter," Boxoffice magazine, June 20, 1942, page 66

    Bill Demarest and George "Gabby" Hayes were stars of a benefit performance to raise $100,000 for the new YMCA in Medford, Ore. Robert L. Lippert donated the use of all four of his Medford theatres for the benefit. Frankie Woods, general manager in charge of theatre operation, and Matt Freed in charge of the Oregon district attended the function.
Boxoffice magazine, December 27, 1947, page 54

Medford Mail Tribune, May 19, 1948.
The date of "The Jazz Singer's" first showing was actually May 24.

Medford Mail Tribune, May 19, 1948

    Mort Bramson is still shuttle-running both the Seattle and Portland Screen Guild offices. Mort announced that on or about May 1, Screen Guild will world premiere "The Prince" in Medford, Ore. Starring Lenore Aubert and Alan Baxter, "The Prince" was made from a novel by James Fenimore Cooper.
Boxoffice magazine, April 24, 1948, page 66-C

The Craterian, mid-June, 1949.

Theatre Collects Dolls for Needy Youngsters
    Matt Freed, district manager for the California-Oregon Theatres, Medford, Ore., converted the lobby of the Craterian Theatre into a doll collection depot to provide toys for needy children and to help publicize "Oh, You Beautiful Doll." The public was invited to bring old or broken dolls to the theatre, which in turn were delivered to the fire department for repairs. The dolls were distributed prior to Christmas, and aside from the publicity for the picture, the theatre received many letters commenting on the public spirit displayed.
Boxoffice magazine, January 28, 1950, page 44

    The Santocono touch will be seen in the Robert L. Lippert Craterian in Medford, Ore. Remodeling at the Craterian includes tearing out the inner and outer lobby, enlarging the box office, installing glass doors and a new concession arrangement.
Boxoffice magazine, June 21, 1952, page 54

Six Theatres Return to Lippert Banner
    LOS ANGELES--Robert L. Lippert has repurchased six theatres he sold to Electro-Vision Corp. three years ago: namely, the Craterian and Holly theatres and Starlite and Valley drive-ins at Medford, Ore.; the Varsity in Ashland, Ore.; and the Broadway in Yreka, Calif. Lippert now operates 17 theatres in California and Oregon.
Boxoffice magazine, July 23, 1962, page W-4

    Adding to the excitement of a picture at the Craterian one evening, an attractive blonde usherette fell from the balcony onto the startled patrons below, leaving them believing for the moment that still a new dimension had been added to movies.
    On another occasion, the Craterian as packed with patrons as they watched a Martin and Osa Johnson jungle film. An eager youngster, intent on "sneaking in," stuck his leg through the high ceiling of the theater, causing considerable excitement. The shower of plaster and the yelping of the frightened youngster did much to divert the attention of the audience from the rather dull scene of a boa constrictor squeezing the very dickens out of a zebra.
J.W.S., "Moving Picture Houses," Medford Mail Tribune, April 7, 1963, page 4

