Columbia Theatre in Longview, WA
If there’s a word that people tend to use to describe the Columbia Theatre in Longview‚ it’s “magical”.
Standing on the 80-year-old stage‚ one can feel the energy of performers who first left their footprints‚ says Kelly Ragsdale‚ the theater’s technical director. Stretching out over the stage is an ornate proscenium arch that once hid massive organ pipes. The space later became projection rooms when silent films replaced vaudeville acts.
The 1‚000-seat theater is decorated in rich‚ warm colors of terra cotta and rose. The Italian Renaissance style feels lush with its detailed murals and fixtures and the chandeliers hanging over the balcony. One mural forecasts what founders thought Longview would look like in 2000. From the main curtain to the original sign greeting spectators‚ most of the theater looks today as it did when it first opened.
“It’s very peaceful‚ very powerful‚” Ragsdale says of the theater. “This is the most beautiful building in this community.”
Saved from demolition 25 years ago‚ the theater today draws about 40‚000 people annually from a five-county region. It will host 16 performers and shows this season‚ and Ragsdale says there is no other performing arts center of its size in southwest Washington.
“You fall in love with it when you walk into it‚” says Dan Mankin‚ executive director of the Columbia Theatre for the Performing Arts. “It was built with an intimacy you don’t feel anywhere else.”
Built in 1925‚ the theater was a priority among Longview’s founders‚ who saw the theater as an integral part of the fledgling community. Aides to city founder R.A. Long formed the Columbia Theatre Amusement Co. and built the theater in seven months.
Over the years‚ the theater began to struggle‚ closing for some time in the 1970s. The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens postponed the theater’s scheduled demolition‚ giving the community time to rethink the theater’s importance. Later purchased by the city‚ it reopened in 1983.
Today‚ the theater hosts live performances as well as arts and education classes and community events. The 2005-06 season will be getting a late start after the theater closed to expand the backstage area. The renovations will allow the theater to host larger performances‚ including musicals‚ says Sherri Greenleaf‚ marketing director.
The theater’s performances cover a wide range of interests in Longview.
This season‚ Rita Coolidge‚ Kathy Mattea and Glen Campbell are scheduled to perform‚ as well as the Harlem Gospel Choir and the Children of Uganda choir.
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