The Baker Orpheum Theater project is moving along, and by early 2021 residents will start seeing changes at the location on Main Street.
Since January, the project has received $82,000 from five local donors. That boost will complete construction documents, design review, and permitting by the end of the year so work can begin next year.
“That’s the good news,” said Aletha Bonebrake. “We go from the quiet phase to the active phase.”
Bonebrake is a board member for Eastern Oregon Regional Theatre, and chair of the building committee.
The project began in May 2016 with a donation from David Burris that enabled Eastern Oregon Regional Theatre to buy the 1889 downtown building that housed the first Orpheum Theatre, a vaudeville stage that changed and grew with silent films and “talkies” into the late 1950s.
The building was most recently occupied by Marilyn’s Music.
Work immediately began to find funding. A grant for asbestos abatement was awarded by the Leo Adler Foundation in December 2016. In late 2016-2017, the project earned grants from the Oregon Community Foundation and Ford Family Foundation to fund a feasibility study.
Deconstruction to the shell was completed in mid-2018 and the unseen work since then has been done by architectural and engineering consultants.
Eastern Oregon Regional Theatre (EORT) is the nonprofit fiscal agent for the Baker Orpheum, which will become the theater’s permanent home.
“EORT’s mission from day one was to find a permanent home for the regional theater,” Bonebrake said.
To spread awareness of the project, the space was open on most First Fridays, and benefited from local fundraising events.
That all came to a halt in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“Our fundraising is predicated on making presentations,” Bonebrake said.
A $16,674 grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust was awarded to develop a patronage database and narrative to share with potential donors — when group meetings resume.
“We have been diligent, things did happen,” Bonebrake said. “People believed in us and we’re ready to move forward.”
The project is entering Phase 5, a $208,000 phase for structural upgrades to accommodate theater flyloft weights and balcony construction. The remaining three phases of the $2.2 million theater project include trim of interior spaces including lobby, balcony, stairs and marquee construction, and equipment (including seats).
The Baker Orpheum Theater will have several uses in addition to being home for EORT. It will also provide a space for local performing arts groups.
“Like our local choirs, and the local orchestra,” Bonebrake said.
It will be available to rent for large gatherings, and provide a performance space for traveling artists.
Bonebrake said Burris, in addition to purchasing the building, has set up a fund with the Oregon Community Foundation to underwrite the cost of nationally known artists to keep ticket prices affordable for local residents.
To date, the Baker Orpheum project has received more than $530,000. Of that amount, nearly $291,000 has come from local individuals and event donations.
“The local support we’ve received is astounding,” Bonebrake said.
The remaining funds were grant awards from foundations, including the Oregon Community Foundation, Ford Family Foundation, Leo Adler Foundation, Sunderland Foundation, Oregon Cultural Trust, National Historic Preservation Trust, Autzen Foundation, Buerkel-Zoellner Fund, Kinsman Foundation, Travel Oregon, Reser Family Fund, and Union Pacific Community Fund.
Donations to the Baker Orpheum can be made in care of Aletha Bonebrake, 2490 Baker St., Baker City, OR 97814.
Those who would like more information about the project can call her at 541-519-3255.