The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

Medford Theaters:
Date of last performance is usually estimated.

The Bijou
West Main. January 11, 1908-July 24, 1910.
Medford's first movie theater.
Cine 4
South Riverside
The Cinema Center
501 East Jackson, Medford Shopping Center. August 2, 1972-
The Craterian
23 South Central. October 20, 1924-
The Drive-Ins
All on Highway 99. All built 1947-1949.
The Empire
Successor to the It, August 13, 1915-circa September 29, 1915.
The Esquire
416 East Main. February 2, 1947-circa February 19, 1956.
The Grand
Location uncertain. August 1908-February 1909.
The Holly
226 West Sixth. August 29, 1930-
The Isis
There were two, unrelated, Isis theaters, both on East Main:
210 East Main: May 26, 1910-February 17, 1914
415 East Main: March 30, 1929-June 12, 1932.

The It
Successor to the Ugo, March 8, 1913-circa June 5, 1915.
The Liberty
Successor to the Star, 222 East Main. November 30, 1918-circa December 26, 1920.
Medford 4 Cinemas
1174 Progress Drive. June 27, 1981-December 11, 1997.
The Medford Opera House aka Medford Theatre, Hazelrigg Opera House
Eighth and Central. Burned October 11, 1912.
Movies 5
Rogue Valley Mall. Opened October 15, 1986.
The Page
422 East Main. May 19, 1913-burned December 30, 1923.
The Playhouse
415 East Main. October 18, 1928-March 2, 1929.
The Rialto
112 West Main. August 30, 1917-January 3, 1953.
The Roxy
420 East Main. June 24, 1932-January 18, 1947.
The Savoy
14 North Front. October 1, 1908-after January 5, 1912.
The Star
222 East Main. September 23, 1911-November 1918.
The State
103 South Central. September 8, 1928-September 20, 1932.
The Studio
Successor to the State, September 23, 1932-circa March 29, 1935.
Medford Center. December 12, 1997-
The Ugo
126 West Main. Circa November 9, 1910-March 7, 1913.

Theater stories:

Burned to a Crisp
Notes on Medford's first family of the theater.
Early Opera
Medford decides to put on a show in 1905.
Youth in Revolt
Kids picketing the Holly in 1946?
Theater People
Richard Antle, Eino Hemmila, George Hunt, Bill Prouty . . .

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    The South Oregon Monitor, published June 7, 1895, is another of Mrs. [Mamie Isaacs] Riddle's prized possessions. . . .
Kinetoscope Shown
    An announcement in the Monitor told of the appearance of E. M. Keith at Strang's drug store to display Edison's wonderful invention, the kinetoscope. The article described the performances on the stage as being accurately pictured before the eye.
"Old Newspapers Give Sidelights on City History," Medford Mail Tribune September 24, 1940, page 2

    Medford theatrical interests are invading the Ashland amusement field, having secured an option on property [on the] north side of East Main Street, about midway between the Hotel Austin and Vining Theatre. It is a far cry from a shoe shining establishment to a thespian abode, but this will occur if the project as outlined goes into effect, plans and specifications being already under way preliminary to active construction work. Hunt & Co., controlling the field in Medford and other towns, are back of the enterprise, having secured a specific franchise for this city in territory to be included within the Jensen-Von Helberg circuit of filmdom. It was hoped, in view of future theatrical development here, that any new departure in this line would be located somewhere in the Plaza district, as affording a more equitable distribution of movie privileges throughout the two main sections of the town.
Medford Mail Tribune,
August 11, 1920, page 5

    Two best and largest stone and brick buildings, picture and good theatre stages, doing good business. Two good pianos and good new Powers picture machine, all for sale. Reasonable. Call or see T. Edy, Gold Hill, Ore.

