The Hollywood Theater
In 2007, a year before I moved to Portland, I came to the city for a conference. I had a day off to explore, so I took a long walk, meandering from my hotel downtown to NE Portland. The walk was a little further and a little wetter than I’d planned. (I recall a stop at Rite Aid to buy bandaids for my feet.) Not having it in me to walk all the way back, I was considering my options when I saw it - the palatial building with the big marquee. The Hollywood Theatre is a Portland Landmark, its tall Spanish Colonial Revival facade distinctive on NE Sandy Boulevard. It opened in 1926 as a venue for vaudeville and silent movies and has since undergone a handful of renovations to keep up with the times.
On that afternoon in 2007, I happened upon the theatre just before the showing of a Japanese film called The Taste of Tea. The next two hours were perfect, not only due to the movie (although it is a surreal delight - go search for it), but because of the entire moviegoing experience.
The Hollywood Theatre’s interior is like your great-grandparents home, if your great-grandparents lived in a cave. That’s an odd description, but when you see it for yourself you’ll admit that it’s kind of accurate. The walls and ceilings—low, lopsided domes—are painted in soft sherbet colors. There are two stories, linked by a tunneled ramp, and everything’s carpeted. Antique light fixtures, furniture, and clocks are everywhere you turn. The bathrooms (at least the women’s bathrooms) have a particularly fun vintage charm with attached powder rooms. It’s fun to imagine ladies in gowns at the stools, fixing their hair and makeup. At the concessions counter, there are the usual snacks along with beer on tap and Sizzle Pie pizza.
There are three auditoriums, a large one downstairs and two smaller upstairs, where you can see first-run movies. The theatre also has a lot of special screenings and events you can’t find anywhere else in town. We’ve both had a lot of memorable experiences at The Hollywood. We watched live actors voice over old Superman cartoons, accompanied by an orchestra. We saw Gus Van Sant and James Franco present a re-cut of My Own Private Idaho. A few years we had a look at Oscar nominated shorts. In addition, there have been countless film series—Fashion in Film, Queer Horror, 70mm Films, Black Filmmakers, Kung Fu Theater, and more.
One of the coolest aspects of the theatre is its nonprofit status with a mission to “entertain, inspire, educate and connect the community through the art of film, while preserving a historic Portland landmark.” They provide educational programs for thousands of students annually and support a variety of Oregon-based independent film projects, some of which our friends have worked on. We’re both members, and it’s been rewarding to support the organization.
The Hollywood Theatre has nightly happenings. Check out the website for more information https://hollywoodtheatre.org. On weekends especially, you may want to buy tickets online in advance. The area is accessible by several MAX and bus lines. And if you have time to kill at the Portland Airport, The Hollywood Theatre has a small annex there that shows short films free of charge.