The exterior of Academy Theatre, located on SE Stark Street. This is one of Portland’s historic theaters. Photo by Ava Anderson

Portland, Oregon is home to many hidden gems. Walking the streets of Hawthorne, Burnside, or Stark, you are sure to find many interesting and intriguing places, new and old. Among these gems are Portland’s historic movie theaters, which date back as early as the 1910s.  

Portland’s first theater to exclusively show motion picture screenings was the Majestic Theatre, later known as the United Artists Theatre, which opened in 1911. One theory for why this theater was opened was Portland’s rainy weather; a movie theater was a great place to have an outing while staying away from the rain. Though the Majestic Theater unfortunately closed its doors in 1955,  Portland is still home to the same rain, and many old movie theaters. 

Located on SE Stark Street, in Portland’s Montavilla neighborhood, Academy Theatre is one of Portland’s historic theaters, especially beloved in the SE neighborhood. Academy originally opened its doors on April 30, 1948, and the 75th anniversary of this original opening is approaching. According to Hannah Miller, the Operational Manager at Academy, the theater did close down for a period of time in which it was turned into a print shop. However, in 2006 it was rebought, and restored to its former movie theater glory. The single screen was turned into two screens, necessary renovations were made, and new technology was added, but where possible, it was kept as similar as possible to the original. “Exterior-wise it looks identical,” Miller said, and this can be seen in historic photos and memorabilia placed in one of Academy’s hallways.

Not only does Academy feature old designs and architecture, but those visiting Academy can also watch movies that are currently not new to the screen. Recently the Academy played “Ghostbusters” and “Shrek,” and is known to show movies such as “The Princess Bride” or, around the winter holidays, “Elf.” As Miller stated, this gives many a chance to view a movie “they either have never seen in a theater or was their favorite movie, and they want to watch it again.” Academy does also show first run movies, meaning you are sure to be able to see new and old movies any week. Academy also offers much more in concessions than the typical modern-day movie theater, which is thanks to their connections to the surrounding community. While the typical popcorn and candy is still available, moviegoers can also have “pizza from Flying Pie, sushi from Miyamoto’s, [or] baked goods from Hungry Heart Bakery and Bipartisan,” as they watch a movie. 

Located on East Burnside street, Laurelhurst Theater is another of Portland’s historic theaters, first opening in 1923. Only closing doors periodically for remodelings, Laurelhurst is still running today, reaching 100 years of operation this year. The theater originally contained a single screen and seated 650 people. Now, upgraded to “four screens [the theater] offers first run films, bringing the best of modern cinema, independent art, and classic film to Portland’s movie lovers,” according to Laurelhurst’s website. This theater also doubles as a restaurant, so moviegoers who enjoy snacks can enjoy candy popcorn and food such as pizza as they watch a movie at Laurelhurst with much of the same architecture and designs dating back a century. 

Bagdad Theater, located on Hawthorne Street, has a similar feature: owned by the McMenamins Company, Bagdad Theater is now connected to a McMenamins restaurant, Bagdad Pub. This restaurant was not a part of the original theater, which opened in 1927, but was added by the McMenamins company when ownership was taken over. Now, moviegoers at Bagdad benefit from these additions, and many menu items are available while a movie is viewed. 

One reason for Bagdad’s popularity is the size of its screen and viewing room. Having a single screen to play first run movies, Bagdad often only has two showings a day. The one room, however, is not small. With floor and balcony seating, and historic arching ceilings with intricate designs, Bagdad not only shows new movies with food, but shows them on a large screen in a phenomenal setting.

Opening only one year prior, in 1926, Cinema 21 was first named the State Theater. Like Bagdad, Cinema 21 features a historic room where movies are viewed, but now with new seats and technology. Located at 616 NW 21st Avenue near downtown, Cinema 21 has hosted appearances from filmmakers, shown new and old movies, and hosts many of Portland’s major film events such as the Portland International Film Festival and the Portland Queer Film Festival, making it a unique and popular movie location. Though Cinema 21 did start with only silent films with live musical accompaniment, it now caters to modern times, playing first run and many lesser known movies.

Portland’s historic movie theaters are unique, each with their own features and draws. Though many do have similarities, whatever theater you visit, you are sure to find unique features and fascinating history intertwined.

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