McKenzie Theater

From Lane Co Oregon

[edit] McKenzie Theater Project by Andrew Cobb and Joey Millard.

The McKenzie Theater played a unique role in Springfield's history. The building was modified many times and had many owners. The building began its life as a theater in 1941 and then went on to become a fine arts theater, a children's movie theater, a boxing club and finally as it stands today, a dancing and music hall. Not many records of the building were kept up until 1986, when Lane County started keeping records on microfilm. A few documents still exist that contain small amounts of information about the change in owners before 1986, but that is all.[1]

The building is located on Main Street in Springfield, one hundred feet east of the corner of Main Street and 6th. This is shown on the tax lot map on the following page and is outlined in red. The building is fifty feet wide and one hundred and nineteen feet long and has four floors that yield about 7,500 square feet of floor space. The main ball room is 6,000 square feet. The other rooms in the theater are a projection room, an office, an apartment and a basement.[1]

The main ball room originally had seating for 550. A of today, it no longer has its sloped floor and only has a few of the remaining original seats. The floor has been leveled and made into a dance floor. The remaining seats constitute a rest area. The stage in the front of the theater has pretty much remained intact except for the installation of the movie screen.[2]

As previously stated, the theater was constructed in 1941. It began as a Broadway-type theater and remained as much for several years. Over time, the fare shifted towards movies as they became more popular attractions. At the time, there was considerable competition for an audience with drive-in theaters. Oregon weather was the key factor in the decision of survival. It rained so frequently that preferences were for indoor theaters to get out of the weather. However, this was not the only reason. The general trend was away from outdoor movie theaters. Drive-in theaters just went out of style.

The McKenzie Theater also suffered from the changes in customer preferences as well. Attendance and sales dropped dramatically to the point where the owners could not maintain a profitable business. This led to a change in ownership and ultimately a change in business.

Very little information exists regarding pre-1986 events. From the little information available it can be determined that there was change in ownership that occurred between 1956-1960 when the building was sold but it is not recorded to whom it was sold to, nor the amount of the sale.

The first documented change in ownership occurred in 1986 when Francis and Helen Greulich bough the building. They ran a movie business out of the building for a period of time. In 1991, the building was passed down to family members Mark H., John F., and Charles T. Greulich. The business that emerged place was classified as a fine arts movie house but in actuality was an adult movie theater; a few B-rated movies that did not contain adult content played there as well. City officials were somewhat wary of issuing permits because of the problems associated with the adult entertainment industry. This resulted in problems for future owners.[3]

Next the building was converted into a children's movie theater by a Mr. David Gibson, and his partner the Western Amusement Company in 1991. The partners payed $75,000 for the building. Moviews were shown regularly, but gradually interest waned and attendance decreased. Soon top-rated moviews were not shown until several weeks after they were released and then shown for a reduced price. This was at time when home video was becoming popular. Audiences were only willing to patronzie moviee theaters for new releases; otherwise they would wait to view the video at home. There was a secondary, and perhaps more important reason for Mr. Gibson to close the theater. He and his wife were having health problems. Mr. Gibson's wife tragically passed away in the theater that same year. This resulted in Mr. Gibson's decision to close the theater and rent the building.[2][4]

A boxing club rented the building in 1993, and started modifications to the premises. The first modification done was to partially level the theater floor which was sloped northward. This meant removing most of the chairs. These chairs were put into the basement for storage. The leveling was done so that a ring and training area could be put in place. A few general cosmetic modificatons were also made. The inside of the main room was freshly painted. The boxing club lasted for four years until the building was sold to Mr. Myers in June of 1997 for $127,000 following the death of Mr. Gibson.[1]

Before the building was sold, many artificats that were collected over the years still remained. The attick and the basement were full of old memorabilia. During the sale, everything of value that was not part of the structure was sold and the remainder was taken to the landfill.[2]

This theater has given many generations a source of entertainment. The business has changed so many times it offered something to all age groups from youths to adults. The theater may not have been the poshest building in town but the people who ran it made all the difference.

I remember the first time going to the McKenzie Theater. IT was in 1992 when my friend's family took me to the theater to see 'Homeward Bound,' the first remake of the original. I met the owner, Mr. Gibson, who seemed very friendly.

To get some of the information on the history of the building, we interviewed Mr. Myers, the current owner as of June 1997. He gave us valuable information and was instrumental in providing insight into the users of the theater.

[1] Lane County Records, Tax Department.

[2] Will Myers (November 11, 1997), Interview.

[3] Lane County Records, Deeds and Records.

[4] Doug Jordan (November 27, 1997), Interview.

[edit] The McKenzie Theater by Wesley Manning, January, 10, 1997, Senior Writing

The McKenzie theater was built in 1945-1946 after World War II. On September 10, 1946, a private party was called to test the theater out and make sure that it was in a way user-friendly. When all of this was taken care of and hte last minute preparations were made, the theater opened and had its grand opening the next day.[1]

Between the years of 1946 and 1968 a blank spot occurred in my researching. In 1968, the theater was remodeled. The box office was moved to the corner and metal arches and lighted globes were added to give the theater a more professional look and maybe make it stand out to attract more people.[1]

Two years later, in 1970, the theater's name was changed to Fine Arts. The idea behind the name is that it originated from the Adult Nude movie flicks that were being shown there at the time.[1]

In 1980, the theater was leased by Steve Bovee and the name was changed to the Mercury. Bovee took over at this time so that the theater would stay open and make the money it needed. Despite his efforts the theater would close in less than a year, mainly due to poor attendance and disputes with the owners.[1]

On August, 1991, Dave Gibson purchased the theater after two years of its dissertion. $35,000 was put into the initial remodeling of the theater. The Gibsons would finish their remodeling and open the theater on the same day it had originally opened in 1946.[1]

[1] Dave Gibson, "The McKenzie Theater," News Letter Number One. September-October, [1991]: p. 1-2.

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