Northeast Portland

Portland's historic Hollywood Theatre debuts its new marquee

Portland's historic Hollywood Theatre debuts its new marquee
Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman,

PORTLAND, Ore. - The historic Hollywood Theatre in Northeast Portland has a brand new marquee - the latest in a series of renovations the place has been undergoing in the past several years.

The new marquee, designed after the original one that was on the theater when it opened in 1926, replaces one that had been there for around three decades. It's not exactly the same as the original, but it's pretty close.

"They didn't have neon back then and this has neon," said Doug Whyte, the theater's executive director. "They didn't have a reader board where we put the movie titles. They didn't have that on the front, but we added that. Other than that, though, the actual design and the pattern on it is exactly the same."

It took two years, a lot of fundraising and a lot of work to make this happen. The official lighting for the new marquee was held Thursday night at the theater, located at Northeast 41st and Sandy Boulevard, following a screening of the 1296 Buster Keaton film "The General" (complete with live organ music).

Watch the Countdown and Lighting
Video courtesy of the Hollywood Theatre

A designer out of California who specializes in marquees created the new sign for the Hollywood Theatre.

"The funny story with him is that a couple of years ago I was having a meeting with my staff and we were brainstorming what we should do next," he said. "And we thought it would be really cool to get a new marquee to symbolize all the changes that are happening here and improve our face to the community. And literally, that afternoon, he walked in off the street."

Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman,

Whyte said the designer, Fernando Duarte, was walking by the Hollywood Theatre one day and stopped to admire the facade. He then walked inside and asked if they might be interested in a new marquee. Fast forward a couple of years, and the front of the Hollywood Theatre has a whole new look.

The total cost of the marquee, including installation, was around $130,000. About half of the money came from grants and donations and the rest from a Kickstarter campaign. While that might sound like a lot of money for a new sign, Whyte feels like he got a pretty good deal.

"I was kind of surprised too (about the cost) when I first started looking into it," he said. "But now I'm actually thinking it was a bargain almost. So much work went into it with the design and how complicated it was to build it and install it. I mean, it took them almost a month straight of work to install it."

The first step was tearing down the old marquee. And then with the building being so old, there was original electric wiring they had to deal with and a lot of reinforcement work that had to be done. The process was not a simple or easy one, but Whyte is definitely happy about the final product.

The marquee project was the latest in a larger revitalization for the 87-year-old Hollywood Theatre. Some of the changes include a renovation of the facade, new seats in the auditoriums and a new upstairs lounge designed by a couple of local artists.

An upstairs room has been transformed into a lounge. Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman,

The theater is now digital as well, a conversion that movie theaters and drive-ins across the country need to do to stay in business. That's because technology is changing and 35 mm film prints are being phased out in a push towards an all-digital platform.

"We had three auditoriums to convert, so it wasn't cheap," Whyte said. "And it doesn't really draw more people to the theater, it just allows us to keep showing films."

Whyte said they spent the last few years saving up grant money to pay for the $161,000 in digital equipment they needed. Old school movie buffs will be happy to hear, however, that the theater will still run actual film.

"We still really like film," Whyte said. "Thankfully, our booths are big enough that we are able to keep film in our auditorium. We can still show 35 mm, which we did for the Buster Keaton film. We can still show 16 mm and we're also going to convert our downstairs auditorium to also be able to show 70 mm."

And it's not just a sense of nostalgia that's making them want to keep running films the old way.

"People in Portland are interesting. If we advertise something as being on film, it actually brings more people out," Whyte said. "It's sort of like people being into vinyl."