By Lisa Britton

For the Baker City Herald

David Burris remembers every inch of the Orpheum Theatre in Baker City — a place where he watched Roy Rogers movies and countless others.

Now, someday soon, he will again step inside that theatre.

Burris, who lives in Baker City, recently made a donation to Eastern Oregon Regional Theatre that made it possible for the nonprofit to purchase the building at 1821 Main St. — originally the Orpheum Theater.

“I’ve wanted to do this all my life — it was my dream,” Burris said. “Something happened in my life that I could help the town. The day that theater opens will be a big day for me. It’ll be like going back to being 9 years old.”

The EORT board shares his excitement.

“It’ll really expand our mission,” Aletha Bonebrake said.

She was the first to hear from Burris about his plan.

“It was unbelievable,” Bonebrake said.

Scot Violette, who’s had his eye on the building for just this purpose, admits he “screamed like a little girl” when Bonebrake shared the news with him.

Once the building is restored, Violette envisions a variety of shows, plays and other acts nearly every single weekend.

“Eastern Oregon Regional Theatre will bring in acts — not just our own shows,” Violette said.

“It’s going to bring performing arts into the center of the community,” Burris said.

The building will be named Baker Orpheum Theatre.

History

Most recently, the building was home to Marilyn’s Music Plus before that store moved to the east side of Main Street.

The Orpheum in Baker City was built in 1889 as part of the “Orpheum Circuit” of vaudeville and movie theaters. It burned in 1936, and was renovated in the 1940s.

It closed in 1956 — affected by competition from drive-in movie theaters and television.

Fortunately, remodeling the building for other uses didn’t really affect the theater’s original look — construction just covered everything up.

“This building is in perfect shape,” Burris said. “It’s going to be beautiful.”

The current “hanging ceiling” will be removed to reveal the three-story ceiling, balcony, mezzanine and original murals.

“It’s still there under that ceiling, and murals from the 1930s,” Violette said.

Also, the original sloped floor is still preserved beneath the current, level floor.

The next step is a feasibility study to help EORT secure grants for the restoration.

“And I have a bunch of fundraising ideas,” Violette said.

The building advisory committee includes Burris, Bonebrake, Violette, Kelly Brickman, Tabor Clarke and Paul McNeil.

Violette said he will place a television in the window of the Orpheum to keep the community updated on progress, as well as stream news about EORT productions, other local events and membership information.

Speaking of membership — Burris has been given a lifetime membership.

See more in the May 30, 2016, issue of the Baker City Herald.

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