"Local Briefs," Medford Mail Tribune, August 31, 1920, page 2

Vining Enters Chain with Medford and Grants Pass Houses.
Combination Will Effect Increased Buying Power and Improved Pictures.
    A transaction has been completed whereby the Rivola, Rialto and Vining theaters of Grants Pass, Medford and Ashland are merged into joint ownership and will be operated as a chain as soon as all details can be worked out. Heretofore the Rivola at Grants Pass and the Rialto at Medford have been owned and operated under the management of the George A. Hunt Co., of Medford, which company also conducted the Page prior to its destruction by fire.
    According to H. B. Hurst, of the Vining, the movement has been under discussion for some time, and according to the terms of the transaction the George A. Hunt Co. becomes part owner of the Vining of Ashland, and Hurst acquires an interest in the Rivola and Rialto of Grants Pass and Medford. Commenting on the deal, Mr. Hurst says:
    "The merging of three theaters will afford us increased buying power, making us one of the strongest combinations on the coast. It will not permit us to secure a greatly improved class of productions, but will permit us to dictate the price of admission. Under the former arrangement we were compelled to contract for a large number of commonplace films in order to secure a limited number of first-class productions, and at the same time the distributors were able to dictate the price of admission, especially with respect to the better productions. The change effected will place us in position to dictate prices for high-class pictures. It will mean that pictures for which an admission of 50 cents was dictated by the distributors will be exhibited for 35 cents. Hence it will be seen that the change will not only result beneficially to the owners of the chain, but will effect a saving to the picture-going public.
    "I consider that the greatest advantage that will accrue to the merger will be improved productions."
Management Unchanged
    The merging of the three theaters will result in no change in the management. The George Hunt Co. will manage the Rivola and Rialto, and Mr. Hurst will continue as manager of the Vining.
Ashland Daily Tidings, January 28, 1924, page 1

    The Medford Theater Company, with capital stock of $50,000 and headquarters at Medford, has been incorporated by J. H. Cooley, Porter J. Neff and Charles R. Cooley.
"4 Firms Incorporated," Oregonian, Portland, February 2, 1924, page 4

Oregon Hit by Spread of Infantile Paralysis

    Portland. Ore. — The epidemic of infantile paralysis has developed throughout southern Oregon with public schools of Medford and Grants Pass closed and the movements of children restricted in an effort to check the spread of the disease. Theaters at Medford have been closed to children under 16, along with all other public gathering places.
The Film Daily, October 3, 1927, page 1

Craterian and Rialto Theatres Present Stage and Screen Programs--
Rialto Is Completely Remodeled--
George A. Hunt Company Owns Six Southern Oregon Show Houses.
    Because of the excellence of the stage and screen attractions that Medford theatres present, people come from many miles in every direction to enjoy the programs offered by the Craterian and Rialto theatres in this city. These two amusement houses, together with the Rivoli Theatre of Grants Pass and three Roseburg theatres, are owned by the George A. Hunt Company, and the southern Oregon group is considered one of the most successful in the Northwest.
    The George A. Hunt Company was established in 1919, and has enjoyed phenomenal growth in the last eight years. At the present time the company is owned by George A. Hunt, Mrs. Hunt and Julius P. Wolff, with S. G. Mendenhall as manager of the Rialto Theatre and general manager of advertising and publicity for the company. Prior to Mr. Mendenhall's affiliation with the George A. Hunt Company, Mrs. Hunt ably filled the position of Rialto manager and director of advertising and publicity.
    One of the finest theatres in Oregon is the Craterian, located on South Central Avenue in this city. It was soon after the fire in 1924 which destroyed the Page Theatre here that the Craterian was built, at an approximate cost of $225,000. Furnishings and equipment in this show house, including a four-manual Wurlitzer pipe organ, cost approximately $75,000.
    Because of the fact that this city is admirably situated as a convenient stopover for traveling legitimate attractions between San Francisco and Portland, and the Craterian has adequate stage facilities to accommodate the heaviest theatrical presentations, Medford and southern Oregon people are given the opportunity of enjoying many popular musical comedies, plays and operas. The Craterian Theatre building is a strictly modern structure having special composition floor and reinforced concrete walls. The projecting machines are of the very latest type, and the many colored lighting effects are all operated from the operating room. William Prouty, an operator of many years' experience, is in charge of the Craterian projection room, while Miss Betty Brown delights Craterian patrons with her selections on the Wurlitzer.
    Twelve hundred cushioned seats are provided in the Craterian Theatre in addition to a number of velvet cushion loge seats. An efficient ventilating system affords a change of air at frequent intervals and, in fact, every modern convenience for the comfort and enjoyment of theatre-going patrons is provided. A giant 30-foot electric sign bearing the name "Hunt's Craterian" and showing the feature attraction each day marks the location of this popular show house.
    The Rialto Theatre, located on West Main Street, near Fir, was completely remodeled in June last year, and is now considered one of the most attractive show houses of its size in Oregon. The very last word in theatre decorations is reflected in the beautiful front and interior of this popular theatre. Rich colorings and drapes and soft, mellow lights lend an atmosphere of rest that spells relaxation and pleasure for those who visit the Rialto. The auditorium, completely refinished and together with two loges, seats 780 people, and their comfort is further assured by rapid changes of air through a modern ventilating system. The foyer has been completely remodeled, and a beautiful marquee wish flashing electric signs [sic] extends over the walk to the street's edge. A marble-covered ticket booth is centered in front of the Rialto. The Rialto equipment includes the latest type moving picture projectors, and the projection room is presided over by Fred Ryan, well-known Medford operator.
    Sterling Rothermel, Rialto organist, has become a great favorite with Medford theatre-goers.
    The Craterian and Rialto theatres have played an important part in making this city the amusement center of the southern Oregon country, and the George A. Hunt Company is to be congratulated upon the excellence of local stage and screen attractions.
Medford Mail Tribune, January 1, 1928, page C8

