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Oregon Trails: Movie Theatres

Since 1908, movies have flickered across the silver screen of theatres in Southern Oregon. The first known movie house in Medford was called the Bijou, and was next to what was later the Winans Furniture

Posted: Oct. 19, 2017 1:38 PM
Updated: Oct. 19, 2017 1:38 PM

Since 1908, movies have flickered across the silver screen of theatres in Southern Oregon. The first known movie house in Medford was called the Bijou, and was next to what was later the Winans Furniture store on East Main Street. With movies running only a few minutes at a time on a hand-cranked projector, you often got other entertainment along with the cinema feature.

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"The STAR theatre opened up the following year, two doors down from the ISIS, and it would also show photo plays, or movies, and vaudeville. And what they'd generally do is they'd start in the morning and play all day long and you could come and go as you pleased. It was kind of a continuous performance,” says Bill Alley, a former SOHS archivist.

While the Holly and Craterian are the only old movie houses still left in downtown Medford, an empty lot near Bear Creek on East Main is the site of what may have been one of the nicest movie houses of all time in Medford, the Page Theatre.

"I think the Page was even nicer than the Craterian,” Bill says. “It was larger and a little more elaborate. It was older and wasn't as well equipped as the Craterian was, but had it not burned, I'm sure it would have been upgraded with the modern Simplex projectors." 

One of the few remaining Medford theatres is the Holly, which was built in the opening days of the Great Depression, in 1930. For years it competed with the Craterian, which itself was built to replace the burned down Page theatre. The site of the Page is where later another theatre, the Esquire, was built. It too burned down, in the early ‘50's.

Almost every town had at least one movie house at one time or another. In Klamath Falls there was the Tower, Esquire, Pine Tree and the Pelican. The Tower, the Pelican and Pine Tree are all gone, but the Esquire was overhauled about 25 years ago into what is now the Ross Ragland Theatre, a Performing Arts Center.

After World War Two, a more mobile public and improved equipment led to the development of drive-in theatres all across the country, some 4,000 by the 1960's. There were several in our area: a truck depot, a subdivision and Withams Truck Stop are all former drive-in theatres in Medford. The truck depot off Highway 99 between Medford and Central Point was the Valley Drive-In, which opened in 1947. It was widely known for its "dollar a carload" rates. This subdivision between Ashland and Talent was the popular Lithia Drive-In at one time. It opened in 1954 and closed 30 years later. And where Withams is located, the Rogue Drive-In once stood there, before Interstate 5 was built.

Perhaps the best known of all Medford drive-ins was the Starlite on South Pacific Highway, between Medford and Phoenix. About the time the valley opened in Medford, Charles Mangel opened the Redwood Drive-In in Grants Pass. The Redwood was the last Rogue Valley drive-in theatre to close in 1998. It's now a retirement center.

Classic movie houses like the Holly and the Craterian in Medford have long since given way to the multi-plexes all with a number of screens showing a number of movies at the same time. For the most part, they're largely performing arts centers now, but at least they're being preserved and we have their memory to remind us of the days gone by. 

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