Monday, January 7, 2013

Sharing Memories: Of Movie Theaters in Klamath Falls -- Poole's Pelican Theater

Poole's Pelican Theater in Klamath Falls, Oregon
opened January 29, 1929
Courtesy of Puget Sound Theater Society

As a teenager, I viewed Poole's Pelican Theater as the dowager empress of movie theaters in Klamath Falls. However in its early years, well-dressed patrons of the arts attended symphonies, ballets, and stage productions, while most everyone in town and surrounding area flocked to see silent movies and then the "talkies." The old theater was also the venue for the Saturday morning kiddie talent show, which was followed by a matinee of cartoons and westerns. On June 23, 1928, the Poole's installed a Whurlitzer theater organ, an opus 1897 style 202 special, for the silent movies that were still being shown at the time of its opening. However by the early 1930s the "talkies" were regular fare and there was no longer a need for the Whurlitzer theater organ. The manufacturer repossessed the Whurlitzer and rebuilt it in 1937 for Chicago's Aragon ballroom.

The theater doors opened in 1929, which was about the time my mother told of going to the Pelican theater for Saturday talent shows and matinees. By 1934, the Pelican Theater was the special date night spot for my parents. The opulent ivory interior with its gold leaf decorations, pillars, and deep wine-red carpet made a movie date seem more than special. The following picture of the inside of the theater brought back my mother's old memories of opulence and the feeling of a very special occasion when my father took her to a movie at the Pelican.

Main floor lobby of the Poole's Pelican Theater
Courtesy of Klamath County Museum

On August 15, 1932,my future father-in-law, silver Medalist Ralph Hill, was greeted by over a 1,000 people who lined the streets to greet his return from the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. My future-mother-in-law, Lois Irene Dixon, who was barely 17 years old, proudly rode at his side in the open car through the streets of Klamath Falls. Later, even more people showed up at the Pelican Theater for the town's official  welcome home for it's Olympic hero. The theater must have been a packed house as the Pelican seated 1,590. The throng of people waiting to get into the theater  for Hill's welcome home must have looked much like the street-lined picture shown below.

A 1940s  crowd of people waiting
entrance to Poole's Pelican Theater
Courtesy of Puget Sound Theater Society

As a young girl,  I remember being so very impressed with the wine-red carpets and chairs, the heavy red and gold drapery, and the gold-leaf decorations. However, one of the most vivid memories stemmed from a date night movie with Ric. We were still in high school at the time and had gone to many movies together, some even at the Pelican, but this night was special.   I remember taking great care in dressing.  First was brushed gabradine skirt, a pencil-straight skirt with an off-center slit clear to the knee (the slit must have been all of 4 inches long).  Then I topped it with a long-sleeved silky blouse and a plush tiger-print vest and matching tam. I thought the vest and tam my mother made for me were very cool -- and I still have them stuck away in some drawer.

I was full of anticipation as I watched Ric's green Chevy come over Mt.Laki Cemetery hill and across the flat, probably about five or six miles from our house. However, when he pulled off of the blacktop and up the hill to our house, I sauntered nonchalantly across the living room and kitchen to open the breezeway door for Ric. After a quick greeting and an obligatory nod and commitment to my mother that he would have me home by 11 o'clock, Ric handed me into his Chevy and we were off to the movies.

My memory bank tells me it was a special day, perhaps Valentine's Day, my birthday, or some other special teenage day of the 50s. Going to the movies at the Pelican was always a treat, but this night Ric surprised me by buying loge seat tickets which were more than double the price of regular seats. Ric was really pulling out all the stops in his effort to surprise and impress me. The usher, dressed in a wine-red uniform with gold trim, led us us the wide curved staircase, her red-muted flashlight carefully pointed towards the floor. She unhooked the velvet rope to the entrance to the loge seats and showed us to our seats. I sunk into a plush red velvet upholstered seat beside Ric and enjoyed the decadence of the loge seating -- at least it was decadent to this country girl. Not every movie date at the Pelican qualified for loge seating, but a girl knew she was special when her date splurged on loge seating -- at least in my circle of friends.
Main floor lobby of the Poole's Pelican Theater and
staircase to the balcony and loge seating
Courtesy of Klamath County Museum

All through the 1950s the Pelican theater, though now a bit shabby and showing her age, was still the venue for most of the symphonies, ballet troupes, and stage productions that came to Klamath Falls.  During these years,  I remember taking my young daughters to the holiday production of the Nutcracker, as well as attending ballets and international cultural productions with my family.   However, by 1960, the powers-that-be in Klamath Falls decided that a bank parking lot would be more beneficial to the "growing" city. The Klamath Falls Herald & News headline of February 20,1961, noted that the walls of the Pelican Theater came tumbling down. My grande dame of theaters lay victim to "progress"and a bank parking lot.
The bank parking lot where Poole's Pelican Theater
once reigned
Courtesy of  "Lost Memory" which was submitted to online Cinema Treasures
Klamath County Museum Fast Facts (online)
Puget Sound Theater Organ Society (online)
Cinema Treasures (online)   

~ ~ ~
 © Joan G. Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications


  1. I'm enjoying this series of posts. Old theaters were such amazing buildings.

  2. Joan, you just received the Illuminating Blogger Award. You can learn more about it at http://nancysfamilyhistoryblog.blogspot.com/2013/01/awards.html. Congratulations!

  3. Don't you just love those old theatres- they could be so glamorous. BTW I nominated you for the Wonderful Team Reader Membership Award. You can see it here http://cassmob.wordpress.com/2013/01/09/wonderful-team-member-readership-award/. Thanks for all your support over a very long time.