    In Everett, Bellingham, Aberdeen, Olympia, Salem, Pendleton, Medford, the wired houses are grossing much bigger business than they would be doing otherwise.

"Sound Pictures Getting a Big Play in Far Northwest," The Film Daily, September 9, 1928, page 6

    The many details in successfully presenting anniversary month entertainments to theater fans of Medford are being handled for the George Hunt Theaters Company by S. G. Mendenhall, publicity director for the Hunt Theaters, and Medford manager. Mr. Mendenhall needs no introduction to the people of this city, as he has made many friends here during this two years' connection with the Rialto and Craterian theaters.
    As a theater manager and publicity director, Mr. Mendenhall enjoys a wide reputation throughout the Middle West and Pacific Coast regions. George Hunt, head of the George Hunt Theaters Company, negotiated for many months before he was successful in securing Mr. Mendenhall as an associate and considered himself fortunate when the latter came to this city two years ago.
    Previous to coming to Medford, S. G. Mendenhall managed theaters in Denver, Colo. and in cities in western Nebraska and owned and managed a chain of theaters in Wyoming, with headquarters at Sheridan, before coming to the Pacific Coast. In the West, Mr. Mendenhall was connected with the theater business in Astoria and Portland, being associated with the Jensen and VonHerberg chain of theaters, and later with the West Coast organization.
    In Medford and Southern Oregon Mr. Mendenhall's efforts have gone far toward further establishing the success and popularity of the Hunt theaters. In addition to preparing unusually attractive newspaper advertising campaigns in the Medford publications, he has devoted much of his time to the management of the Rialto and Craterian theaters in this city. A large measure of credit for the success of the introduction of the Craterian Vitaphone programs may be attributed to Mr. Mendenhall, and the remarkable success of the recent greater movie season is due to his exploitation work.
Medford Mail Tribune, September 30, 1928, page 3

    No independent exhibitor in Pacific Coast theater circles enjoys a finer reputation as a manager and film buyer than George Hunt, head of the George Hunt Theaters Company. Mr. Hunt has made his home in Medford for many years and has a host of friends who have watched his rapid rise in the theater business in Southern Oregon. He began his career in this line in Medford fourteen years ago and, since that time, has built up a chain of five successful show houses in this city, Grants Pass and Roseburg.
    Mr. Hunt's success is deserving, too. Throughout his business activities here, he has made every possible effort to offer theatergoers of this city the best in entertainment and the latest innovations in the business. Recently, the installation of the Vitaphone and Movietone at Hunt's Craterian is evidence of his efforts to give Medford patrons the best in entertainment. Now, the beginning of Fanchon and Marco revues is a further step toward giving people here the cream of "big city" programs.
    Hunt's Craterian and the Rialto are considered to be two of Oregon's best show houses outside of Portland, and both have been built since Mr. Hunt became active in theater business in this city.
Medford Mail Tribune, September 30, 1928, page 3