Panel Discusses Problems of Behavior at Local Movies
    "Friday night at the movies" from the viewpoint of the mothers, the police and the theater management was discussed by a panel at Tuesday's meeting of the Women's Association of Westminster Presbyterian Church.
    Mrs. Theodore P. Barss, program chairman, was moderator for the program. Under the year's theme of "Missions--The Christians' Call," the program was keyed to missions in Medford. Mrs. Barss pointed out that children spend more time at the movies Friday night than in Christian education during the week.
    Repeating the Chinese proverb, "One picture is worth ten thousand words," Mrs. Barss said, "Mothers should know more about the pictures from a moral standpoint."
    Panel members were R. H. Retzer, district manager of the Oregon California Theaters; Medford Chief of Police Floyd Clower, Mrs. Stuart McQueen, Mrs. Donald Whalin, Mrs. A. J. Johannson, Mrs. Fitzhugh Brewer and Mrs. Gordon Barker.
    "It is impossible to see all of the movies," the mothers declared, explaining that Medford is peculiar in that it is a one-theater town, and at times a two-theater town. Dealing only with the two downtown theaters--Craterian and Holly--they said that when only the Craterian Theater is open this limits where the children can go.
    Mrs. Johannson stressed that many Medford mothers depend completely on two sources to learn about the films. These are the Parent Teacher Association magazine [Parents] and the Theater Guide in the Mail Tribune. The newspaper ratings were said to be more liberal.
    Retzer explained that since he arrived in Medford about three years ago, he has attempted to keep the Holly Theater open, showing films primarily for adults. While he tries to separate strictly adult films from children's fare, there have been some exceptions.
    He felt that the panel program at the church was "commendable," mentioning that he had contacted the Mail Tribune last year in an effort to keep parents informed about the movies being shown. It was then that the Theater Guide was started in the local newspaper.
Note Behavioral Problems
    When the mothers on the panel complained of behavioral problems at the theater, Retzer noted that every problem "has a starting point." Some problems mentioned were "crowding" the ticket line (children joining friends farther up in line so they don't have to go to the end of the line); using the theater as a meeting place, where they will see and be seen; talking during the picture, poor dress and malicious damage.
    Particularly under fire was the first weekend of the showing of "That Darn Cat," a Walt Disney production. While the mothers stressed that it was an excellent film, there were behavior problems due to the size of the crowd.
    Retzer agreed, saying that he had never seen anything like the crowd that Friday night in his 33 years in the business. More than 2,000 persons above the Craterian Theater's capacity attempted to get into the building. By closing the theater, moving seven usherettes outside to control the crowd, and calling the police, he managed to keep the theater from becoming overcrowded.
Improvements Made
    Changes made since then include installing chains outside the building to control the ticket line, usherettes patrolling the line, installing lights in the rear row to eliminate dark corners, and increasing the number of usherettes who are to report to him when trouble is spotted.
    Retzer objected to calling the police or having police officers in the theater, noting that this has occurred only twice in his years here. The more recent incident took place when a young boy was caught setting off firecrackers during "That Darn Cat."
    Chief Clower also objected to having police officers at the theater, noting that "it isn't the department's business to scare kids. We would rather work with them."
    He felt the problem in many cases was due to parents thinking that Johnny will be all right as they have taught him right from wrong, so they never check on him.
    He noted that some theaters elsewhere in the state have prohibited children under 16 years of age attending unless accompanied by a parent. While they have lost money, Chief Clower said, the theater was not damaged.
Damage Noted
    Continuing on this subject, Retzer explained that the end curtains at the theater have been slashed, 64 theater chairs torn or broken, mirrors in the women's restroom broken, and the door to the same restroom broken three times by a 13-year-old girl.
    "We had to do away with the nice things," Retzer stated, after a shocked woman in the audience discovered why the mirrors and chairs were no longer available in the women's restroom at the Craterian.
    While Retzer believes that much of the trouble is caused by a lack of communication with the junior high school-aged student, he felt it was a case of "weeding out the true troublemakers."
    The theater 's policy is to put them out of the theater, he explained, but stressed that this couldn't be done with the smaller child. In such cases he removes them from the viewing area and calls the offender's parents.
Parents Uncooperative
    "But in the majority of the cases," the theater manager continued, "the parents are offended, stating flatly that it couldn't be their children. Only a few will express concern."
    Many youths will come to the theater fresh and clean, "go to the restrooms and come out a painted lady," Retzer stated. Others will buy their ticket, contact a friend as to what the film is about, then go off in a car which comes by. He also mentioned finding boys smoking (the parents are contacted) and in one case drinking. Since the 12-year-old boy had poured whiskey from his father's supply into a cold cream jar, Retzer questioned the taste. This boy was put out of the theater.
    Some felt, including Chief Clower, that maybe better dress would help the children's behavior. "Maybe the same dress as for a dance would result in better manners."
    Clower noted the cooperation his department has been getting from the theater management.
    Retzer showed interest in a suggestion that a late afternoon matinee be held, scheduled to start shortly after school is dismissed.
    During the program Mrs. Barss referred to charts to discuss the types of movies available at the two theaters since start of the school term. They were judged not for acting, scenery or how artistic, but what age range they were for. The conclusion was that during the 27 weekends, 10 had superb fare for children in the lower teens, 8½ were "hopeless" and the remainder were borderline.
A Booking Problem
    Retzer explained that he is in San Francisco every four to six weeks to discuss local bookings.
    "Sometimes I get my way, sometimes not," he stated.
    One of today's problems in films is that 30 years ago 800 films were being made each year. Today that figure has shrunk to 300, and everyone thinks in terms of color extravaganzas. There used to be the low-budget movies, such as the Andy Hardy series, Retzer explained.
    "We'll try harder," Retzer concluded.
    Mrs. Barss, in stressing the parental responsibility involved, concluded that "if we don't want the product, don't buy."
Medford Mail Tribune, March 24, 1966, page C7

