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The movie house was quite something in its heyday

In its glory days, the Holly Theater was the Rogue Valley's finest ' the place where you went to sit in plush recliner seats, surrounded by elegant architecture to disappear into other, Technicolor worlds.

In the very early days of the 1930s, you could watch an all talking movie bill and Holly's Follies ' genuine vaudeville: solo tap dance, acrobats, live guitar, the American Legion Drum Corps and many acts by Eve Benson's Dancing Academy.

It was a wonderful movie theater and, besides the school dance and the 10-cent milk shake, it was the main attraction for young people, said Medford resident Tommie Smith, 77, who worked as a Holly usherette in the early 1940s.

Medford officials ordered the building vacated Thursday, calling it unsafe. If the owner can't repair it, it will be demolished within 60 days.

Before its decline and eventual closure in 1986, the Holly was so nice, you had to go outside to devour your popcorn and candy, said Audrey Conley, 72, of Medford.

She recalls paying a dime (11 cents during the war) for kids to get into the likes of King Solomon's Mines and Hunchback of Notre Dame. At age 12, it jumped to a quarter.

It was the Depression (during the Holly's first dozen years) and I only could afford to go once or twice, said Ken Dehaas, 87, Medford. The whole town was depressed and no one had money or a job.

We loved the vaudeville ' the comedy, chorus lines and singing, said Lyle Sams, 102, of Medford, a 1918 graduate of Ashland High School. They'd come in with their trucks and unload their scenery and costumes. It was pretty exciting.

The theater was the site of a unique junior-high picket in 1946 over the ticket price. Negotiations with management reduced the price to 45 cents at the town's three theaters.

For 76-year-old Phoenix resident Dottie Benbow, the Holly's high point was the premier of the super-hit Jaws in 1975, when tickets were &

36;2. Lines stretched way around the block. Everyone had to be there.

On Aug. 30, 1930, the 1,200-seat, four-story brick Holly was born amid glory, with front-page Mail Tribune banner headlines blaring: New &

36;150,000 Holly Theater Opens Tonight; Built for Beauty and Elegance.

Interior shots showed luxurious chairs, couches and standing lamps worthy of today's antique malls.

A reporter described the scene: A gay assembling of color is noticeable on entering ... in the brilliantly colored carpet ... woodwork to the pilasters and beams finished in a soft walnut tone, with the molds striped in gold and red.

Opening-night patrons saw the absolute funniest comedy ' Joe E. Brown in Hold Everything with, followed by George Olsen's snappy review of 50 home talent artists.

The Holly was the creation of Medfordites Walter Leverette and John Niedermeyer, who operated it as Pacific States Theaters and saw it leap ahead of Medford's other theaters, the Craterian, Rialto and Roxy.

The building was designed by noted Southern Oregon residential architect Frank Clark. It opened with a chiropractor, dentist and optometrist occupying the storefront offices on either side of the Holly entrance.

It was a frequent site of charitable drives, with usherettes passing March of Dimes cans up and down aisles, scrap metal drives for the war effort (admission with scrap metal) and Christmas toy drives.

When told of this week's condemnation of the Holly, Yuvonne Nunsell, 72, Medford, said, Oh, no. As a child, she said, she loved to sit in the top of the Holly's three tiers, as high and as far back as possible and get lost in a good movie like Gone With the Wind.

Joan Pomeroy, 66, Medford, a former Holly snack bar employee, echoed the sadness of the its possible passing, noting, It was beautiful. I loved the place. Too bad.

John Darling is a free-lance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org