    Articles of incorporation of the Pacific States Theaters Company were filed yesterday at the county clerk's office with capital set at $50,000. The new corporation will operate theaters in Medford, Yreka and Grants Pass and will probably carry on an expansion program later.
    The corporation articles were signed by Walter H. Leverette, Mrs. Alice P. Leverette and Ruth E. Stewart, the latter a sister of Mrs. Leverette. There is no stock for sale and it is an entirely closed corporation, Mr. Leverette said this afternoon.
    The company is operating the State Theater in Grants Pass [sic] and has the Holly Theater under construction in Medford and the Broadway ready for early completion in Yreka. The Medford show house will have its opening between May 15 and June 1st, and it promises to be a gala affair, with several film companies offering premier pictures for the opening.
    Roof girders of the [Holly] building are now being set in place, and the roof is expected to be completed in a few days. Western Electric Company sound engineers have arrived to make preparations for sound apparatus installation.
Medford Mail Tribune, April 9, 1930, page 2  At the time there were State Theaters in both Medford and Grants Pass.

Important Policy Changes Will Offer New Higher Caliber Service--
Lower Prices Starting Sunday

    "Prosperity for 1932!"
    Such is the slogan of the Fox West Coast Theaters in Medford, and in line with this thought the management of both the Fox Craterian and Fox Rialto theaters have completed plans for several important changes of policy, anticipating not only banner throngs for the coming year, but offering an unusually high caliber of service in every way.
    Starting next Sunday, January 24, an entire new schedule of admission prices go into effect, offering a huge savings in entertainment expenditures. Instead of separate prices for various sections of the theaters as in the past, such as the loges, one single price will prevail for all seats.
    A definite policy of program change days in both theaters will also become effective on the same date. At the Fox Craterian, new programs will be offered each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, thus constituting three separate presentations weekly. The Fox Rialto will offer four changes with Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday as the program change days.
    Feature picture productions from among the world's outstanding studios will be regularly presented at both theaters. Most of the first-run pictures will be offered by the Fox Craterian, while the Fox Rialto will specialize in second showings. Saturday of each week at the latter theater will be almost entirely devoted to "western" pictures, which are among the most popular type of screen entertainment.
    Matinees will be presented in both theaters daily. At the Fox Craterian, the matinee performance begins at 2 o'clock p.m. Sunday performances will be continuous from 2 p.m. Evening shows are scheduled for 7 and 9 o'clock p.m. Doors open for the evening performances at 6:45 p.m.
    A carefully trained and courteous staff in each theater will offer excellent service with a view toward promoting the utmost comfort to patrons.
    The Fox West Coast management here appreciates any suggestions or constructive criticisms pertaining to its operation or entertainment.
Medford Mail Tribune, January 22, 1932, page B1

    To the editor: The more I attend the movies the more disgusted I am. Would it not be a good idea for theater owners to have one section of the theater reserved for children from 7 to 17? Most of these young people are a pest at any performance and have no manners.
    Most of us wonder why these young people go to shows. They don't seem to watch the picture, they are up and down dozens of times, up and down the aisle, back and forth, changing seats, standing in the aisle blocking the view of someone seated in the end seats.
    They leap out of their seats wanting out and do not give people a chance to stand up, but squeeze past them stepping on their feet, a few minutes later they are back, they do this over and over. Not only small children but the big boys and girls.
    Then they chatter out loud or slap at each other; they do everything to distract adults' attention from the picture.
    Going to the movies used to be a pleasure and relaxation and a fine place to forget our cares for a while, but it is not so nowadays. We are annoyed so much we are worn out and it's anything but relaxation, all caused by these nitwit showoffs.
    We may as well have a bunch of monkeys in the theater. In that case why not reserve a monkey gallery for those who act like monkeys?
    Ashland is about the worst place for these pests; no one connected with the theaters seems to care. The admission charge seems to be the only thing considered. Then, why not charge young people the same admission as adults, maybe there wouldn't be so many in the theaters.
    The ushers immediately beckon to someone with a crying baby, but no notice is paid to the big goofs who parade up and down the aisle or back and forth over people's feet.
    Is there no regard for people who pay good money to enter these theaters? People have to change seats several times to get away from the jumping jacks and the showoffs. If parents could see how their children act in the theaters they would be ashamed of them.
    Here's hoping for better manners, and some courtesy and consideration from young people. Please let us enjoy the pictures we pay to see.
Mrs. Louise Clayton               
Medford Mail Tribune, September 21, 1947, page 8