Craterian Theater Closes
Spanish Language Shows to Continue

Mail Tribune Staff Writer
    Tuesday, Oct. 21, 1924. The first movie shown at Hunt's Craterian is "In Hollywood," a comedy with Norma and Constance Talmadge.
    The theater, on Central Avenue near Main, opened the night before with a stage show, the actor Elliott Dexter in a dramatic reading.
    Thursday, Aug. 23, 1984. The last Hollywood movie to be shown is "Sheena," a fantasy about a woman who rules jungle animals.
    About 60 days short of 60 years after the Craterian opened, Maestri Management Corp., San Francisco, has decided to close the theater, except for an occasional special program. Spanish-language movies will continue at the Craterian on Sundays. An evening repeat of the usual Sunday Spanish matinee has been added on a trial basis.
    Robert Maestri, president of MMC, said Thursday from San Francisco that a number of factors governed the decision to close the theater. Most are related to poor attendance brought about in part by the increase in the number of movie theaters in southern Oregon in the last five years.
    In 1979, Medford had three indoor one-screen theaters: the Holly, the Craterian and the Cinema Center, all operated by subsidiaries of MMC, which also owns and operates the Starlite Drive-in.
    Now, in Medford, the Medford 4 Cinemas and Cine 4 have eight screens between them. In White City, The Movies operates six screens under one roof. In Ashland, the Varsity has four, including a 16-millimeter theater. The Rogue River Cinema in the city of Rogue River has one screen. Medford 4 Cinemas is owned and operated by a subsidiary company of MMC. The others are competing theater interests.
    Another reason is the scarcity of suitable "product" to divide among the theaters. Maestri said that he has had increasing difficulty in trying to find the kind of picture he'd like to book into the Craterian. He said that booking family-type pictures into the theater hasn't worked as well as it once did, because families usually go now to the smaller, newer theaters which have more modern equipment and convenient parking.
    The Craterian, Holly, Starlite and Cinema Center are operated by Oregon-California Theaters Inc. Don I. Evans is the district manager in Medford.
    Oregon-California leases the Craterian from Central Avenue Properties Inc. and the Rogue Valley Art Association, which each own undivided half interest in the building. Principals in Central Avenue Properties are Mrs. Shirley Lowry and Medford lawyers Otto Frohnmayer and William Deatherage.
    Evans said the lease between Oregon-California Theaters and the building owners expires in January 1985.
    Maestri said that projected operating overhead during the winter months is high in comparison with the theater's thin box office receipts, so he decided to close it.
    "Otto Frohnmayer's been about the most wonderful landlord we could ever have," Maestri said, adding, "We're just not getting enough people to go there."
    Jean Boyer Root, speaking for the art association, said Thursday that announcement of any plans for future use of the theater would be premature at this time.
    Evans has previously said that should the theater be used for stage shows, extensive remodeling would be required to bring the structure up to code. He said the stage would have to be reinforced, among other necessary renovations.
    The Craterian seats about 800 people, about 50 fewer than the Holly. Maestri said that the single-screen design of both theaters limits the programs they can offer.
    Maestri said he has no plans to close the Holly. He said that MMC redecorated the interior and exterior of the Holly a few years ago. The corporation owns the Holly, at the corner of Holly and Sixth streets, and rents office and shop space in the theater building.
    The Robert L. Lippert Co., predecessor to Maestri, began operating theaters in Medford in 1947. Other theaters included the Esquire, once located on the south side of East Main Street near the Bear Creek bridge, and the Rialto, on West Main Street in the present location of the Weeks and Orr furniture store. Maestri's father was Lippert's partner. He acquired the company after Lippert's death.
    Maestri said, "I think we've reached kind of a textbook case in this particular instance. Old downtown theaters just become old."
Medford Mail Tribune, August 24, 1984, page B3

