Did you know that we have two really cool historic theaters right here in downtown St. Johns? If you don’t know the history of the St. Johns Theater or the St. Johns Twin Cinema, let us enlighten you about these gems.
St. Johns Theater
The St. Johns Theater has an especially fascinating and unexpected history. It was originally intended to last for just six months. The National Cash Register company constructed the temporary theater for the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition, which was a world’s fair that brought nearly two million people from all over the world to our area in the four months it was open.
The original building was pretty ornate. It included colored flags, a portico, a cupola, and a tall statue.
Conversion to a Church
Once the fair ended, most of the temporary structures were razed. Very few of the original buildings at the exposition still remain because most were torn down in 1906. Other remaining buildings are the Fairmount Hotel and the American Inn.
But somehow, the theater escaped. It was donated to the First Congregational Church of St. Johns and was remodeled to look more like a church. The church removed some of the most ornate finishings. They also added a pulpit, traditional arched windows, and eventually, a back wing. Eventually, the building was transferred to the St. Johns Lutheran Church.
Controversy at the American Legion
The American Legion occupied the building for 40 years during the latter half of the century. The building was used for their functions, but it was also regularly rented out to the community for events. When it was revealed that thousands of dollars were missing from the Legion’s bingo game, the Legion was forced to put the historic building up for sale.
Return to a Theater
Al Salazar decided to breathe new life into this decaying building. He redecorated and called the new place Duffy’s Irish Pub.
Near the beginning of this century, it was turned back to what it was originally intended for—the movies. The theater has been upgraded with new seating, sound, and screen. But you can still buy drinks to enjoy with your movie. Wines, ciders, and ales, as well as a full menu, are all available. You’ll also enjoy the Northwest-style pub fare with fresh ingredients from local producers.
St. Johns Twin Cinemas
The St. Johns Twin Cinemas was opened in 1913 by the People’s Amusement Company (it was called Multnomah Theater at the time, and it’s gone through several name changes). The owners set out to build a modern theater, and it cost about $30,000.
Originally, the theater was just one-room with a balcony and 650 seats. It hosted popular vaudeville performances when it first opened.
The theater was fully renovated in 1983, but it still retains many of the elements of a classic movie house. It was further restored to be closer to its original glory in 2004. The balcony is now a second theater (it seats 100 people). The main floor theater currently seats 250. The main floor theater is especially interesting because it’s filled with beautiful murals from days gone by.
The theater makes its own pizza, Wicked Smart pizza. Sometimes, they sell pizza at the side window, where you can get your meal to go. You can also order beer and wine to go with your movie meal.
Is This Theater Haunted?
Given that it’s close to Halloween, we need to let you in on another little piece of history about this theater. When the theater was still a vaudeville venue, a male performer was murdered in alley just outside. Some of those who work at the theater say that they’ve had some spooky experiences with this entity, so who knows? Maybe you’ll have a scary encounter of your own.
If you haven’t been to both of these fun spots in St. Johns, give them a try soon. It’s a completely different way to experience a movie.