The Whiteside Theatre Foundation Endowment Fund provides an income stream for the rehabilitation and sustainability of the Whiteside Theatre. The Whiteside was one of the grandest theaters in Oregon when it first opened its doors to the public on Nov. 9, 1922. It was owned by the Whiteside family until 1984 and then changed ownership several times, finally becoming part of the Regal Cinemas chain. Crumbling cement sewer pipes caused Regal Cinemas to close it in January 2002 with a showing of “Lord of the Rings” and put the building on the market. A group originally called Friends of the Whiteside prevented the theater from being turned into a shopping mall and requested that Regal Cinemas donate the building to be used for the community’s benefit. Friends of the Whiteside became the Whiteside Theatre Foundation, a nonprofit organization. Under their guidance, and with a lot of community support and volunteer work, the theater is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The movie palace originally housed a Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ designed to accompany silent movies, and thus was built for acoustic integrity. The Whiteside Theatre Foundation’s goal is to return it to its former majesty and facilitate its use to showcase live music of all types.
“This building is actually designed for sound. I have heard it said that it is acoustically perfect,” said Louise-Annette Burgess, chairperson of the Whiteside Theatre Foundation board of directors. “It is a great place for people to come and listen to their favorite music. We want to have something that will appeal to all age groups and demographics so all of Corvallis and our surrounding area can benefit.” The rehabilitated facility will also be available as a rental house for events such as reunions, parties, weddings, and business meetings and will be able to show classic and silent films from time to time.
The group had to do a lot of fundraising to pay for a formal structural analysis of the building. The board of directors called the analysis “Act 1, Scene 1” of the foundation’s three-act plan for the Whiteside. Scene 2 was upgrading the sewer and plumbing systems, Scene 3 was an upgrade of the electrical system, and Scene 4 addressed the building’s heating and cooling systems. The Whiteside Theatre Foundation also obtained a grant from the Benton County Cultural Coalition to help refurbish and reinstall the historic pipe organ.