    To the editor: This is in reply to a recent "Letter to the Editor" concerning the Ashland and Medford theaters and their usherettes.
    The woman who wrote the letter doesn't seem to realize that children, referred to by her as "monkeys," are also entitled to their rights as theatergoers. She forgets that an usherette's life is a difficult one, and if these small children were stopped from their "every-five-minute" pilgrimage to the restrooms the results would be disastrous.
    The Saturday matinee is "their day," and they pay what they consider a large price to see whether their serial "queen" will get away again or not.
    Since when has the education for children begun at the theater? I always thought that a child was taught its manners at home and its manners reflected its environment. We, the usherettes, do not consider ourselves as part-time teachers, nor do we overlook the fact that this situation is becoming bad. If we browbeat these small charges of ours, not only do we run the chance of losing our job but we also have a flock of irate mothers on our necks complaining that "little Johnny or Janie" was mistreated.
    Why doesn't this woman address her letter to the mothers whose duty it is to train their children, instead of the already misunderstood and overworked usherettes?
    We would also like to add that the younger generation will try to be better when asked--it's the older patrons who are very difficult to handle and become most indignant when spoken to.
The Ashland and Medford Usherettes               
Medford Mail Tribune, September 23, 1947, page 8

    To the editor: Last Thursday evening my husband and I attempted to attend the 9 o'clock (as advertised) show at a local theater. We got to the second aisle, and were informed by the usherette that the show would be over 12 or 15 minutes after 9. She made no attempt to seat us.
    As I had been ill for a few days, I didn't feel like standing very long, so after 5 or 6 minutes, I sat in one of the chairs and was promptly ordered out of it with the remark they were for women with babies. All the chairs were empty.
    If they aren't to be used, when necessary, why don't they have a "stay off" sign on them? Or better still, removed entirely?
    My husband had gone down the last aisle, attempting to find seats for us, while the only usherette in sight was "visiting" near the alley exit.
    Before he returned, a second usherette appeared from somewhere and demanded to know if I was waiting for someone. I told her I was waiting to be seated. She also made no attempt to seat me but informed me I couldn't stand there, that I would have to go back to the front lobby (after I had stood there several minutes already). Why weren't we held in the front lobby when we first entered if they didn't want to seat us during the last minutes of the show in progress?
    In the September 23 issue of the Mail Tribune, the usherettes claimed they were overworked and misunderstood. It is hard to understand their discourteous attitudes, for it isn't what they say or do, but their manner that offends. And most of them (not all) do overwork themselves in trying to show how important they think they are. When, really, there would be no need for usherettes if it weren't for us paying patrons.
    They also claimed it is us older patrons that are "difficult to handle." I'm sure we'd need no so-called "handling" if we were treated with courtesy.
    Being the brunt of undue criticism twice within a few minutes made me feel as though I was trespassing and it was time to get out and stay out.
Mrs. Elva Bortz               
2140 Court Street               
Medford Mail Tribune, September 28, 1947, page 11

    In a joint statement, George Mann and Robert L. Lippert announced a merger of the two circuits bearing their names. Approximately sixty-one theatres are involved in the deal.
    Mann's houses include those in Klamath Falls, Eureka, Ukiah, Marysville, Woodland, Dinuba, Arcata, Fort Bragg, Fortuna and Healdsburg.
    Among Lippert's interests are theatres in Medford, Ashland, Sacramento, Weed, Yreka, Fresno, Corcoran, Sanger, as well as a number of drive-ins.
Medford News, May 28, 1948, page 6

Theater Owner; Orchardist; Rancher.
b. Brookville, Ontario, Canada June 7, 1889; son of Milton and Cordelia (Wolfe) Leverette; educated high school and business college; m. Evelyn Hollister; children Dorreen (Mrs. Vinson Vaughn), Jeanne (Mrs. George Kotchik) and Bruce M. (U.S. Navy); owner Leverette Interstate Theaters (Medford, Ashland, Yreka and Weed), Northern California Amusement Co. Inc., Lithia Investment Co. Inc., Orchard Park Farms at Medford and Circle (L) Ranch, Table Rock, all since 1925; retiring from theater business 1947; active Community Chest drives; member Chamber of Commerce; Rotarian (charter member); member University Club, International Footprinters Association; captain Jackson County Sheriff Posse; Elk; Mason; Shriner; Republican; Christian Scientist; home RFD 4, Medford
Capitol's Who's Who for Oregon 1948-49, page 342

