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Holly restoration poised to get back on track

The saga of the Medford’s Holly Theatre has come full circle in a sense: Its original opening was delayed by the stock market crash of 1929, and its restoration and reopening has been sidetracked by the pandemic and a dispute over its management. But just as the Holly survived the Depression to become a mainstay of entertainment for decades, backers of the restoration project are confident it will reopen triumphantly in the fall of 2023.

Local residents of a certain age recall seeing movies at the Holly. But it was much more than a movie theater in its heyday, and those working on the restoration are determined to make it the showplace it once was.

Once threatened with demolition, the building remains the largest capacity indoor theater in the area. Originally built to seat 1,200, it will accommodate about 1,000 people when it reopens. By comparison, the Craterian Theater at the Collier Center for the Performing arts lists its capacity as 732.

Despite concerns about a restored Holly Theatre competing with the Craterian, the two venues will complement each other. The Craterian books traveling theater productions, something the Holly’s management does not intend to do. Touring musical acts that want to fill more seats than the Craterian can provide will come to the Holly on their way up and down the West Coast.

The kinds of artists who play the Britt Festivals in the summer would be likely to appear at the Holly in the fall, winter and spring. Jefferson Live! — the subsidiary of Jefferson Public Radio that operates the Holly and the Cascade Theatre in Redding — is presenting singer-songwriter Boz Scaggs at the Cascade in May.

Not only does the Holly have enough seats to attract top entertainers, it was designed with no balcony. The seats sweep from bottom to top, providing superior sight lines and acoustics.

Jefferson Live! plans to open bids for the auditorium restoration work at the end of this month. If all goes well, construction could start in June. Overall, about 40% of the work has been completed, although costs have continued to rise, as they have throughout the construction industry. It’s likely that backers will need to raise $1 million or more in addition to what has been raised and spent so far.

Local supporters have been generous, and more support will be needed, but the project remains a good investment for the community. We look forward to seeing the Holly return to downtown Medford.