Portland'5 Centers For The Arts
Portland'5: Five Cultural Landmarks in the Heart of Downtown Portland
Portland'5 Centers For The Arts
No, “Portland’5” isn’t a typo: It’s a reference to the quintet of distinct venues that compose this organization, which brings better than 1,000 world-class concerts, Broadway musicals, dance performances, poetry readings, lectures, and all manner of other shows to Oregon’s biggest city each and every year.
Now, let’s be clear: Portland just about oozes artistic expression, and not only in prim-and-proper concert halls. You can find incredible performers plying their craft all across PDX on any given night — from open mic to gallery opening, from Old Town street corner to Outer Southeast barroom. The near-and-far artistry cultivated and curated by the Portland’5 Centers for the Arts marks the high-profile masthead of a city brimming with creative energy.
The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall (the “Schnitz”)
The bold marquee flourished by the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall has helped define the long views up and down Broadway for decades, even as the playhouse’s own fortunes grew rather dim at times.
The Schnitz, as Portlanders know it, originally opened as the Portland Publix Theatre in 1928, a year after the neighboring Heathman Hotel was constructed. The theater was designed in sumptuous Italian Rococo Revival style by the famed architectural firm Rapp and Rapp, also known for the Chicago Theatre in the Windy City, the Paramount Building in Manhattan, and (no less notably) the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. Two years after opening night, which featured the silent film Feel My Pulse starring Bebe Daniels, the place was rebranded as the Paramount Theatre and given a contract with Paramount Pictures to show the studio’s productions.
With its blaze of 5,000-plus lights, the 65-foot-tall “Portland” marquee manages to evoke the Great White Way of the ’30s and ’40s, when it was only one of a glittering lineup of playhouses and cinemas flanking Broadway. The original sign, which read “Paramount,” toppled during restoration of the theater in the 1980s.
(When Planet of the Apes premiered at the Schnitz during its days as the Paramount, theater owner Tom Moyer’s son Tim took to that sign garbed as a gorilla to promote the sci-fi epic. “Waving and howling at passersby,” the Oregon Encyclopedia explains, “he slipped, became stuck, and had to be rescued by members of the Portland Fire Bureau.”)
Another defining piece of Schnitz décor is the marble statue of a nude woman, “Surprise,” gracing the lobby. She’s seen some rather improbable drama given her august digs: She lost two of her fingers in a shootout during a 1950s box-office robbery.
The theater has played host to many legendary musicians over the years, from Frank Sinatra to Louis Armstrong, from Prince to Madonna. Bob Dylan played here on his much-mythologized 1966 world tour, during which he accompanied himself folkie-style with an acoustic guitar and harmonica for the first half of a concert, then raised electrified hell with the Hawks during a raucous and loud second set that typically provoked showers of boos, and, at an infamous show in Manchester, England, a few months after Dylan’s Portland appearance, the venomous shout of “Judas!” (If the Portlanders at that time demonstrated the same type of indie taste and open-mindedness as today’s citizenry, we’d like to think Dylan’s rock-and-roll was better received here.)
In the early 1970s, the Paramount had fallen on hard times: In response to waning ticket sales, the owner phased out movies at the theater and auctioned many of the furnishings — among them the antique organ. Art-loving Portlanders managed to muster better than $5,000 to save “Surprise.” There was talk that decade of tearing down the theater, but its listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 helped secure it a brighter future.
In 1981, voters gave the thumbs-up to a $19-million measure establishing the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, and a few years later, an ambitious renovation project commenced to make the Paramount its new-and-improved centerpiece. A $10-million restoration, which included adding a Main Street entrance and expanding seating, wrapped up in 1987, when the Paramount was officially reborn as the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, named for one of its most generous patrons.
These days, the Schnitz continues to serve as a year-round hub of culture and entertainment, hosting as it does the Oregon Symphony as well as the Portland Youth Philharmonic, Metropolitan Youth Symphony, and the White Bird Dance Company as well as the Portland Arts and Lecture series put on by the non-profit Literary Arts. Among the most popular annual performances fall within the Oregon Symphony’s Pop Series — including the ghoulish Halloween “Phantoms of the Orchestra” collaboration with the Magic Circle Theatre Company.
