History of The Egyptian Theatre
Click the photo for a slide show of the Theatre
The Egyptian Theatre is located on the main street of the City of Coos Bay, the largest city on the Oregon Coast. The City of Coos Bay shares the largest deep water port between San Francisco and Seattle with several other cities. The combined population of the area is about 65,000.
In the early 1920's a group of local businessmen retained the noted Portland Oregon architect, Lee Arden Thomas, to design a 1,240 seat silent movie and vaudeville house for the main street of the city. It is worth mentioning that not only did Mr. Thomas design Coos Bay's Egyptian Theatre, but four other movie palaces in Oregon as well, including one in Eugene and three in Portland. Designed on an Egyptian theme, popular in the 1920's, the interior was decorated by a Seattle firm specializing in theater interiors. At the time, the Egyptian housed the latest theatrical equipment and drops. The centerpiece of the new theater was a $32,000 state-of-the-art Wurlitzer Theater Organ.
When the Egyptian opened on November 19th, 1925, at a cost of $200,000, a dinner was held on stage for local luminaries and representatives from many major Hollywood studios. That same day, more than two thousand people attended the opening movie and vaudeville show.
After 82 years, the Egyptian Theatre still remains the largest movie house of its kind on the Oregon Coast. Amazingly, the theatre remains much as it did in 1925; equipment, organ and decor. One person who visited the Egyptian several years ago wrote in a national publication that a visit to the theater was like a step back in time.
Since its opening the Egyptian Theatre has served the community as a major source of entertainment, with movies and live performances. It came as a shock to many people when in November of 2005, the owners of the theater suddenly closed for business and put the building up for sale. The Egyptian Theatre Preservation Association was formed by a group of concerned citizens from all walks of life who believed that the Theatre was too important a part of our history to be lost. Our group quickly developed a plan to save the Theatre, and after making many presentations to the Coos Bay City Council, convinced the City's Urban Renewal Agency to purchase the Egyptian as a good investment for the economic and cultural benefits it would offer the residents of the city and surrounding communities.
On April 1, 2006, the Egyptian Theatre was purchased by the City of Coos Bay Urban Renewal Agency. On July 21, 2006, the Agency signed a management agreement with the non-profit Egyptian Theatre Preservation Association to allow the Association to manage and operate the Theatre on behalf of the city and the community.
Since July 21, 2006, the Association has completed organizing our non-profit entity, held fundraising events to raise money for operation, and recruited many new members by the distribution of membership forms through mailing and person contact with the public. Some of our ongoing fundraising events include dinners, rummage sales, free organ concerts, and participation in local festivals during which we sign up new members, give tours, and talk to the public about future plans and events for the Theatre.
The Association has done extensive cleanup work inside the Egyptian Theatre, and has started renovating the stage and the Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ, both of which are a major part of providing live entertainment to the public. During the summer and fall of 2006 we held various events for the public, including concerts using the Wurlitzer Organ, and a variety of Vaudeville-style performances on our stage.
On October 27, 2006, the Egyptian Theatre Preservation Association began showing scheduled movies to the general public. As stipulated by the purchase agreement between the City of Coos Bay and the former owner, Coming Attractions Theatres, Inc., we are limited to showing movies that are five years old or older. We are dedicated to showing movies our community wants to see, and are continually gathering lists of movie titles based on their suggestions. Films are shown on Friday and Saturday evening, and Sunday afternoons.
Future plans for the Egyptian Theatre Preservation Association include continuing to expand the uses of the historic Egyptian Theatre by promoting the facility to the community for additional meetings, concerts, plays and other local events. We are applying for grants to continue to upgrade our stage and equipment. This will allow us to feature more sophisticated live performances by theatre groups, and other live performances from outside our area. Our theatre has a balcony that had in past years been converted to accommodate two smaller movie theatres. After months of work, the two small theatres were taken down and the balcony restored to its original condition just in time for yearly Christmas Concert. Renovation of the balcony restored the Theatre to a seating capacity of over 1,000 seats. We also received a $30,000 grant from the Coquille Tribe in February to repair the theatre's heating system. We are seeking grants for money to renovate the interior lobby, upstairs bathrooms and fixtures and to provide bathrooms on the first floor that will meet ADA accessibility requirements.
Increasing attendance is allowing the Association to expand our selection of movies to include additional requested films. We have obtained licensing contracts with most of the movie studios, including Warner Bros., Criterion Pictures (20th Century Fox), Universal Studios, MGM, Samuel Goldwyn Films, and Paramount Pictures. We are also seeking lists of public domain movies to provide our patrons with additional entertaining and educational programs. As movie attendance grows we will offer additional show times to our patrons, and be open more days during the week. A future goal is to hold a local film festival that will draw film buffs from all over the United States to our town.
We are continuing to work in partnership with local schools to provide programs of entertainment and education value to the children of our community. Currently we are offering many special programs for school children, including tours of the theatre, movies and exposure to our Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ. Several local schools have already participated in these programs. We are also making the theatre available for school fundraiser's.
On January 19, 2007, we put on a fundraiser for the history club of a local middle school, who sent students to Washington D.C. in June of 2007. The students sold movie tickets, local businesses sponsored the cost of the movie, and the Egyptian Theatre Preservation Association split the proceeds from ticket sales with the history club. The event was a huge success, with a sold out house!
We are also offering the Egyptian Theatre to other non-profit organizations and groups for their use and enjoyment. On November 18, 2006, the facility was rented by the Oregon Department of Human Services for an in-house presentation. Then, on February 17, 2007, we sponsored a movie for a non-profit organization called "Hollywood Dreams", a local group dedicated to providing adults with disabilities exposure to the arts. A color brochure is being distributed to Chamber of Commerce offices throughout the state of Oregon to further promote use of the Theatre for meetings, seminars, conventions and other events.
We will continue to encourage all age groups to be involved with the Theatre. A big part of our mission is the education of future generations on the importance of preserving their heritage. This is essential to ensure that the Egyptian Theatre and its Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ will be around for future generations to enjoy.
We are seeking grant money and contributions to continue with the renovation of the Mighty Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ, a very unique and special instrument. It is a Wurlitzer Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra, installed in the Egyptian Theatre on August 13, 1925. The console is located in the center of the orchestra pit, and the chambers housing the pipes and acoustical instruments are located on each side of the Theatre near the proscenium arch.
Although its original use as a garage before the theatre’s grand opening in 1925 is well known, you might be surprised to learn that behind that fancy façade, there are still a couple more secrets.
When the horrendous July 23, 1922 fire broke out on Front Street, it consumed the Marshfield City Hall, numerous downtown businesses, and several residences, all located along the waterfront.
At their August meeting, the City Council passed an ordinance to sign a lease with Conje Noble to house the fire department and the police department in his brand new highway garage. The lease was for one year, renewable for one year, at a cost of $100 per month. The fire apparatus occupied one side of the garage with a guaranteed unobstructed way to get out of one of the Broadway exits. The chief’s office and firemen facilities were at the rear of the building. A 12’x14’ addition was erected on the northwest corner of the structure to accommodate Police Chief Jack Carter’s local inmates. It was constructed of concrete blocks and 2’x4’ timbers, with all plumbing and fixtures furnished by the city. Windows were barred, with adequate ventilation a prerequisite. All access to the jail was by way of the alley—not through the garage.
Fortunately, the temporary occupants were able to move to quarters in the new city hall in plenty of time for the planned transformation of the garage into the fabulous new Egyptian Theatre on the Oregon Coast and its grand opening in November, 1925.