OK Theater – The Finest in Eastern Oregon
World War I and the Spanish Flu were the headline grabbers for much of 1918 and 1919, overshadowing the construction of the most modern theater in Eastern Oregon.
Mr. Hackbarth, announced the construction of the theater in July of 1918. The tiny announcement in the Wallowa County Record-Chieftain announced that the theater would feature a new concept in modern movie houses adopted from the east coast: a sloping floor which would allow everyone in the theater to have a good view of the screen. Other modern touches included five safety exits and steam heat. John Oberg, the same builder who built the Enterprise City Library, won the contract for the carpentry construction and Samuel Haworth was hired for the concrete masonry work.
Other stories in the Chieftain that month were about gasoline and construction material shortages due to the war. Hackbarth owned a lumber company and was able to provide much of what was needed, nevertheless, from concept to finish, the OK Theater took nearly 5 months to be completed.
Another tiny announcement proclaimed the name of the new theater as the OK Theatre. The same announcement identified the manager as J.A. Van Wie, and also stated that the theater seating was arriving from Chicago.
Construction was slowed by the winter weather, but by December the building was completed. However, the theater was not allowed to open because of the influenza pandemic and the ban on public gatherings. The December 18, 1918, Chieftain reported that while waiting for the day they could open, Van Wie decorated the walls, finished the wiring, and installed the chairs and the "picture machines".
By the end of January, the flu ban had been lifted and the grand opening of the O. K. Theatre was scheduled for Saturday, January 25, 1919. The ad in the January 23rd edition of the Chieftain states, "In opening the O. K. Theatre, we offer to the citizens of Enterprise and Wallowa County a complete, modernly equipped, comfortable theater. The first year's program we dedicate to the unparalleled photo productions of Paramount-Art-Craft Pictures at a fixed price of fifteen cents for children and twenty-five cents for adults, which includes war tax." Shows were scheduled for 7:15 and 9:00 pm every day except Sundays. The ad for the opening also states that "Each show will consist of feature productions of not less than five reels, and a comedy or educational show of one or two reels."
Opening night was a success as people filled the lobby waiting to be ushered into the theater. Before the first show was played, J.A. Burleigh praised owner Hackbarth for erecting such a beautiful and modern building, the finest in Eastern Oregon. In addition, even though the flu pandemic was officially over, the public was instructed by Dr. Charles A. Ault to sit in alternate seats to help prevent the possible spread of the disease.
The January 23, 1919 Chieftain noted that "The Theater marks an advanced step in amusement facilities of the county. It will have 500 seats when all finished, with wide aisles, and a floor which slopes at such a degree that a child can see the stage and the screen from any part of the house. Artistic landscapes adorn the walls and the lights are decidedly pretty. The management promises that the pictures shown will be of as high order as the house itself and the theater is bound to attract patronage from far and near."
In September, 1929, the first talking movies made their debut at the O. K. Theatre. The first movie shown was the R.K.O. picture "Street Girl." The film had only opened in Portland the day before, a feature the management was proud of. A full house greeted the management the first night the talkies were shown. The "Music is reproduced beautifully and the spoken word can generally be distinguished" (Chieftain, September 19, 1929).
Material from Donovan and Associates was used for this article.