If you examine the early history of cities and towns in the West, you invariably find the names of women who brought arts and culture to those places. And if you look at celebrated restoration projects, you’ll find women at the forefront.
It was the Mt. Vernon Ladies Association that took the financial challenge of restoring our first president’s home. It was Jacqueline Kennedy who stood in the way of Grand Central Station’s demolition. Doing that, Kennedy launched the restoration ethic, which places like Astoria now take for granted.
Marge Bloomfield was a latter day version of this archetype and Astoria benefited from her determination and generosity.
When I visited with Marge and her husband, Ted, over lunch at Ira’s Restaurant (now Drina Daisy) in 1988, my intent was to recruit them to the cause of restoring Astoria’s Liberty Theatre, a building that was in a death spiral. Within two weeks, Ted had died.
One always needs luck in a risky venture. The earliest days of the campaign to restore the Liberty were marked by the good fortune of talents that came our way. Marge Bloomfield was one of them. In the wake of Ted’s passing, she joined the board. Vera Blore was another. The wife of then-commander of Coast Guard Group Astoria Gary Blore, Vera became our development director. She brought East Coast fundraising experience and she was a driven professional.
In a communication to me on Monday, Vera referred to Marge’s “steely resolve.” A titanium backbone is the essential characteristic of the western cultural pioneer. Abigail Scott Duniway, the Oregon suffragist and newspaper publisher, had it. I observed it in Lanny Hurst, who led the 1970s drive to preserve and restore Portland’s Old Church.
I vividly remember when the Liberty board in 1999 faced the urgent need to raise $60,000 for a second option on the building. Marge was one of the six donors who came forward to meet that challenge.
On another occasion, Marge brought the renowned interior decorator Norman Yeon (brother of the architect John Yeon) into the theater. With flashlights in hand, Marge and I showed Yeon the theater’s architectural gems, including the Joseph Knowles paintings. I found Yeon difficult to read. But Marge’s persuasiveness and long relationship with Yeon yielded a five-figure gift to the restoration.
The Bank of Astoria president, Cheri Folk, was not the only board member who was stunned at my choice of Marge as the chairwoman of our construction committee. In that capacity, she met almost weekly with Rickenbach Construction, the project’s lead contractor. A restoration as extensive as the Liberty Theatre is rife with pressing choices.
Most of all, we benefited from Marge’s life in the performing arts. She had few illusions about how theaters work. One of the Liberty’s unique assets is an array of retail spaces at the street level. Those provide rental income. But even with that, cautioned Marge, the theater will not make money. It will require constant fundraising, she said. And so it has.
Marge was more than a hard-headed professional colleague. I discovered the depth of my feelings about her last Sunday when Margaret Bloomfield called with news of her mother’s passing.
Steve Forrester, the former editor and publisher of The Daily Astorian, is the president and CEO of EO Media Group.