The Tower Theater in Bend, Oregon

Historic Tower Theater in Downtown Bend, Oregon

Bend, Oregon is filled with historic buildings, but none as iconic as the Tower Theater. In the heart of downtown Bend on Wall Street, you'll find the local theater's marquee, restored to its original shining glory. Pick up just about any magazine or brochure that includes a collection of Bend photographs and chances are, you'll find a shot or two of the classic Tower Theater.

Movies are not frequently shown at the Tower, but there is a wide range of community events, plays, exhibitions and more each month. You can also reserve the Tower Theater for conferences, lectures, concerts or even weddings! The only days that the Tower is not available are Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The Tower Theater continues to be an important hub for this community of 80,000 in Central Oregon. In fact, the Tower Theater Foundation website showcases local businesses that support its "Marquee Club," as well as the many local volunteers that help make the Tower Theater "Central Oregon's Center Stage."

The Tower Theater on a rainy September afternoon (c) Stephanie Hicks
The Tower Theater on a rainy September afternoon (c) Stephanie Hicks
The Tower Theater at night before my daughter's gymnastics exhibition (c) Stephanie Hicks
The Tower Theater at night before my daughter's gymnastics exhibition (c) Stephanie Hicks

History of the Bend Oregon Tower Theater

The Tower Theater was built in 1940, in a mere three months downtown Bend on Wall Street. The landmark tower reaches 40 feet into the sky from the building (78 feet above street level), emblazoned with the name "Tower" which is lights up at night with over 1,200 feet of green and gold neon lights.

After only a few decades of operation, the Tower Theater fell into disrepair and was shuttered. Many blame the rise of multi-plex cinemas for loss of interest in this jewel of downtown Bend.

By the 1990s, the City of Bend purchased the theater and tried to begin restoration of the historic building. In 2001, the City sold the Tower to a group of interested people who formed the Tower Theater Foundation and established it as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

Amazingly, the group of 30 people managed to raise over $4.2 million for the Tower Theater's restoration. From 2002-2004, contractors worked to restore the theater to its original splendor, including the addition of a new orchestra pit and box seats. According to the Tower Theater Foundation's website:

DKA Architecture and Design, P.C. and its team of designers worked on the project for three years prior to construction. The team included Candela Theatre consultants and B.R.C. Acoustics, both of Seattle, Washington, Interface Engineering of Salem, Oregon, and W&H Pacific of Bend, Oregon. Foundation board members also brought to the table many talents including an interior design professional, event promoters and community leaders.

***

Renovation, the foundation's second goal, was begun by Kirby Nagelhout Construction in November of 2002. The project included the expansion of the interior space from 10,432 to 13,630 square feet, an expanded basement to accommodate an orchestra pit with a motorized sypra lift, new box seats, and an expanded lobby area. In addition, the Tower features high quality sound and lighting equipment, a video projection system, and soon, a full 35mm film projection system

Citizens here in Bend, Oregon celebrated the grand re-opening of the Tower Theater in 2004 with a huge community party.  Many local businesses that dedicated time, money, materials and more are recognized on plaques mounted in the lobby.

The Tower Theater in the 1940s (image from Deschutes County Historical Society)
The Tower Theater in the 1940s (image from Deschutes County Historical Society)

Kathryn Stockett (Author of The Help) Lectures at Tower Theater

Today at the Tower Theater

I've been to the Tower Theater for a variety of events since we moved here in 2006. When I joined the Board of Directors of Bend 2030, we had our first presentation to the community there. My daughter's annual holiday gymnastics performance is always held on stage at the Tower Theater, as well.

One of the more popular local television/radio shows, "Talk of the Town," frequently records its program from the inside of the Tower Theater. Citizens that are interested in the topic can attend in the audience and will have the opportunity to share their opinions through the moderator (this week's topic - leashing dogs!)

