It was the last week of Hunger Games and Mirror, Mirror was scheduled to open next.
But in between – on April 11 – a blaze bullied its way through Silverton’s historic Palace Theatre, leaving intense heat and choking smoke in its wake, and causing the theater to close its doors for extensive restoration.
Yet from the look of things, it may not be that long before visitors stream in once more, drawn by the irresistible aroma of movie popcorn wafting in and out the doors. Thanks, in large part, to those visitors.
“We’ve been overwhelmed with dozens of e-mails and probably hundreds of calls, snail mail and folks stopping me on the street to volunteer their help,” said theater owner Stu Rasmussen.
It has been especially encouraging given the circumstances.
“When I saw building immediately after the fire, I figured oh well, we can rebuild the snack bar, vacuum out the soot and be up and running in a week,” said Rasmussen, who also holds the office of Silverton mayor. “But I’ll tell you, the cold hand of reality came out and slapped me good.”
Restoration specialists must perform extensive work, beginning with a thorough cleaning – by hand – of the auditorium ceiling. After they labor to remove all of the soot and smoke they can, a specialty painter will apply a coat of hermetic sealant. …And then Rasmussen hopes the theater can open again.
There would have been nothing to hope for, Rasmussen said, without the finesse of Silverton firefighters.
“They used practically no water; a few brief squirts and it was out,” Rasmussen said. “They did a great job in not making the situation any worse than it already was by pouring water onto it.”
Even though firefighters had hoses running through it, Rasmussen saw no evidence of water inside the auditorium.
“It goes to show the level of training and dedication those guys have gotten – my hat is off to them,” he said.
The insurance company is now compiling the scope of work necessary and a plan of attack. It has not yet determined how much it will cost to revive the “Grand Old Lady.”
The Palace Theatre is that and much more to Rasmussen
“My father was manager there when I was born, so I grew up in that building,” he said. “…that’s a phone call you don’t ever want to get.”
Around 1964, Rasmussen returned to Silverton to work for Mrs. A. L. Adams, whose husband built the structure.
Rasmussen and Roger Paulson purchased Palace Inc. in 1974, which includes the building’s contents, such as the snack bar and popcorn machine.
To Rasmussen, that popcorn machine was the heart of the place. He is on a quest to find another that is as close to the original as possible – and that is able produce such magical popcorn.
As the building’s owner, Nancy Eng carries the insurance that will cover the building’s restoration.
“Both of us are committed to getting the Palace reopened in as close to its original state as we can – as soon as possible,” Rasmussen said. “It does nobody any good, particularly the community, to have the theater closed.”
“We’re down for awhile, but we will be back and everybody is working in that direction,” he said. “It is out of my hands, but my fervent hope is that we are up and running by the first of July – or sooner.”
Rasmussen is a bit uncomfortable about the fund established at West Coast Bank for contributions to Palace restoration costs.
“It’s not my nature to take charity, and I don’t see it as that,” Rasmussen said. “It’s just that people keep coming up saying ‘What can I do?’ Since there is no physical labor to be done at this point, if people want a way to express their support for us, they can donate to the fund.
“We are well insured and we are a business, not a charity.”
Rasmussen said any donations not used will be donated to the Silverton Fire District.
“Without their quick response, the Palace would be history,” Rasmussen said.