Work on Granada Theater gets underway

New owners ask public to help locate old photos

The Granada Theater as it appeared in 1938.

Contributed photo
The Granada Theater as it appeared in 1938.

According to Chuck Gomez, the new owner of the Granada Theater in downtown The Dalles, “a ton of stuff has been happening” at the 1930s-era theater.

“The city has been very pleased with our progress,” he added.

On March 31, Gomez and co-owner Debra Liddell were presented the keys to the theater by Mayor Steve Lawrence of The Dalles. The ceremony completed the purchase arrangement, which called for the new owners to pay $60,000 for the theater property and then invest as much as $300,000 to refurbish and renovate the structure and reopen it for public events.

“We want everyone with an interest in ‘their’ historic Granada Theatre to stay informed on progress and her restoration,” Gomez said. “We’re hopefully working toward a fall grand re-opening three-night gala.”

Lawrence said plans to renovate are moving at a solid pace.

“I’m happy with what I see them working on,” Lawrence said.

Lisa Farquharson, president and CEO of The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is excited about the possibilities a renovated Granada Theatre will present for The Dalles.

“Anytime we can bring a building back to life with a purpose that will draw locals as well as out-of-towners, that is good for the community,” said Farquharson. “We are in communication with Chuck and Debra each week, and we are here to help them any way we can.”

Gomez said state grants have been applied for, but he won’t learn if they were awarded until mid-June.

“Until the final decisions and awards are made, renovation cannot start in full,” Gomez said, adding that initial work on the property is already proceeding.

“Firstly, all the many electrical power meters throughout the theater were changed out for ‘current’ models and main box safety inspections,” he said.

As part of the process, Gomez explained there has been a lot of research, which he termed “very enjoyable and never-ending.” Part of the research has dealt with trying to figure out how to replace the seats in the theater in a way that honors its history while meeting modern needs.

“To date, the greatest time spent has been and continues to be in the ultimate design of newly manufactured seats that have the style of vintage 1930s art deco theater seats and with the comfort of today’s plush modern seating,” he said. “Besides the basic seat design, addressing the choice of fabric and fitting the vintage shape with a cup holder has been quite the task!”

Locating effective and historically-appropriate lighting is also presenting a challenge.

“We have been lucky enough to find original drawings and plans for theater lighting built by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for the Metro Cinema in 1938,” Gomez said, adding that the Metro Cinema theater was designed by a celebrated American theater architect, Thomas W. Lamb, with assistance from architect David William.

In addition, small prototype sconces have been commissioned for the Granada.

“These prototype sconces will be up for our review and the general review and approval by the town’s agency overseeing the historic restoration,” Gomez said. “These sconces can become the basis for our 48-inch wall sconces, and a possible related design for replacing main lighting fixtures.”

Historical photos of the theater in its heyday – from its opening in 1930 all the way up until the 1960s -- have been located, and Gomez and Liddell are hopeful of finding more.

“These photos had many design surprises in store for us,” Gomez said.

The photos show that the original theater was a slightly dark sand color with much lighter trim color accents, and that there was detailed wrought iron gate work on the smaller upper windows.

Further, the original domes were of copper or a copper color, and not the later silver/tar coating they were given when they were maintained in recent years.

Neon lighting framed the sidewalk level picture windows as well as the upper grand, Moorish-styled windows, and the early “spade” Granada sign was removed in 1948 and replaced with the current marquee.

“As the replacement marquee has been with the Granada for the past 70 years and the original a mere 18 years, we will do our best to restore the present marquee with late 1940s and early 1950s color schemes,” Gomez said.

In another rebirth, Gomez and Liddell want to reopen a café at the front of the theater. They hope to offer an authentic Chicago-style menu, along with an adjoining “Made in Wasco County” gift shop that will feature a variety of fine, local goods.

The new owners are appealing to area residents to help the cause by sharing copies of any pictures of the interior of the theater, or any special event pictures residents may have of family members performing at the facility or waiting in line.

“We are looking for local folks to help bring back the Granada’s historic details,” said Gomez.

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