Theatrical History of Rogue Valley Recalled
    Dr. Arthur Taylor and Dr. Frank Haynes, chairman and associate professor, respectively, of the social science division of Southern Oregon College, have been gathering material for a theatrical history of the Rogue Valley.
    The Southern Oregon Historical Society and Robertson Collins, Jacksonville, have been assisting in collection, information, souvenirs, costumes and newspaper clippings of the early-day local theater.
    The researchers noted the history of the Rogue Valley includes an unusual record of theatrical events. The Footlighters, Vining Repertory, Kapers, Follies, Broadway Theater League and Shakespearean Festival all have roots back in local history.
Jacksonville Boom Days
    Starting in the boom days of Jacksonville there were road shows, concerts, circuses and magicians in hotels, bars, lodge halls and in tents. In Ashland, the theater moved from the Hauck hotel to the huge Chautauqua (now the site of the Shakespearean theater) to the theater started by Professor Vining (now J. C. Penney store in Medford). [There was never a theater in the Penney's building at Sixth and Central, nor on the site.]
    Medford had an opera house, now the site of Hamlin Motors. [Hamlin Motors was at 131 North Bartlett. There was never an opera house on the site.] The Angle theater was over Walt Young's Stationery and office supply store. Later trains brought a steady series of road shows to the Page theater (now the Esquire) with such stars as Maude Adams, Mrs. Minnie Maddern Fiske and Ethel Barrymore. Concerts by Paderewski, Schumann-Heink and Pavlova were presented.
Local Companies
    There were local opera companies, minstrel shows, brass bands, and amateur theatricals. Local singers added to early movies at the Bijou and the Star, and years later, a vaudeville bill at the Craterian included a young girl named Ginger Rogers.
    Fletcher Fish, Phoenix, who has considerable knowledge of history, recently presented his notes to Collins. He wrote:
    My introduction to theater in Medford occurred when I played the small part of the "Scribe" in a local talent production of the biblical operetta "Queen Esther" presented in 1907 at the Wilson Opera House. This building, a large wooden structure with a full-size stage, stood on the south side of Eighth St. between Front St. and Central Ave.
    In those days Medford's population was between four and five thousand, and theatrical troupes were few and far between. The Wilson Opera House served principally for local entertainment and dances.
Book Starts Migration
    About 1907-1908 a Dr. Streeter wrote a book called "The Fat of the Land" [1904] which swept like a fire through the eastern half of the United States. It touched off an unbelievable migration of doctors, lawyers, wealthy businessmen and retired capitalists in a wild stampede back to the land. A whole book could be devoted to this phenomenon. However, that is how the rush started from eastern metropolitan areas to Idaho, Washington and Southern Oregon.
    Medford apples and pears were familiar to easterners, and the production records of some of the orchards lured a huge influx of prospective settlers into the Rogue Valley, intent on planting orchards and sharing the prosperity.
Had Money to Invest
    These people were not penniless immigrants. They had money to invest and capital to live on--consequently Medford became a lively and sophisticated town.
    This was the era when successful Broadway shows, having completed their New York runs, took to the road for their cross-country tours. The Pacific Coast route played Los Angeles, San Francisco, and then a two-day jump to Portland and on to Seattle.
    Completing their final San Francisco performance, the players' special train would pull out at about midnight, passing through Medford the next day between 5 and 7 p.m., thus losing one day's show en route to Portland.
    Someone, perhaps an advance man, discovered that by showing in Medford to a good house, the troupe could pick up enough to cover the transportation expense for the entire trip north by utilizing an otherwise lost day.
First Venture
    The first venture was a sellout. People from Ashland to Grants Pass flocked in to jam the Opera House--at San Francisco and Portland prices--and the golden era of Medford's theatrical history was born.
