John Ginder marveled at the stunning, 1,200-pound, 8-foot tall iron-framed chandelier that is the centerpiece of the majestic Liberty Theater.
The videographer, who has lived in Astoria for about a year, had never been inside before a free open house Saturday afternoon to celebrate the historic theater’s 90th anniversary and the 10th anniversary of the grand reopening.
“It’s beautiful. I love old theaters like this,” Ginder said, pointing up at the chandelier. Ryan, 13, and Will, 11, bolted up the staircase to a get better view from the balcony.
His partner, Judith Niland, a writer and director who works with the Astor Street Opry Company, is a longtime Astorian who remembers when the old vaudeville house and movie theater was not exactly a source of civic pride.
“It was really sad to see that,” she said of the time when the theater was in disrepair. “So it was great that they did this.”
The best part, she said, is that the theater renovation helped restore a city block. “I’ve watched the town come back up,” she said. “And if we can just take care of that Flavel corner ...”
The open house was a chance to show off the Liberty to locals who may not have had an opportunity to catch a performance and to visitors stopping by the city for the day.
“Beautiful,” said Patti Miles, an architect who lives in Portland. “We just happened to be walking by and it said ‘tours.’”
“It’s a gorgeous building,” said Tom Richardson, a mailman from Portland who was with Miles.
The free tours Saturday included a peek inside the McTavish Room, where tables were set for an elegant dinner Saturday night, and the Paulson Pavilion, which had a puppet show.
At the dinner, Jordan Schnitzer, a Portland real estate magnate and philanthropist, surprised guests by announcing he would give $10,000 “to bring school kids into the theater.”
Schnitzer’s foundation was an early supporter of the Liberty’s restoration. He also was a leader in the drive to restore the Astoria Column and he contributed financially to the creation of the Garden of Surging Waves at Heritage Square.
An evening concert featured Ken Lavigne, a Canadian tenor, who brought his touring “The Road to Carnegie Hall” show.
Rosemary Baker-Monaghan, the Liberty’s executive director, described the theater as the “community’s treasure.”
She said she has often heard stories from colleagues at League of Historic American Theatres conferences about cities with memorable theaters that had been torn down over the years.
“And Astoria doesn’t have to say that,” she said. “It could have gone either way.”
The theater’s actual 90th anniversary is on April 4 and the 10th anniversary of the reopening is on June 10th.
“My favorite thing, if someone has never been in here, especially if they’re from Portland, is to bring them in and take them up the ramp with minimum lights on and have them go into the balcony and sit down and then turn on the lights,” Baker-Monaghan said.
“Because the reaction is always the same: ‘Oh, my goodness. This is so beautiful. I had no idea there was something like this in Astoria.’”