A recent grant has kickstarted work again on the Baker Orpheum Theater renovation project for phase five of the six-phase endeavor on the historic building at 1812 Main St.
The $200,000 grant came from Oregon Heritage, a division of Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.
“This is a big deal,” said Aletha Bonebrake, chair of the Orpheum building committee. “The $200,000 is the largest amount they’re allowed to give.”
Bonebrake is also a board member for Eastern Oregon Regional Theatre, which will make its home in the Orpheum when it is complete.
The grant was one of 28 awarded to Oregon Main Street Network organizations across the state for projects that “encourage economic revitalization.”
Baker City Downtown solicited applications for local projects, and a BCD committee selected the Orpheum to submit to the state.
“It had a good solid plan ready to go, local support, and the economic impact to downtown will be huge,” said Carol Phillips, a BCD board member.
This most recent grant, paired with $295,000 from the Cultural Resources Economic Fund that was awarded in April 2021, gets the ball rolling again on the project.
“Now we’re starting to build,” Bonebrake said. “These two grants have been spectacular.”
The last bit of asbestos has to be removed, and a geotechnical analysis on the foundation is underway to prepare for concrete footings, which will support the structural steel framework for the balcony, staircase and fly loft.
“This is the beginning that people have been waiting for,” Bonebrake said.
Sid Johnson & Co. is the general contractor.
The project began in May 2016 with a $130,000 donation from David Burris that enabled Eastern Oregon Regional Theatre to purchase the 1889 building that housed the first Orpheum Theatre, a vaudeville stage that grew with silent films and “talkies” into the late 1950s.
The theater closed in 1956. In 1964 it was remodeled into retail space.
After Burris’ donation, the Orpheum project grew with grants and donations that funded feasibility studies, design plans and asbestos removal.
Total fundraising to date is $1,116,027.
Of that, $355,527 came from local gifts and events.
The amount from foundations and public funds totals $760,480.
Bonebrake is pursuing more grants for the sixth, and final, phase.
“The phase after this is the finish work,” she said.
The total project cost is estimated to be $2.5 million.
The Baker Orpheum Theatre will have 325 seats with a professional stage, balcony, fly loft, and state-of-the-art acoustics, sound and lighting.
The marquee design is based on the 1930s art deco style.
Bonebrake said the Orpheum will be used for EORT performances, as well as local music groups and other performing arts.
She said the main floor, with 125 seats, will provide a space for smaller gatherings or presentations.
The Orpheum will also bring national acts to Baker City, she said.
This is where Burris’ support comes in again — he has created a donor advised fund through Oregon Community Foundation that will support the Orpheum’s future, such as underwriting the cost for national artists to reduce the price of tickets for local residents.
Bonebrake is happy to talk about the Orpheum project with interested groups and individuals.
“I’ll show what we’ve done,” she said.
To request a presentation, call Bonebrake at 541-519-3255.
Monetary donations can be mailed to EORT, Baker Orpheum Theatre Fund, 2101 Main St., Suite 113, Baker City, OR 97814.