The interior of Astoria's historic Liberty Theater has been refurbished and restored to its original beauty and beyond.

Now Liberty Restoration Inc., the nonprofit group devoted to preserving the famous downtown landmark, is turning its attention to the building's exterior. It's all part of an improvement program that began in 2001, less than a year after the group purchased the aging theater.

The Liberty had been painted several years ago, but without proper surface preparation. This time, plaster was repaired and flashing was installed to make the building weatherproof before the primer went on. Now the final coat is being applied: four shades of brown designed to bring out the ornate theater's architectural features, said Michelle Dieffenbach of Rickenbach Construction, general contractor for the restoration of the Liberty.

A final decision on the rest of the color scheme is yet to come. The board of Liberty Restoration Inc. is still pondering whether terra cotta is the best hue for the building's corner elements and whether the windows should be dark green to match the canopy over the front entrance, or bronze, as suggested by historical color expert Jimmy Pickering, co-owner of Lunar Boy Gallery downtown.

Pickering, a former color stylist for Disney and Universal Studios in Hollywood, said painting the window sills black would tie in the big Liberty sign, and keep it from being just "a huge black element on the facade."

He said the board came to him on a Friday to pick out paint colors, and wanted it done by the following Tuesday. He conducted some historical research on the colors used for theaters and movie palaces from the 1920s, when the Liberty was built. In those days, he said, most bases for pigments were organic, so most colors were earthy, and vibrant colors were so expensive they were usually reserved for interiors. He looked at popular colors from that time period then "tweaked them" to be more like hues used in the Northwest, which are usually more green, brown and grayish blue than elsewhere, and then came up with three color schemes.

However, the Liberty, with its Mediterranean-style facade and tile roof, is not typical for the Northwest, Pickering said. So rather than sticking with the cooler Northwest palette, he picked terra cotta as one of the colors for the facades of the towers that punctuate each of the building's four corners. The color mimics the terra cotta roof, he said, and "really anchors the building on the four corners."

Then, Pickering said, he pulled the Northwest colors, four shades of greenish-brown, into the flat spaces between the towers. He said the browns will be tied to the terra cotta by the building's ornamental filigree, which will be painted the lightest trim color. The plane behind it will be lighter brown.

Carrying out the painting mission is a crew from Astoria's Tongue Point Job Corps Center. A dozen students enrolled in the painting trade at the center have spent several weeks enthusiastically wielding paint brushes and rollers under the watchful eye of instructor Lawrence McDonald.

With six months of painting class under his belt, Rick Lara, 22, of Moses Lake, Wash., has already helped paint another important historical building, the Clatsop County Historical Society's Heritage Museum. As a result of his experience, Lara has decided on painting as a profession, but with a slight twist. "When I leave here I want to be a professional air-brusher for cars," he said.

Edward Williams, 17, of Seattle, said he became psyched for the project with a light show and a movie on the history of the Liberty. "I never really worked on a place so old. I'm glad to take part in doing it," Williams said.

It's been wonderful for the students, McDonald said, adding that the public has started to warm up to them.

"For me the most successful part of the program is watching students grow and interact with the public, the vendors and contractors," he said.


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