Perhaps the biggest draw for the Tower Theater each year is the independent film festival known as BendFilm. According to the official website:

It brings together independent filmmakers and savvy media consumers for a life-enriching experience that educates and entertains. The work of BendFilm has drawn acclaim from both the film industry for its bold support of alternative cinema, and the Central Oregon community for its jammed-pack, four-day event of film viewing, lectures and other special events.

Tourists and film buffs from all over travel to Bend to attend the annual event (if you want more information follow BendFilm on Twitter or Facebook).

Tower Theater Interior after 2004 renovation
Tower Theater Interior after 2004 renovation

Tower Theater Fast Facts

  • Renovation completed: 2004
  • Total Square Feet: 13,630
  • Addition of orchestra pit
  • New, state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment
  • New video projection system
  • New 35mm film projection system
  • Mailing Address: PO Box 1378, Bend OR 97709

  • Contact:

    (541) 317-0700 tel
    (541) 749-2731 fax

    info@towertheatre.org

  • Hours: Monday through Friday from 10-5, and box office opens 1 hour prior to performances
  • You can buy all tickets for shows at the Tower Theater online

How to get to the Tower Theater in Bend, Oregon

A markerThe Tower Theater -
835 NW Wall St, Bend, OR 97701, USA
[get directions]

© 2010 Stephanie Hicks

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Comments 21 comments

Mentalist acer profile image

Mentalist acer 6 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

Modernization is not all it's cracked-up to be...nice to know that the enchantingly old can blend with the new,stephhicks;)


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

Hi, A few days ago I had never even heard of Bend, and all of a sudden I know more about it than I ever did! lol AKirchner (Audrey) wrote about the bend drinks and brewery, and now this, sounds a great place to visit, If I can afford the plane fare I will be over shortly! lol cheers nell


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Isn't that the truth Mentalist? People love the look and feel of the way things used to be built! Cheers, Stephanie


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Nell - its great having Audrey (AKirchner) write about Bend, too. I love reading her hubs and they inspire me to keep hubbing about Bend as well. It is a fabulous place to live - we are definitely lucky. Hop on that plane soon :)


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

What a cool place! We've got something similar in my town- perhaps old theaters are making a comeback!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Simone - I certainly hope that old theaters continue to get revived. Classic architecture and historic buildings make one long for the good old days! cheers, Steph


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

Hi, Just packing......lol


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Nell, you crack me up! ;-)


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

So interesting well done.What a beautiful theatre!! I thoroughly enjoyed this hub.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Eiddwen - what a pleasure to share one of Bend's most interesting buildings with everyone! Actually, there is a good number of historic buildings in town. I have a few more hubs up my sleeves... :)


akirchner profile image

akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon

That's such a great theater - and well done! I had some stuff on the Tower too and was going to do it but didn't....I'm glad I didn't because you aced it!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Audrey! ;-) I have the same things go through my mind - wondering whether we would both write on the same topic. One of these days you just know it will happen! LOL!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

What a great looking theatre! So nice to know that not everything is being torn down and replaced with cookie cutter replicas seen everywhere. The seating and ambiance in these old theatres can't be beat!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Peggy - I totally agree. Historic buildings have charm that today's modern versions tend to lack. :) Steph


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 6 years ago from Nashville Tn.

Fantastic hub on this theater! I enjoyed every word and photo. Thank you so much. Thumbs up!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you vocalcoach! That really makes me smile :-)


Mike M 5 years ago

Brings back memories. I went to the Tower in the 50's and 60's, usually sat in the balcony, as memory serves. Next to it to the south was Mabel's, after-school lunch stuff. She ran it with her husband, can't remember his name. They would let kids run a tab. It was a coffee shop in the 90's, run by the Crouch girls. Bend was an idyllic place to grow up way back then, the population when I graduated from BHS was around 10K.

