Life Sunday, December 29, 2002
Top 10: Life's big moments in 2002

TIM LaBARGE / Statesman Journal

Andrew Chastain, 17, and his father, Ron, try to get a grip on the art of juggling Saturday at the Celebrate the Elsinore block party. The theater reopened Saturday after a four-month renovation.
The ups and downs of arts and entertainment mark 2002.

Statesman Journal
December 29, 2002

The newsmakers in 2002 for the Life section captured the flow of life in a changing but still familiar community, from the incessant turnover in arts administrators to the survival of drive-ins and small-town theaters to the refurbishing of a landmark Salem theater and a new conductor for the Oregon Symphony to a “Big Fat” movie hit and valiant efforts to build a Salem nightlife scene.

Here are stories that drew readers and defined the scene in the Mid-Willamette Valley in the past year.

Elsinore begins renovation

Downtown Salem’s Historic Elsinore Theatre, a 1925-26 Tudor Gothic landmark, went through the first stage of its $3 million Return to Grandeur renovations over the summer, with new exterior paint and lights, a new marquee, restored stained glass windows, a renovated basement and restored lobby murals.

The old movie house reopened in October with an open house, street fair and New Old Time Chautauqua performance. Work will continue next summer, with stage improvements, and into future years.

Small theaters enjoy revival

Small-town theaters held in strong in the Salem area and polished their charms.

The Star Cinema in Stayton reopened after a two-year closure and was completely refurbished with new paint, carpeting, snack bar equipment and sound; the “streamlined moderne”-style Palace Theatre in Silverton closed for several months to return with a new roof and ceiling, new carpeting, new paint, new seats and new curtains; and the Fox Theatre in Dallas added new seats, new paint and new carpeting for a red plush look.

Gordon house opens

The Gordon House, the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in Oregon, reopened to the public at The Oregon Garden in Silverton, restored and open to public tours.

Wright designed the low-slung, angular house in 1956, with construction in 1964 at a Wilsonville site, and the home survives as a small but notable primer on Wright’s detailed, elegant style of architecture.

Turnover hits the local arts

An arrivals and departure sign would have been appropriate for Salem-area arts groups in 2002. Gail Ryder left her job as executive director of Salem Chamber Orchestra to take over the same position at the Historic Elsinore Theatre.

Ryder was replaced at the orchestra by Kimberly Kenaston, who left a few months later for a state job and was replaced by Carole Orloff, who continues as executive director of the Smith Fine Arts Series in Monmouth.

At the Salem Art Association, executive director Ken Dale resigned abruptly in November, with his successor still being sought, and gallery director/curator Julie Larson was subsequently terminated, to be replaced after Dale’s successor is found.

The Elsinore also hired a new development director, Eric Howard, and Pentacle Theatre hired a new fund-raiser for its million dollar fund drive.

Kalmar succeeds DePreist

The Oregon Symphony in Portland, which presents a full season of pops and classical concerts in Salem each year, capped a three-year search for a successor to retiring conductor and music director James DePreist by hiring Viennese conductor Carlos Kalmar.

DePreist stepped aside earlier than expected to facilitate the hiring, and Kalmar, an innovative, young conductor with an eye for detail, proved a popular choice. Kalmar, who will divide his time between Vienna, Portland and a conducting job in Chicago, already has selected a new season and conducted his first program in Salem.

Salem nightlife struggles

The old question of what do you do for fun in Salem, especially if you’re a 20-something, took on new importance in Salem as new clubs and activities catered to the young, hip audience.

First Wednesday, the music, art and special attraction event in downtown Salem, continued to draw younger crowds, and Moonbaker Starbar on Liberty Street NE celebrated its first anniversary as a restaurant and nightclub mecca for young people.

John Funk closed The Edge dance club in West Salem and opened the 21-and-older dance club House of Funk on Commercial Street S. The former Wranglers on Commercial Street S was transformed into The Oasis, a tropical-themed restaurant and live music and karaoke club and bar. The YMCA Teen Center also staged a series of concerts by area bands.

‘Greek Wedding’ becomes a hit

One of the biggest movie hits of 2002 surprised everyone, especially Salem Cinema, which had the good fortune to book the low-budget romantic comedy “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

It stayed for 22 weeks, drawing record crowds and breaking all attendance records at the 175-seat theater in the Pringle parking structure. The movie, made for $8 million with no big stars, earned more than $200 million and became the most successful romantic comedy of all time, spawning a TV series. The film continues to play in Salem at Lancaster 4.

Salem Art Fair loses money

The economy battered everyone in 2002, and the popular Salem Art Fair & Festival was no exception.

Although the popular three-day July festival put on by Salem Art Association in Bush’s Pasture Park wasn’t a flop by any means, it came up short as a fund-raiser for the association. Attendance was down 10,000, and art sales declined by $60,000, with hot weather among the culprits.

Late in the year, the association put out a plea to donors noting that it was $25,000 on its financial earnings for the fair and might have to cut programs.

Pentacle debuts ‘Metropolis’

Salem’s Pentacle Theatre is not known for taking chances when it stages a musical, but it did something different in 2002.

Director Randy Bowser convinced the theater to stage its first musical not previously on Broadway with the Joseph Brooks/Dusty Miller show “Metropolis,” based on the legendary Fritz Lang silent film about a workers’ uprising in a repressive, futuristic society.

Bowser, who also did the music, collaborated with Brooks on a new version of the production that Brooks hopes to take to New York. The resulting production sold out all performances, including an added show. The production had the biggest cast and budget in Pentacle history.

Drive-ins still flourish

Most Americans of a certain age remember drive-ins as a rite of passage, a cheap place to take a date or a family and see a movie in the great outdoors, without leaving your car.

As a result of rising property values and the popularity of modern theaters with high-tech sound and projection and comfortable seats, drive-ins rapidly are disappearing but still hold on in Oregon.

Among the popular outposts are the Motor Vu Drive-In in Dallas, as well as the so-called ozoners in Newberg, Lebanon, Milton-Freewater and La Grande, where caring owners and zealous fans keep alive a tradition that may not be glamorous but is all about community and tradition.

Ron Cowan can be reached at (503) 399-6728.

Top 10 stories for Life

1. Elsinore Theatre undergoes major renovation.

2. Small-town movie theaters enjoy a revival.

3. Frank Lloyd Wright house opens at The Oregon Garden.

4. Major turnover hits local arts groups.

5. Carlos Kalmar becomes director of the Oregon Symphony.

6. Salem struggles to develop a thriving nightlife scene.

7. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” has record run at Salem Cinema.

8. Salem Art Fair & Festival loses money in sales.

9. Director Randy Bowser debuts “Metropolis” at Pentacle.

10. Drive-In movie theaters still flourish in Oregon.

Copyright 2002 Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon