Guest Author | 10/31/2022 | Arts and Culture, Concerts & Music, Downtown Corvallis, Historic Places, History

The Whiteside Theatre Celebrates Its 100-Year Anniversary

There are three main reasons to visit the Whiteside Theatre - the non-profit’s concoction of diverse entertainment offerings, to learn about it as part of Corvallis’ past and current history, and its historic architecture. There’s something for everyone - history buffs, ghost hunters, families, film-goers, and those looking for a fun night’s entertainment.

Starting on November 9th, 2022, The Whiteside Theatre begins a year of celebration honoring the 100 years since its inception.  Each month will feature a top hit film from each decade. The first movie shown at the Whiteside Theatre in 1922 was "The Old Homestead," accompanied by Mrs. Lillian McElroy on the $20,000 two-manual double touch Wurlitzer Organ. It was the first theater in Corvallis to offer "talkies" in 1928 when it showed "Lonesome." The first offering in November 2022 will be the influential silent horror film from the 1920s era, "Nosferatu."

The kickoff of year-long celebratory events starts on November 11th.  During the day, there will be tours, discussions of projects and plans, plus a raffle for gift baskets donated by local Corvallis vendors.  While there, be sure to pick up a sticker featuring the memorable 100-year-anniversary logo designed by local artist Betty Turbo. That night will showcase a popular Neil Diamond cover band, Super Diamond.

Looking for family fun? Check out the monthly "Bob Newton Family Movie" events featuring free films for kids under 12.  Bob Newton was a treasured volunteer who started an annual program back in 2010 offering free-for-kids Christmas holiday movies. Join the party on November 12th, which kicks off the “Bob Newton” events for this significant anniversary year!

Besides the carefully curated movie line-up for ‘Wednesdays at the Whiteside,’ they are planning year-round, unique events and a diverse mix of performers and entertainers playing the theatre’s stage. Want to see what’s coming up? Check out the Whiteside Theatre's events calendar or Visit Corvallis’ calendar for future events.

On the 4th Street side of the building, you’ll see the plaque that shows the theater is on the National Register of Historic Places. Across Madison is another sign with the Whiteside’s history, including information on how it was built by the Whiteside brothers, details on its original splendor, survived two fires, the addition of the marquee in the 1950s, and more.

The Whiteside’s website goes into further detail about the history, decor, and architectural styles. If you go on a tour, you’ll see the front façade, beautiful ceilings, the garden boxes, stage and learn more interesting facts. Here’s a fun side note - while Samuel and George Whiteside built the vaudeville and movie theater, plus The Majestic and other theaters in town, it was their brother Charles who created The Mid-Way Drive-In Theatre in 1953. While the drive-in has since gone out of business, its marquee lives on as a poetry-art installation on the side of Sugar J’s Ice Cream Workshop on SW First Street.

After 63 years, the Whiteside family ownership ended with the sale of the theater to Tim Moyers Cinemas, which in turn, in 1998, was acquired by Regal Cinemas. In 2002, Regal stopped showing movies because the theater needed extensive repairs. Local residents decided to preserve the historic building, and in 2008 the Friends of Whiteside Theatre received the title, stipulating it become a non-profit.

Since then, the 800-seat venue has depended on volunteers and fundraising. During this anniversary year, the group will be fundraising for a new ADA-compliant bathroom and updating the marquee.

Rumor has it that two ghosts hang out in the theater, with several sightings by reputable people in the community. The current Executive Director, Jen Waters, reassures guests that the ghosts are in their happy place and that they did not die in the theater.

One specter is Lillian McElroy, the organist who played along to the movies for years. The story goes that she had a spat with her philandering husband in their apartment, which ended in a murder-suicide. Her apparition is most often seen where the Wurlitzer organ used to be located.

Seated in his "usual" seat, which changes depending on who you speak with, is the ghost of Charles Whiteside. He is the brother who bought into this theater in the 1930s and the owner of the former drive-in. His sudden death came from a heart attack somewhere between the theater and his home a few blocks away. If you happen to sit in his seat, we are sure he’ll be happy to share.

Whether you come for a girl’s night out, to see a movie with the kids, to donate your time or money, or to experience the building’s stories, you will be a part of the Whiteside Theatre’s 100-year history.  Please make memories - and if you share on social media, please use the tag #visitcorvallis, and we may share the fun with our audience too.

Article by Stacey Newman Weldon. Photos by Stacey Newman Weldon, Reed Lane Photography and the Whiteside Theatre. Keep up with Corvallis news, events and happenings by signing up for our email newsletter.

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113 SW 3rd Street, Alley Suite 101
Corvallis, OR 97333
(Entrance facing 2nd St public parking lot)
800-334-8118 | 541-757-1544
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