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Whiteside Theatre: Living History on the Big Screen

Guest Author | 08/22/2019 | Arts and Culture, Historic Places, History

Historic Whiteside Theatre

The second-run movie showing on the silver screen projects a look back in time; 20, 30 years and perhaps more. A history of the Whiteside Theatre tells an even older story, one of vaudeville, fire, and the changing course of entertainment.

Whiteside Theatre, Stage, Corvallis, OregonThe Whiteside Theatre's stage. The Whiteside Theatre, at the corner of Fourth Street and SW Madison Avenue, has served the Corvallis entertainment community off and on for 97 years. And, if you ask theater executive director Jen Waters, there’s still plenty of life within these walls.

"I see the Whiteside becoming an entertainment hub for Benton, Linn and the surrounding areas in the next five years," Jen says. "We're increasing our programming to include bigger acts – music, comedy, Ted Talks, and tons of youth acts."

But let’s go back to 1922, when brothers George and Samuel Whiteside opened the theater. It was the second of six theaters they would build in town. Vaudeville was the draw then and Whiteside stage was the place to see it.

Only the Whiteside and the Majestic theaters remain.

A Little History

"It was built for vaudeville," Jen says, "but then it caught fire and burned down. Twice actually. The first time was in 1927 and the second time was in 1936."

The brick interior saved the structure from the electrical fires, but by the time the doors were ready to re-open, "vaudeville was basically dead."

In time, the theater was converted for movies with new seats and carpeting. Seating was reduced from 1,100 to a more comfortable 800, Jen says. But over time a single-screen theater could not compete with multi-plex operations and first-run movies no longer shone on this big screen.

The theater’s renaissance came with second-run movies, old favorites theatergoers wanted to see again in a classic environment. "The first time we sold out was when we showed The Princess Bride," Jen says of the 1987 fairy tale cult classic. "In fact, we had to turn people away."

Now "Wednesdays at the Whiteside" is a fixture in the theater’s programming schedule. And The Princess Bride is a testament to why the weekly feature works.

"I don't think people knew what [The Princess Bride] was when it first came out and then the word got out," she says. "Geek culture kind of took over and now every time we've shown it, we still get really big crowds."

Looking Ahead

Whiteside Theatre, Main Light, Corvallis, OregonGlamorous 1920s-style touches like the decor around the main light fill the Whiteside. The theater, managed by the Whiteside Theatre Foundation, is closed in August for its annual repairs. A new season starts Sept. 4 with Wednesdays at the Whiteside. The first scheduled film is Little Shop of Horrors, followed some Harry Potter, Monty Python, 9 to 5, and more.

And when movies aren’t scheduled, look to the same 19-by-12-foot stage that once welcomed those old vaudeville acts.

"We’ll do quite a bit of stuff to increase our programming. We’ll do a lot of live music," Jen says, pointing to Oct. 3 when John McEuen, a founding member of the classic bluegrass/folk Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, appears. "Performers actually like the size of this space. They like 800 seats."

Stage shows start with Celtic music from High Time on Sept. 13. The October bill is laced with folk, Celtic, Scottish, pop and progressive music.

There will be matinee movies for the kids, partnerships with local organizations and events like TED Talk-style presentations. (TED is a nonprofit organization that promotes the spreading of ideas through short presentations.)

Jen talks of future plans as she walks through the lobby and stops in front of a large photograph. The image reveals a smiling young Rock Hudson with theater ushers and patrons during a publicity stop at the Whiteside. It’s a visual reminder of the theater’s place the Corvallis history.

For event and movie updates, visit

Article by Dan Shryock. Photos by Reed Lane Photography. Keep up with Corvallis news, events and happening by signing up for our email newsletter.

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