From Realtà Mapei n° 33 - 5/18/2021
MAPEI helps historic movie theater return to limelight
The Oroville State Theatre in Oroville, CA, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And, if you are given to believe in ghosts, it would be easy to believe that this place is surely haunted – if not by one or two of the many actors and actresses who have graced her silver screens, then by the theater’s own dramatic past. After all, her steel bones were exposed for all to see, with rust stains bleeding down the ornate concrete facade.
Designed by famed California Art Deco architect Timothy Pflueger and built by T&D Jr. Enterprises at the tail end of the roaring ’20s, the Oroville State Theatre sprang to life in a charmed time when movies reigned supreme and California fed the world – both figuratively and literally.
The area was rich in agriculture; in fact, it was the agricultural industry that supported Oroville through the early days of the Great Depression when nearby communities did not fare as well. That richness was reflected in the nearly 1,600-seat Oroville State Theatre, which even boasted a Wurlitzer pipe organ. Unfortunately, the economic downturn of the Great Depression hit the area all too soon.
The theater was sold to United Artists (UA), and the company “modernized” the interior by adding a wall to divide the auditorium into two 600-seat spaces to show more films. UA also, unfortunately, allowed both the interior and the exterior to lose the grandeur of the theater’s golden-era past. By the time UA sold the theater to the City of Oroville in 1983, it was a ghost of its former self.
It was not until 2014 that the Oroville City Council stepped in and voted to allow the State Theatre Arts Guild (STAGE), a non-profit organization, to operate and manage the theater as an all-volunteer venue.
STAGE knew that the Oroville Stage Theatre deserved to be returned to the showplace status of its glory days. Thus, the organization embarked on a community effort to restore the theater by beginning an initiative called “One Pipe at a Time” in homage to the beloved Wurlitzer organ that was reinstalled and once again plays out over the auditorium on special occasions.
(Editor’s note: The organ was in storage near the Oroville dam and was reinstalled after the dam’s spillway was repaired, thanks to another successful MAPEI intervention. See the “Oroville Dam” case study in Realtà MAPEI North America, No. 30, for details on that project.)
To restore the theater’s exterior, STAGE contacted Pullman Construction. Pullman, in turn, reached out to MAPEI.