Oregon Design and Architecture Oregon History Portland History

Local Screens: Neighborhood theaters offer movies…with history

An overview of surviving neighborhood movie theaters in Portland, Oregon.

Once upon a time I wrote for Neighborhood Notes, a cool neighborhood, community-focused digital publication based in Portland. The now-defunct site went offline a couple of years ago but the editors have graciously let me repost a couple of the posts I wrote. Sure, the info is more than 10 years old. I’ve done my best to update posts but have pretty much left them untouched.

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If this same article on historic movie theaters in Portland was written a mere 20 years ago, it would have been a completely different piece. Many smaller theaters thriving at the dawn of the 1990s closed, converted or were simply bulldozed. With the proliferation of mega-mall theaters, these family owned theaters, like many small, mom-and-pop shops, are dropping like flies.

In Portland, we’re lucky to have a solid core of neighborhood theaters that cater to families, film buffs, beer drinkers and the occasional moviegoer. Many, once beyond disrepair, screening porn or used as nameless storefronts, have risen from near-death and have even helped spark the revitalization of neighborhoods. Historical preservation meets beer, pizza and movies?  That’s a win-win. Here’s a roundup of theaters to grab a cold one and enjoy a film.

Laurelhurst Theater
The Laurelhurst owners have managed to keep the cool, indy vibe to the theater while adding more comfortable space and more screens, meaning you get to choose from a healthy mix of, say, a recent-run flick, ’40s noir, ’70s slasher or kid’s movie—all on the same day if you wish. (Update: They went first-run in 2018.) 

Drinks: Beer on tap, wine, soda, water
Food: Pizza and snacks
Cool fact: The ginormous, beautiful, jaw-dropping neon sign.

Bagdad Theater & Pub
Do you remember the first time you took a sip of a cold beer in a movie theater (no, that can of smuggled in, lukewarm Milwaukee’s Best doesn’t count) and thought “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” Wonderful Middle East-inspired architecture inside and out, the Bagdad was built in the 1920s by Universal, is run by the McMenamin empire, shows mostly films but also hosts events. 

Drinks: McMenamin’s beer (duh) on tap, wine, soda, water
Food: Pizza, snacks
Cool fact: Purportedly haunted by numerous ghosts from different eras.

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Cinema 21
I will never forget the stunned silence of a packed house when the end credits rolled for The Battle of Algiers when it screened at Cinema 21 a few years ago. Showcasing a healthy selection of independent, foreign, classics and repeated screenings of cult-favorite, The Room, Cinema 21 last year began selling beer and wine on premise. 

Drinks: Beer on tap, wine, soda, water
Food: Standard, popcorn, candy
Cool fact: Originally called the State Theater in the 1920s when it was built, its sign boasts a small—but very charming—neon display.

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Academy Theater
The story is familiar: theater gets built, gets remodeled, stops showing films, turns into a grindhouse, then gets leveled. The Academy Theater, built in the late 1940s, has gone through a wonderful metamorphosis since falling into disrepair while avoiding the wrecking ball. And not only does it show films, it’s helped grow a community. And this being Portland, the theater offers babysitting while parents can nosh on pizza and sip a beer. Top THAT, Regal. 

Drinks: Beer on tap, wine, water, soda
Food: Flying Pie Pizza, healthy alternatives such as fruit, salads and sushi
Cool fact: The renovation painstakingly re-created the metallic two-story dome and 1940s-style round lobby.

Roseway Theater
Like the Academy, the Roseway had seen better days until it was completely renovated a couple years ago. Built in 1925 with seating for 600, and like many theaters after the advent of TV, it had its space reduced and was on a slow downward spiral of its life. It has been lovingly restored, its wonderful neon rose on the marque is a neighborhood highlight, and it still has that cool vintage feel but the new space also offers digital picture and sound system, letting the theater screen movies in 3D. 

Drinks: water, soda, coffee
Food: Standard, popcorn, candy
Cool fact: Clayton “The Lone Ranger” Moore (ask your parents) celebrated his 71st birthday at the Roseway in 1985.


Hollywood Theatre
Probably the most well-known and ornate theater in Portland, and thanks to the unrelenting efforts of owners and volunteers, the old palace has managed to turn the corner, stay in shape and keep running. Built in 1926, and according to the Oregon Historical Society, designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, the Hollywood was at the time it was built, one of the largest theaters in Oregon. Showcasing independent films as well as local filmmakers, the theater also hosts events such as the annual H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. It’s more than a movie theater, it’s a living historical monument as well as filmmaker incubator. 

Drinks: Soda, water
Food: Standard, popcorn, candy
Cool fact: Was once the exclusive Oregon home of Cinerama, a popular 1950s widescreen process.



Moreland Theater
This is another gem of a theater that has managed to stay intact, keep the original name and continue to screen first-run flicks. The theater featured live acts in the ’20s when it opened then switched to movies and hasn’t looked back. The ownership is wonderful and the place has a legit small-town vibe to it. Proof? One evening we bought tickets for a later show, grabbed a beer at a nearby bar, lost our tickets, came back, but were admitted anyway—since the employee who sold us the tickets remembered us. 

Drinks: Soda, water
Food: Standard, popcorn, candy
Cool fact: Once housed an organ to accompany silent films and acts.

This micro theater tucked between a couple of businesses on Hawthorne is easy to miss if you drive—or even bike—by it every day. But at night, Cinemagic puts on quite the neon show with a magnificent sign. Built in the teens, making it one of the older surviving theaters in Portland, Cinemagic has gone through many name changes through the years. It also has the reputation as having the most uncomfortable seats in town. Still, prices are cheap, the movies are usually almost first run and if you live nearby you can always quench your thirst at a couple of nearby bars. 

Drinks: Soda, water
Food: Standard, popcorn, candy
Cool fact: A great vantage point to admire the neon sign at night is across the street on a little concrete island next to the vintage shop. 


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