As of last Thursday, the cat is officially out of the bag.
For those of you who don’t read the East Oregonian, I can report that big changes are on the way for the Oregon East Symphony and downtown Pendleton, Oregon. Last week, the OES reached an agreement with local businessman Greg Galloway to buy the long-derelict Rivoli Theatre on Main Street. The purchase price and terms of the agreement are not being released at this time, and the purchase is contingent on the satisfactory completion of a number of architectural, structural and acoustic surveys and studies which will be made over the next 3 months. We anticipate that in the near term, our mortage payments on the building will be less than what we were paying in rent on our old offices. The Rivoli is on the National Register of Historic Buildings. It was built as a movie palace and vaudeville theater in 1921, and was for many years the showcase venue in Pendleton. It has been closed for over 25 years and the interior is in complete disarray. You can read more about the history of the theatre here and here. The OES has long sought a more suitable performing space. Our current home, the Vert Auditorium, is owned and operated by the city, and has long been a source of considerable frustration. Although the orchestra has always been the main tenant of the building, the city has been unwilling to engage with the orchestra in discussions about urgently needed acoustic improvements, safety issues and problems with our patrons finding the building uncomfortable and inaccessible. Although there are millions of dollars of repairs and restoration that could and should be done on the building, we could make it a much better place for music and music lovers for a tiny fraction of that, but after years of discussions, the orchestra is becoming convinced that it is unlikely the building will ever be made more user friendly.
In March, our longstanding frustrations with our performing space became even more relevant when our offices burned down. This left the orchestra without a presence in downtown, which is something we all feel is indispensable to us. In our old location, the orchestra was part of the everyday fabric of downtown life. People could drop in any time, and did. We don’t want the orchestra to be something that people only come into contact with when a concert is on. In looking for a new performing and administrative home, a number of us thought the Rivoli deserved a fresh look. In fact, our first goal after purchase is not to make the building into a concert hall, but to make it our new offices. We’re then going to put together a task force from within and without the orchestra to start raising money with the goal of a complete reconfiguration and restoration of the building.
Right now, the theatre is little more than a shell. There are few features to preserve, which gives us tremendous flexibility in restoring the space. Our goal is not to restore the Rivoli to its former glory, but to convert the Rivoli into a modern, versatile, welcoming and glamorous place for music, film and dinner theatre. While many projects have built theatres that can also serve as concert halls, we’re looking to build a concert hall that can also serve as a theatre. Acoustics will be priority one throughout the project. We’ll maintain period features where possible, but also make sure that the building is exciting, fresh and dynamic. We want it to be a space for the next 100 years, not the last. The OES will own and operate the building, renting it out to other presenters and clients, but also presenting events of all kinds. When finished, we hope to have a 550 seat auditorium with the main floor and two shallow gallery balconies, which will include a number of special boxes. The stage will be big enough to hold a 70 piece orchestra, but probably not a larger orchestra and chorus. For those programs, we’ll have to return to the Vert. There will also be a second floor concession area and bar with a balcony seating area opening up over Main Street.
For us, this represents a unique opportunity to bring a number of new partners into our circle of supporters. There are many in Pendleton who have longed for years for a restored Rivoli on Main, many of whom might not otherwise be passionate symphony supporters. After the shocks and traumas of this spring, it’s been inspiring to see the board and staff work on finding a long-term solution to our primary challenges as an organization. They’ve worked hard and acted decisively. We’ve got a lot of hard work ahead, but I’m encouraged that we’ve decided on a plan that takes us forward and sees us becoming a more vibrant organization and a bigger player in the development of downtown.
Six weeks ago, we had serious doubts about whether the orchestra could finish the season. Thanks to the many friends who stepped in and helped, we’re now able take a big step forward.