Medford, Ore.– From the very first time the Holly theatre opened its doors in 1930, it’s been a landmark building in Medford. The last 30 years or so though, it’s been more of a silent monument to the days when movies were one of the primary forms of entertainment. Local historian George Kramer observes that, “movies were one of the few industries in America that really did well during the depression. You could go see a movie for nickel or a dime. People could still afford it, and it was a couple hours of escape! You saw cartoons. You saw newsreels. You saw the motion pictures of the day, in a beautiful setting. And maybe you forgot that it wasn’t so great outside the theatre.”
The Holly has had an up and down history in the more than 8 decades since it was built and opened. When it was built, it was different from most other movie houses of the day, and the half dozen or so in Medford. “This is really the first theatre that was designed in Medford specifically for “talkies”, says Kramer. And it was much, much bigger. He adds, “It had the acoustics for talkies. And when the Holly theatre opened a tenth of Medford could go to a show!”
Randy McKay of “Jefferson Live”, which is working to restore the old theatre and operate it as a performing arts venue says, “it started construction just 3 weeks after the stock market crash that began the great depression. So they were anxious to get it open quickly and to not have to do any touchups to it later depending on the whims of public entertainment. So, while it was designed for talkies, just in case that was a fad and ‘silents’ came back, they put in these beautiful boxes here in the off chance they needed to install pipe organ pipes and put a pipe organ in to accompany the ‘silents’ when they came back. And just in case film altogether was a fad and died out, they did the unthinkable. They built a full stage, a fly loft for scenery, an orchestra pit, a dressing room, none of which would’ve been built in a movie theatre just a few years later.”
And off and on for more than 50 years the Holly was the showcase movie house in the Rogue Valley. But it fell into disrepair following a renovation in the ’70′s, and closed its doors. McKay says it’s a blessing those other features were originally added, now that the Holly is being transformed into a performing arts center. The outside facade, including the marquee and pylon sign have been restored and new windows put in place. Now the focus is on the inside, which has been taken down to its basic core for remodeling to its former glory.
Kramer says, “everybody had a good seat and there was a thousand seats in there, and so they would do the really big shows. The really popular movies would play at the holly!”Donors can now “buy” seats with their donations. Chandeliers and other fixtures are also up for sponsorship to raise the additional two million needed to restore the Holly. The restoration of the Holly theatre is expected to cost a little over four million dollars. Supporters say that they’ve already reached half that amount. They hope if fundraising goes as they anticipate, construction on the completion of the inside could begin sometime next year.