    During its heyday the opera house hosted one hit after another straight from Broadway with the original cast. Among them were Max Figman in "The Man on the Box," "Alias Jimmy Valentine," Mitzi Hajos in "The Spring Maid," "A Knight for a Day," Edna Wallace Hopper, Lillian Russell in "Wildfire," Victor Moore in "The Three Twins" with Bessie McCoy the Yama Yama Girl, "Chocolate Soldier," "The Alaskan," May Robson in "The Rejuvenation of Aunt Mary," Kolb and Dill, Ferris Hartman and the Tivoli company from San Francisco in "The Toymaker " During this period Charlie Hazelrigg had taken a lease on the building and changed the name to Medford Opera House.
Light Opera Group
    Hazelrigg formerly was musical director of the Andrews Opera Company, many of whose principals, having been bitten by the orchard bug, had settled in the valley. Naturally, with the theater facilities at hand and a nucleus of professional principals available, Hazelrigg proceeded to organize a combination of local amateurs and experienced troupers into a light opera group. This group for a number of years added to the fame of Medford as the theatrical center of Southern Oregon and Northern California--interspersing their operettas between the schedules of the professionals' dates.
    Their repertoire included "The Mascotte," "Chimes of Normandy," "Bohemian Girl," "Giroflé-Girofla," "H.M.S. Pinafore," "Pirates of Penzance," "The Mikado," "Iolanthe," and "Robin Hood."
    With the building of the Page Theater around 1913 the Medford Opera House was abandoned. The "big" shows still came through. Al Jolson, Belasco's Lenore Ulric in "Bird of Paradise" (which introduced the ukulele, the steel guitar and Hawaiian music to the United States) and McIntyre and Heath in "The Ham Tree," were some of the travelers, but the movies were crowding the expensive cross country tours out of existence and when talkies came in, it was all over.
First Movie
    Medford's first movie was the Bijou, located in the rear of the Bates Brothers barber shop, its entrance where the Union Club is now. Bob Sears and his brother-in-law, named Hubbard. started the venture. The projector was cranked by hand, each reel was a separate subject, and the story was narrated by the operator--there were no captions. The evening showing consisted of two reels, an illustrated song and another two reels which concluded the entertainment.
Saturday Night Shows
    In the intermission between the first and second show the operator laboriously rewound the expended films. There were no Sunday shows, but there was one extra run Saturday night.
    The program changed on Mondays and Thursdays. "Toots" Osenbrugge was the pianist, but only fill-in music was played because during the running of the picture the narrator had to be heard. Fish recalled that he rendered the illustrated songs, "and sometimes the rendition was truly heart-rending." John Bunney and Flora Finch were the outstanding comedy teams, he noted.
    Shortly the Grand opened on Front St. between Main and Sixth, then came the Star on the south side of Main St. between Bartlett St. and Central Ave., and in the new Natatorium building in 1910, Court Hall set up his son, Seely, with the movie concession.
    In 1911 Fish was assistant manager at the "Nat." Steers and Coman, a Portland booking agency, had contracted the Russian Symphony Orchestra for their Oregon appearance and made arrangements for them to break the jump from San Francisco to Portland with a concert in Medford at the Natatorium.
    Whoever it was that they delegated to conduct the 1ocal advertising and ticket sales, the job really was fouled up. As a consequence, when Wynn Coman arrived about three days before the show there was an advance sale of around $150. It developed that the gentlemen had quit without notice and left town for another job. With the help of a couple of girls all prospects in the telephone directory were personally contacted. It worked, and the audience was up from nothing to a pretty fair showing--enough to take Steers and Coman off the hook.
    "So in 1912 when they planned to bring Mme. E. Schumann-Heink to Oregon they asked me if I would take on a Medford recital. I jumped at it, and Medford turned out the largest crowd in its history up to that time. Later I booked Mme. Johanna Gadski of Metropolitan fame and concluded my career as an impresario with a very successful concert by Mme. Lillian Nordica, the preeminent Wagnerian soprano of the era."
    The Angle Opera House, which was upstairs above what is now Walt Young's store, jointly shared its entrance with the Adkins building. Both were eventually incorporated into the Fluhrer building. The Angle was used only occassionally for social gatherings, and had no theater background.
Medford Mail Tribune, November 11, 1962, page 12

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

Last revised June 30, 2023