Craterian Theater, March 1, 1998 Medford Mail Tribune
Crate Knocks 'Em Out
Restored Medford Theater Gets Mostly Fine Reviews

of the Mail Tribune

    The night the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater debuted [a year ago], low riders cruising Medford's Central Avenue gawked at women in furs bathed in the glow of the opening-night lights.
    If the Cadillac crowd noticed the parading young people, it gave scant sign. The crowd was tuned in to the reborn Craterian, a 1920s grand lady once fallen on hard times, now risen like an old actress restored magically to a youth more vibrant than ever.
    Whatever changes were at hand in Medford, one thing was sure: The Craterian would be noticed.
    "Now, it all begins," executive director Steve McCandless wrote in an opening day letter to the public one year ago.
    A boffo debut is one thing, but nonprofit arts groups these days must walk a perilous line that winds between artistic quality, community taste and financial imperatives. So far, the Craterian seems to be on track.
    Income for the first 10 months was 3 percent more than projections. The totals for the year so far: 110 events with an attendance of 46,066 and a gross of $456,000.
    That's a lot of action in a formerly moribund chunk of town. But after a $5.2 million refurbishing (including $400,000 from the city, $1.4 million in urban renewal money and $500,00 from the state lottery), there was a lot to build on: a glitzy new space with 742 seats, good sight lines, good acoustics, a classic proscenium arch. There are five wheelchair-accessible areas (two in the balcony, three on the main floor) and an FM broadcast system patrons can rent. There are the dressing rooms, the elevator, the sound, the lights. An enthusiastic corps of more than 100 volunteers.
    Two kinds of shows are presented at the Crate: those of the nonprofit theater's presentation arm, called the Craterian Performances Company, and those of various user groups from the community that rent the space.
    So far, 86 events have been put on by community groups and 24 by the CPC. Some three dozen users have mounted shows in the new facility, ringing up more than $295,000 in ticket sales, not counting the Pear Blossom Pageant and the Medford Jazz Jubilee, which sell their own tickets.
    The Craterian Performances Company's ticket sales as of Feb. 22 amounted to $161,000.
    Rental events have sold an average of 431 seats and played to 58 percent of the theater's capacity. CPC events have averaged 454, or 61 percent.
    The Crate's budget for the first 10 months was $380,000. Although end-of-year figures aren't in, McCandless can point with pride to income exceeding expenses.
    "We're in very good shape," he says.
    Many who aren't watching the numbers agree. Jan Schmitz recalls her reaction on seeing her first show at the new theater, a Portland Symphony concert.
    "It was so comfortable," she says. "And I was so pleased with the sound. I was so surprised I loved it so much."
    Schmitz, a sometime theater-goer who lives in east Medford, says an added bonus is that she can walk to the theater.
    Users say the facility is first-class, but not cheap.
    "They're wonderful," says Tom Olbrich of Southern Oregon University's Program Board. "Very professional. Incredibly easy to work with."
    Olbrich presents the shows in SOU's One World and voxPOP music series and has rented the Crate several times, bringing to Medford big-name entertainment that once would have automatically gone to Ashland.
    The acoustics have drawn raves from audiences and users alike. Olbrich, who worked as a sound engineer for several years at Jefferson Public Radio, says acoustics are good almost anywhere, even under the balcony.
    "They've taken pains to fly speakers high to reach the balcony and put reinforcement speakers underneath," he says. "It's good under there and great everywhere else."
    The Crate's system is state-of-the-art but not large. The CPC contracts with Oregon Stage Lighting when additional sound is needed.
    One complaint is the cost of renting the theater. The Pear Blossom Festival, for example, decided it couldn't afford it this year.
