Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Sharing Memories: The Esquire Theater in Klamath Falls

The Esquire Theater Spire
Courtesy of Dan Haneckow

Klamath Falls'  Esquire Theater was built in 1939 and was a contemporary of the  Tower Theater. However I don't have many childhood memories of going to the Esquire.  Now I asked myself, "Why?"  I could remember specific movies and events at the Tower, Pelican, Pine Tree, and even the old store-front movie theaters, the Rainbow and Vox, but not the Esquire.   In my child's mind,  the Pine Tree and Pelican theaters were the older theaters which were around in the silent movies days; the Pelican a special theater that my parents talked about,  and perhaps town kids went to matinees;  the Pine Tree had a fare of westerns -our family favorites. The Rainbow and Vox also showed westerns--at least that what I remember of those two theaters. No childhood memories of the Esquire.

A bit of wool-gathering thoughts of movies times of my childhood seemed to provide a glimmering of the answer.  By the 1950s, the Tower was the closest of these two new theaters  to our rural farm, whereas the Esquire was the "townie" theater.  When I was in high school distance and "townie"  was a factor, but not so much when we joined the ranks of "young married's." 

When I think of the Esquire, I remember the deep maroon spire with the white lettered ESQUIRE that rose above the the neighboring businesses -- and at night the the lighted spire drew patrons to a magical movie night. The Art Deco-style theater also had a more modern elegance, at least in my mind.  The stone and glass ticket booth was lovely in the theater's hey-day.  Even this 1984 picture,  which was taken after the theater closed and in disrepair, reflects the original elegance of the theater.


The Esquire Theater Ticket Booth in 1984
Courtesy of Dan Haneckow

We saw many movies in this theater in the 1950s, and here are a few of my most memorable moments.    I remember climbing the carpeted center-aisle stairs to see Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  The theater was packed, nearly sold out, and Ric and I had to sit nearly in the back row, high above the screen, and just below the projection booth.  Strange how such a seemingly innocuous memory sticks in one's mind-- but I really liked  that movie.  

Another Esquire moment came while watching 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Movies, to me, were not a spectator sport, but rather an opportunity to live another life albeit for just an hour or so.  In this movie, I am right there with Kirk Douglas in the  boat, or maybe on a dock,  as the giant squid rises up behind him. The theater seemed to have a collective silent inhalation of breath, as I scream a warning to Kirk, "Watch out behind you!"  My husband Ric, shushes me and shakes his head with a knowing smile.  This wasn't the first time I had lost myself in a movie, nor would it be the last -- but perhaps the loudest --and most notable if the"tittering" of folks around us was any indication..

We usually parked in a store lot a few blocks from the Esquire. A brisk walk in the winter, but in the warmer months walking back to the car from the theater was a treat.  Cool crisp evenings, clear star-laden skies, made for a great ending to a night out, as Ric and I walked hand-in-hand down the familiar streets.  That's how I remember the Esquire Theater. 

The Esquire Theater in 1984
Courtesy of Dan Haneckow


In the early 1960s, Ric and I moved our family of three young children to Pullman, Washington, in order for him to attend the Washington State University's Veterinary College, so we didn't see the downward spiral of the movie theaters that were part of our history.   By 1984, when the above picture was taken , the Esquire had closed and the glamor of those wonder years had disintegrated to a damaged, empty  marquee and a shabby, worn-out version of its former self.  However that lovely old Art Deco theater had fans throughout the Klamath Basin, who had a vision of a community center dedicated to the arts.  Fundraising started in 1983, but the plans came dangerously close to failure when the theater owners decided to demolish the building.  The Founders of the very active local Community Lounge stepped up and purchased the building.  They then donated the building to the City of Klamath Falls in exchange for a permanent home in a portion of the renovated building.

By 1989, a number of community businesses and leaders had stepped up and made the $2 million renovation a reality.  The theater, renamed the Ross Ragland Theater, after a prominent local civic leader and patron of the arts, opened in March of 1989.  The first presentation was a local production of The Music Man.  Since then, our family has attended a number of events at the Ross Ragland Theater, ranging from children's dance programs,  Cowboy Poetry presentations and contests, and a lovely musical production of White Christmas.
The Ross Ragland Theater, Klamath Falls, 2011
Courtesy of Dan Haneckow
The Ross Ragland Theater now is a privately-owned, not-for-profit corporation, which is widely supported in Klamath County and surrounding areas.  The Theater has added a Cultural Center which allows the theater to further serve the community by providing a venue for meetings, banquets, and even weddings.  It's reassuring that the Ross Ragland Theater is providing a cultural center for Klamath County and the four surrounding counties, as well as providing cultural experiences, through its Outreach and Education programs for the next generation of theater-goers.

Although when I look up at the spire of the theater, I still miss the brightly lighted ESQUIRE sign.

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

2 comments:

  1. So many of the old theaters are gone--it's wonderful that this theater building is still serving the community.

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    1. How true. Klamath Falls was lucky to save the Esquire, as it was the last of the old theaters left standing. I always have been sad that the city fathers neglected to save the old Pelican Theater -- she was a classic. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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