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A doctor’s shrine to the performing arts

Next time you’re on the Bear Creek Greenway, just south of the bridge between Eighth and Main streets in Medford, point your eyes across Bear Creek and notice the low concrete wall supporting a parking lot. It’s been there since 1913.

Nearly hidden by clinging vines are windows that once looked into the heart of Medford’s “most gracious shrine to the performing arts.”

Behind these windows, in the basement of the grand Page Theater, the smell of greasepaint once mixed with opening night jitters as hundreds of actors prepared for a live performance in the auditorium above.

Built by Dr. Frederick Page, a 46-year-old retired surgeon turned real estate developer, the massive multi-storied brick theater took barely four months to complete. But it was solid. The west wall was engineered to support a five-story hotel on the adjacent lot — a hotel dream for Dr. Page that was never built.

Born in Vermont, July 14, 1867, Frederick Page attended the University of Pennsylvania and graduated from the Boston College of Pharmacy. He returned to the University of Vermont’s medical department for one year and ultimately graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a medical degree in 1894.

After another three years of post-graduate work in Philadelphia and Boston, he returned to Vermont, married, and began practicing medicine.

Intrigued by the gold still being mined in Alaska, in 1902 Frederick organized a group of local businessmen into a company that acquired a particularly valuable set of mining claims — claims that made the company’s investors, including Frederick, wealthy men.

Like so many wealthy men and women in 1906, Frederick’s eyes and fortune turned to the Rogue Valley. He bought a home and opened a real estate office, buying and selling properties. One of his most significant purchases was the Suncrest Orchard near Talent, which he later sold for the equivalent of over $7.5 million in 2021 dollars.

Instead of his planned hotel, in October 1912 Frederick announced he was “ready to start actual construction within 10 days on a new theater.”

Two months later, construction began on the $40,000 ($1.6 million in today’s dollars) Page Theater.

Ahead of its time, the theater floor angled down to the stage. Though not quite the stadium seating we see today, it gave the audience a view most had never had before.

With balcony seating and private boxes, the Page was able to seat over 1,000 people.

On opening night, May 19, 1913, one of the great actors of the day, 40-year-old Maude Adams, pulled on her boyish green trousers and tunic and adjusted her feathered cap. With one last check of her makeup, she walked upstairs to perform her signature role as Peter Pan.

The Mail Tribune’s theatrical critic, Ed Andrews of the Andrews Opera Company, gave her a rave review.

“Maude Adams and her splendid company did round out the most important event in the history of our city’s amusements.”

Mail Tribune owner and editor George Putnam disagreed.

“Maude Adams is the most striking example of the manufactured star now before the footlights,” he wrote. “An instance of what money can do with mediocrity.”

Dr. Page left Medford for Los Angeles in 1922. In September 1934, while returning for a visit with his sister in Medford, his heart gave out and he was buried in Siskiyou Memorial Park.

For over a decade the Page Theater would continue to be the center of Medford entertainment, from live stage performances to silent motion pictures — but then disaster.

That story, next week.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including ”History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.