By PATRICIA SANDERS
Poster for the Paramount’s first all-talking feature film, “Interference”
Sunday, April 14, 1929 was a red-letter day in the history of Montavilla movie theaters. That was the day when its most-recent theater, the Granada, screened the first talking movie in neighborhood. While the old theaters were anything but silent— music, sound effects, sometimes phonograph records that tried to match actors’ lips— it was only when images and spoken words were synchronized that movies became more true-to-life.
For this momentous occasion, theater manager Stephen Parker (1865 – 1949) showed the murder mystery “Interference”, Paramount Picture’s first all-talking film. This wasn’t the first feature-length talkie; that was Warner Brothers’ 1927 film “The Jazz Singer” starring Al Jolson.
“The Montavilla Times” ad of April 11, 1929 uses lots of charged language and exclamation points to express the excitement about showing of the Granada’s first talkie.
Granada Theatre ad for the screening of “Interference”
Source: “The Montavilla Times”, April 11, 1929
The Granada began showing color films in December, 1929 with Warner Brothers’ musical comedy, “On with the Show”, the first all-talking, all-color feature-length film. These early color films were made using red and green strips. More natural-looking, full-spectrum color came when Technicolor added a third color strip (blue) in 1932.
Poster for “On with the Show”
New film technologies like sound and color were ways to retain movie audiences. As the American economy slid into a depression after the stock market crash of October 29, 1929, movie theater owners and managers sought new ways to keep their businesses afloat.
The Granada was built, however, in the golden age of movies— the 1920s— when movie theaters were going up all over eastern Portland. The Laurelhurst (1923), the Roseway (1924), the Hollywood (1926), the Bagdad (1927), to name a few, were all built in these years.
The Granada was built in 1924 on Montavilla’s second major commercial street, NE Glisan Street, between 76th and 78th Avenues. It was designed by Portland architect Earl G. Cash (1892-1956) for real estate developer George S. Smith (1878-1950) at a cost of $30,000.
When the Granada opened on August 24, 1924, The Oregon Journal described it as “one of the most luxurious moving picture theatres of Portland’s east side.” It was considerably larger than previous theaters in Montavilla, twice the size of its rival theater, the Villa located in the old Idle Hour Theatre building at SE Stark Street and SE 81st Avenue (where Milwaukee Lumber is now). And the Granada had a few exotic touches.
Same-page ads for Montavilla’s rival theaters. This 1930 ad is one of the last published references to the Villa Theatre.
Source: May 9, 1930 Montavilla Times
Architect Earl G. Cash embellished the Granada with references to Moorish architecture. The romance of movies was enhanced by buildings designed with details borrowed from far off places and times. The sprinkling of Moorish embellishments in the Granada, however, was modest compared to the flamboyant exoticism of the big movie palaces.
Drawing based on the Earl G. Cash perspective rendering of the George S. Smith Building at 7600 NE Glisan Street published in the March 2, 1924 “Oregon Journal.” Note the exotic touches of the entry: arches, columns and buttresses. To the left are spaces for stores. Such theater-storefront complexes were common at this time.
Drawing by Patricia Sanders
View from NE Glisan of the eastern portion of the Highland Christian Center (originally the Smith building). The building was remodeled by the Bible Temple Church, which purchased the property in 1959. HCC remodeled it again after acquiring it in 2004. Note the original tiles at the roof’s edge.
Photo by Thomas Tilton
View of the former Smith Building at NE 76th and NE Glisan. The lower portion of the building was originally occupied by shops. The taller portion on the left was the auditorium of the Granada Theatre. Again note the original tile roofline trim.
Photo by Thomas Tilton
Plan of the Smith Building showing stores on Glisan Street and the Granada Theatre behind. The theater entrance is left of the stores.
Source: 1924 Sanborn map
With the Great Depression of the 1930s, theater owners and managers had to find new ways to attract audiences. Money was tight and now radios offered less expensive entertainment.
New tactics included gifts (dishes, groceries, even cash on Bank Nights), gaming contests, stage shows, and double, and sometimes even triple, features with the advent of B films. Snack counters offered a new source of revenue. Air conditioning was also a big draw on hot summer days. With all these innovations, business had picked up by the mid-1930s.
Theaters also did their part to help the community during the Great Depression. The Granada, under the ownership of Stephen Parker, joined most theaters across the country raising money for their local unemployment funds. The Granada donated all the evening’s ticket sales for Wednesday, November 25.
Benefit Night at the Granada
Source: November 20, 1931, Montavilla Times
Parker also participated in the Montavilla Kiwanis Club food drive. For the December 21 screenings, a can of food was the price of admission.
When veteran theater operator, Walter E. Tebbetts (1885 – 1962) purchased the Granada in 1936, he felt it was time for some upgrades. After installing a new screen and upgraded sound equipment, he reopened with Charlie Chaplin’s comedy, “Modern Times”. You can view the famous factory segment of “Modern Times” here.
Tebbetts also focused on building community rapport. He sponsored the Granada Theatre basketball team. He also hosted the election to choose the prince and princess for the Junior Rose Festival.
With World War II, people flocked to movie theaters to see patriotic films and newsreels with war updates. During these years, profits went up. 1946 set a box-office record. During these years, Albert “Al” Ray Myers (1909-1979) owned the Granada. He owned it until it 1956. He also managed the Academy Theater, which opened in 1948.
After 1956, the Granada Theater building continued life as a church facility. Hope Presbyterian Church used it in 1957 while its new facility at the southeast corner of Glisan and 78th was being constructed.
In 1959, the Granada theater complex was purchased by Bible Temple Church (now City Bible Church). It was acquired by Highland Christian Center in 2004.
The Granada was a fixture of Montavilla’s entertainment for 32 years. In continuous operation from 1924 to 1956, it outlasted all previous Montavilla theaters. Only the Academy on SE Stark, temporarily closed because of the covid pandemic, has enjoyed a longer history.
For people who lived in Montavilla in the 1950s, the Granada is still a living memory, so I was able to interview several people while researching this article. Karen Ross Edmonds told me she liked going to the Granada because for 25 cents she could see a movie and have enough money left for a hamburger down the street. As a teenager, Darlene Weil worked for Mr. and Mrs. Myers at both the Granada and the Academy, making enough money to pay for her car insurance.
Please feel free to share your own memories of the Granada Theatre in the comment section below.
Coming soon: The history of the Academy Theater in part three of the Montavilla movie theaters series.
For more information on movie theater history:
Douglas Gomery, “Shared Pleasures: a History of Movie presentation in the United States”