Any gander at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall calendar suggests the breadth of the venue’s focus. Consider this spring’s across-the-board offerings: a “classical hip-hop string duo” called Black Violin (April 3); a production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem (April 8–10); the mighty Solange’s first Pacific Northwest appearance during the Soul’d Out Festival (April 21); the “Verselandia!” poetry slam thrown by Literary Arts (April 27), and some top-grade standup from Jerry Seinfeld (May 6) — just to name a few highlights.
The Keller Auditorium
The Schnitz is venerable, to be sure, but it’s actually not the oldest of the Portland’5: That honor goes to the Keller Auditorium over on SW Clay Avenue, the heavily renovated descendant of the Rose City’s first public assembly hall, the Municipal (or Civic) Auditorium, built in 1917. Of its opening concert, which featured the Portland Symphony Orchestra, the pioneering orchestra of the West, now known as the Oregon Symphony, the Morning Oregonian wrote on July 6 of that year:
Sounds like quite the kickoff, we’d say! And you’ll still see ’em flock “like birds in autumn” to the Keller’s nearly 3,000 seats for presentations of the Portland Opera, the Oregon Ballet Theatre, which gives the Keller the beloved yearly tradition of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, and other widely varied artistic fare.
Upcoming shows at the Keller include the classical Chinese dance and music of Shen Yun (April 4–5), a concert by the band Bastille (April 25), and a slew of musical productions, from Jersey Boys (April 18–23) and An American in Paris (May 16–21) to Cabaret (June 27–July 2).
The Antoinette Hatfield Hall
A trio of more intimate venues makes up the snazzy Antoinette Hatfield Hall, which opened in 1987 just across Main Street from the Schnitz: the Newmark Theatre, the Dolores Winningstad Theatre, and the Brunish Theatre. None of the 880 seats in the Newmark, which takes its design cues from the Edwardian era, lies farther than 65 feet from the stage. The 200-seat Brunish Theatre often hosts weddings, conferences, and other events along with performances, while the 304-seat, courtyard-style Winningstad has a chameleonic performance space that can immerse an audience in the experience like none other.
What’s on tap at the Antoinette Hatfield complex? Try Bassem Youssef, the so-called “Jon Stewart of the Arab World,” presenting his The Joke Is Mightier Than the Sword on April 3 at the Newmark; a comic musical about New Jersey’s first superhero, The Toxic Avenger, from April 27 through May 14 at the Brunish Theatre; and the Oregon Children’s Theatre’s presentation of the play Tomás & the Library Lady the month of April at the Winningstad. The rotunda of the Antoinette Hatfield Hall also hosts regular events, among them the “Poets on Broadway” series (Renee Mitchell and Emily Warn appear April 24, Elizabeth Woody and David Biespiel on May 22).
Main Street Happenings
Given the throb of artistic expression going down year-round at the Schnitz and the Antoinette Hatfield Hall, it’s little surprise the length of Main Street in between frequently gets swept up in the spirit. The summer Arts on Main and Music on Main programs bring free outdoor live performances and tunes to the thoroughfare. This year’s run begins July 6 and concludes September 7, with Arts on Main taking place 11 a.m. ’til 2 p.m., and Music on Main kicking off at 5 p.m. The Antoinette Hatfield Hall’s ArtBar & Bistro serves up eats and drinks ahead of the concerts, just as it does before most of the evening performances in the Antoinette Hatfield as well as at the Schnitz.
All in all, the Portland’5 Centers for the Arts represent Stumptown’s cosmopolitan spirit at its strongest. The world comes to Portland at these fantastic venues, and it rubs shoulders with a whole lot of vibrant local creativity and talent, too.
Photos courtesy of Portland'5, iStockPhoto unless otherwise noted.