Guest Author | 01/01/2023 | Arts and Culture

Whiteside Theatre: Living History on the Big Screen

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.

The Whiteside Theatre, at the corner of Fourth Street and SW Madison Avenue, has served the Corvallis entertainment community off and on for 100 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," 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.

"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."

The Whiteside shows classic second-run movies several times a month, with themed movie months for holidays like Christmas and Halloween, and hosts concerts and special events regularly. It's also available to rent as a meeting or lecture space.

Visit the Whiteside Theatre for a movie night every Wednesday at 7 p.m., along with the Bob Newton Family Movie, a family-friendly 3 p.m. matinee. Wednesday tickets are $5. Matinee tickets are $5, and free for kids 12 and under.

The Whiteside also hosts multiple concerts every month, with ticket prices ranging between $15 and $35, depending on the performers. Enjoy live music from local, regional and national artists in this grand old theater, along with drag shows, special movie screenings, film festivals, and more.

Be sure to check the Whiteside's events calendars - for movies, live shows, and Whiteside-hosted events - to find out what's happening. History buffs and theatre-lovers can also arrange to tour the Whiteside Theatre.

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.

Read More.

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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