Cheers


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Mike - thanks for the great comment! My husband grew up in Central OR and says it has changed a lot since the early 1970s. I can believe it, even since 1991 when I started coming here, the population doubled in size. The Tower Theater is still an icon and downtown Bend is still pretty nice. Cheers to you too! Steph


Mike M 5 years ago

Steph

Somewhere I have some photos of Bend circa 1950 to 1964, including one of me with the Pilot Butte Inn in the background taken in 1952. If you would be interested, I can scan them and email to you. The last time I was in Bend was about 12 years ago, and I doubt I'll come back. Business I remember are Wetle's department and ski store (I dated one of the two brother's daughters), Brandis Drugs, Miller's Shoes and Togs (my sister worked for Ralph Miller)...I went to St. Francis Elementary, which is now a brew pub..to think I can drink a beer in the same room surly nuns whacked my hand with a ruler. Back then, the big building kitty-corner from St. Francis to the SW was Bend Junior High, it was an administrative building last time I knew.

Sun River was a mosquito-infested grassy area, Mt. Bachelor had two chairs, a t-bar and a rope tow, there were only a few ranches and no neighborhoods east of Pilot Butte, Sisters was just a humble tiny place (the false front business's with the western look were not there), and it was impossible for a kid to misbehave in town without word getting back to their parents.

Also just remember that several western movies were filmed around Bend in the late 50's and 60's....and "Have Gun, Will Travel" was at least partially filmed there. Richard Boone, the star, stayed at the Pilot Butte Inn, we used to go there in the morning to get a glimpse of him on his way out.

Sorry to be a long-winded geezer, hadn't thought of some of this stuff in years.

Mike


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Mike, what great memories! My in-laws have lived in Sisters since the early 1970s, but sadly, I think the Western front facades were already there by then.

You are right that St. Francis is now a restaurant, pub and movie theater! My, how times have changed. I'm sure you wouldn't even recognize Sunriver...

Would be interesting to see your photos. Have you thought about getting in touch with the Deschutes Historical Society? They would LOVE your stories, photos, etc.

Love your comment and thanks so much for sharing - best to you! Steph


Bill Proby 6 months ago

I grew up in Bend during the 50's and 60's too. I lived on Aubrey Butte and both Wetle (Jack and Bob) families were our neighbors. I have fond memories of many of the same things that Mike M mentioned in his post. I also remember Owl Pharmacy, delivering papers for The Bend Bulletin (Bob Chandler, the editor) was also our neighbor. We walked down from Aubrey Butte to fish Mirror Pond and caught many a great native rainbow trout right behind The Pine Tavern (my folks were good friends with Marn Gribscoff, the original owner). Other great memories are summer days at the Bend Municipal Swimming pool (every kid in town hung out there), the annual Water Pageant on Mirror Pond on July 4th (my father helped make floats for the Pageant for many years), going out to Fort Benham (Hollywood set made for many of the Western movies that were filmed in Bend), I understand that set no longer exists but in it's day it hosted Kirk Douglas, Sally Field, Richard Whidmark, Richard Boone and a long list of film stars that could be seen during their off hours at many of Bend's local establishments. I was born in St. Francis Hospital (which no longer exists). We hiked up Pilot Butte as a lark or rafted the Deschutes below the dam just north of the Pilot Butte Inn (before it burned down). Groceries were bought at Erickson's Super Market or the Piggly Wiggly. I was at the original first ski lodge at Bachelor on the day it opened when a rope tow, T-bar, Pommel (sp?) lift, and 1 chair lift were our only options. Some adventuresome and energetic skiers would hike up the cinder cone and ski down on fresh new snow leaving virgin trails for all to see from the lodge. Our adventures were wonderful experiences in this recreational paradise. My family returns often now to stay at Sun River (which didn't exist back then, it was simply called Camp Abbott) and every time we come something very "primal" stirs in me when I see the high desert, smell the pine nuts and the sage, see the Ponderosa and Lodgepole pines, watch the golden mantle's, see the swans on mirror pond, dip my toes in the Deschutes, cast a fly to a waiting trout on Fall River, hear the meadowlarks songs of the summer, listen to june bugs flutter, gaze at those blue summer skies with big cotton clouds, smell the afternoon thunder & lightening storms, and look up at those star filled skies on a summer evening. Bend is a very special place.

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