    Minimum rent for a performance is $600 for the day for a local nonprofit. For local commercial groups the minimum is $900, for out-of-towners $1,200. The theater requires that groups use its house manager and technical director at $18 an hour each. Production demands can drive the price up from there.
    Olbrich says a show with singers Cesaria Evora and Irene Farrera in November cost him $3,400 in theater costs, or $5 a seat.
    "That's fair," he says.
    Some business people say the Craterian is a key to a comeback in the downtown core.
    "I think it's going to be a boon," says former Chamber of Commerce head John Nuich, whose jewelry store is around the corner on Main Street.
    "It will make people think about coming downtown."
    Others say the theater hurts merchants by exacerbating an already critical shortage of parking.
    "They want specialty shops with the owner behind the counter," Robert Crone says. "But people have to be able to park. People are aggravated."
    Crone's men's wear shop is across the street from the theater.
    McCandless says the biggest surprise to him has been simply the number of events. The list of users has reached past performing arts groups to include Rogue Community College, scholarship pageants and community projects such as Rogue Valley Civic League workshops.
    "Our vision was it would be multipurpose," he says.
    Weighing marketplace realities against a goal of presenting worthwhile entertainment is a constant balancing act. Part of the Craterian's mission is to present fare people otherwise wouldn't have a chance to see. That doesn't always translate into mass appeal.
    The National Theater of the Deaf, which the CPC presented Nov. 16 in Ibsen's "Peer Gynt," lost about $4,000.
    "We knew it was a reach, but people otherwise wouldn't have had a chance to see it," McCandless says. "We know that some shows won't make money. They're a component of our community outreach."
    A similar fate befell Il Giordino Armonico, an acclaimed Italian Baroque group that drew raves but only about 250 people.
    "But somebody came up to me at a dinner party and said it was the finest chamber ensemble performance they'd heard anywhere," McCandless says.
    The Crate probably won't program chamber music anymore. The well-regarded Chamber Music Concerts series is firmly established in the valley, and there's only so much interest and money.
    Some pitfalls are impossible to foresee. A recent production of "Winnie the Pooh" by a nationally known theater company featured actors who didn't look anything like the younger set's idea of the characters--or the photos McCandless says he got from the company. He gave discounts to future shows to disappointed Pooh fans to make up for the faux pas.
    Meanwhile, work on the theater continues. A new grant has permitted resumption of work on upstairs rooms called the forum and the studio. One is designed for meetings and receptions, the other for readings, dances and small performances. Still needed: $90,000 for wish-list stuff, including lobby furniture.
    If there's a warning light on the landscape, it may be the ratio of earned to contributed income. Earned income is money from events. Contributed income is from memberships, sponsorships, grants and gifts.
    The average for nonprofit theaters is about 60 percent earned/40 percent contributed. The Crate has been running 65/35.
    "We'd like to bring it up to between 40 and 50 percent," McCandless says.
    That would take an increase of 14 to 42 percent in contributions.
    In last year's membership campaign, the Crate raised $45,000, some 50 percent more than its target. McCandless says they're shooting for $60,000 this year.
    This summer, the Crate presents the Missoula Children's Theater's "The Wizard of Oz," with local kids getting a chance to take part.
    The CPC doesn't do music in the summer. In part that's a decision not to compete with the Britt Festivals in Jacksonville.
    "It's also a time to catch our breath," McCandless says.
Medford Mail Tribune, March 1, 1998, page 1

Last revised August 19, 2017