Restoring its glory

A crowd gathered to watch the lights turn on at Medfordís Holly Theatre Saturday evening.Julia Moore

Jazz standards, fedora hats, bow ties and other '30s chic were in no short supply Saturday evening during the Holly Theatre's relighting ceremony.

Hundreds of community members gathered to see the newly installed 33-foot-tall "blade" corner sign and marquee literally lighten up the night.

Saturday marked the end of several months of restoration work on the facade of the building, complete with refurbished lights, restored brickwork and tile, and a new marquee and corner sign.

The project used old photographs and other evidence to recreate the original 1930s facade with as much accuracy as possible, although some small details were changed, for example the lettering on the original marquee that read "Holly Vitaphone," was changed to "Holly Theatre."

"We're happy to have this happening, we love seeing old buildings restored, it's really a great thing," said Gary Nelson, who attended the ceremony with his wife, Roselie, dressed to the nines in a red and black pinstripe suit. "We're not doing justice to our area if we don't restore the past, and this will revitalize our area.

"I didn't realize just how big it was either. One-thousand seats, can you believe it?"

For many at the ceremony, the Holly held sentimental value as well. Arthur Alfinito, who owns Art's Sportsman Barbershop on the corner of Sixth and Holly streets next to the Holly Theatre, said the corner had a lot of history to it.

"I own the barbershop on the corner here, and I still get people coming in talking about their first date or their first time they saw such and such movie," he said. "This corner has a lot of history ... this theatre is way historically and culturally significant."

Even Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler had to agree, reminiscing about the time he spent in the Holly.

"I remember standing out here for the midnight showing of 'The Shining,' " he said. "They would always say the show started on the sidewalk."

Alfinito's family owned the Holly before selling the theater to the JPR Foundation last year. Alfinito said his father, Art, always dreamed of restoring the building, but they were never able to gather together enough money to see the project through. His father died last year, unable to see the marquee light up in all its 1930s glory.

"My father tried diligently for the last 17 years to find a way to restore the place," he said. "We were in the restaurant business for 75 years and I'm telling my dad, 'What am I going to do with this?'

"We were the curators of history for the past 17 years. (But) my family did the right thing selling to JPR."

Alfinito explained the "magic number" in the entertainment business was 1,000 seats, any less and big names would pass you up in favor of greener pastures he said. While the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater only has about 750 seats, the Holly will have an estimated 1,000 when restoration efforts are complete he said, meaning that bigger bands would be encouraged to stop in Medford on their way to San Francisco or Portland.

"My father's dream was to bring more art and culture to Medford," he said. "You got to figure, there's a lot of people on the I-5 corridor who would stop if there was a bigger theater. This will draw bigger names to Medford."

The Jefferson Public Radio Foundation, which owns the building, hopes to have the interior of the theater restored to the point where tours can be given in the next month or two.

Reach Nils Holst at 541-776-4368 or email holstn@sou.edu.



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