Historic theater bridges Roaring ’20s, Depression era

Randy Mckay
Randy Mckay

Randy McKay, executive director of Jefferson Live!, is coordinating the upcoming blues concert with Jim Belushi and the Sacred Hearts at the EdenVale Winery on Aug. 29 to benefit the restoration of Medford’s historic Holly Theatre. McKay also manages the Cascade Theatre in Redding, Calif. I met McKay at the Holly Theatre one afternoon.

EH: Walking into this theater takes your breath away.

RM: I’m here almost every day and have been for several years. Every time I walk in here, it’s still pretty impressive.

EH: Is it the dimensions?

RM: I think that’s part of it, because we don’t have a balcony. There’s nothing to break up this huge open space, so it feels even bigger than it otherwise would. If it were a traditional theater, with an orchestra level and a balcony cutting it in half, it wouldn’t seem quite so huge.

EH: What’s the reason for not having a balcony?

RM: I suspect that it’s because it was the first theater designed for sound film. They flew a couple of acousticians from New York to consult on this project, and because of that, we have this seating design. Not having a balcony is far better acoustically. We’re used to this in movie theaters now, but in 1930, this was a revolutionary concept. It didn’t really come into vogue until the ’50s.

EH: This was built in the ’30s?

RM: The Holly Theatre opened in 1930. It started construction in 1929, just three months after the stock market crashed. Because this major construction project started at this most uncertain moment, they made some really interesting choices that make it a very unique building. It is just as grand as any other movie palace, but it was all done with paint instead of three-dimensional plaster or hand-carved woodwork.

The interior of this building was very ornate, designed to look like a Venetian street scene. That’s what we will be recreating. The building is structurally sound, so this is an interior design project, more than it is a construction project. That’s why this project is as affordable as it is.

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