Oriental Theater, 1941

The Army Air Corp Revue posed outside the Oriental Theater on SE Grand Avenue in 1941. The theater was noted for its intricate and elaborate design elements with heavy Asian influence, as well as superior sound and an early use of neon signs. It was demolished in 1970 and the site remains a surface parking lot today.

oriental theater LOC 1941(Library of Congress)

23 thoughts on “Oriental Theater, 1941

  1. Last Saturday I stood across from where this theater used to be, down on MLK waiting for the streetcar south to the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. My, how I wished for the Oriental to still be there! I wanted to be able to see it in person–I moved to Portland in June, 2006.

  2. I always think that the loss of the Oriental is one of the worst losses in the old East Portland area. It really helped its neighbor, the Weatherly Building, blend into the neighborhood and it would be amazing to still have that level of detailed decoration with us. The parking lot that replaced it always looks like a gaping hole to me – it’s definitely my least favorite parking lot on the east side.

  3. I’d like to extol the virtues of Gary Lacher and Steve Stone’s “Theatres of Portland” from the Images of America series.
    Many images of the Oriental included.

  4. Used to go there for movies with my family to see shows usually once a month. Was a great place. If my memory serves me right I think there was a pipe organ that was played before the movies or sometimes during

  5. Wonderful picture that was taken back when you could leave your bicycle unlocked leanning on a sign poll and it would be there when you got back! There was another nice old theater along there that was demolisthe in the 80s dose anyone remimber what it was called mabe the Egyption ?

  6. The Egyptian was further North on MLK ( Union Ave. ) at Russell St. The exterior walls, etc. of the theatre and the adjoining Fullers 24-Hr. restaurant were retained, remodeled and became a religious facility / church . The Egyptian was another late ’20 s ” mystical East ” themed structure around the film-era of Rudolf Valentino’s popularity.
    In it’s last days, the Oriental was offering ” family plans ” for up to 5 adults & children could see a second-run double feature for $2.00 !! Great deal for starving student with kids and the out of the floor pipe organ was something to behold in itself.

  7. As tragic as it is to have lost wonderful buildings like the Oriental, it does make me appreciate what we have that has survived even more. Great photo, and also a terrific snapshot in time.

  8. Demolition of the Oriental is on the list of dumbest things done in the city of Portland.

    I used to go there to hear the Portland Symphony Orchestra (what is was called then), I guess during the time the Civic Auditorium was being remodeled. It was beautiful inside.

    I’ve seen pieces from the theater around town in a variety of different places. Can’t really remember where, but they’re around.

  9. In the summer of 1954 members of Battery B, 218th Field Artillery ONG were employed as “extras” during the filming of To Hell and Back, The Audie Murphy Story during our annual encampment at Ft Lewis. Most of the action scenes were filmed at the Yakima Firing center but none the less we were part of several parade ground scenes filmed at Ft Lewis.

    When the film was released in 1955 the “World Premier” was held at the Oriental and The some of the ONG units that had participated in it’s making were “volunteered” to be paraded down Grand Avenue and treated to the premier screening. I recall sitting in the balcony in my heavy wool class A’s and not much else.

    Still, it gives me the right to tell my great grand kids that I was in the movies—sort of.

  10. It still never ceases to amaze me how many posts on here end with “______ building was demolished and is still to this day a surface parking lot.”

    And Portland has been moderate (by U.S. standards) with the destruction of buildings to build parking lots – imagine other U.S. cities!

    I feel like this theater was a very particular loss, and I’m really sad to have never seen it in person.

  11. I recall the final years of the Oriental, It was still a grand building but it was showing its age and lack of upkeep. I’m afraid TV and radio killed the theaters, because now families could be entertained at home.

    We can Blame a lot of developers or owners, but it is expensive to keep a building open and pay people to work for or on a building.

    If my memory serves me, I believe they were stooping to Cheech and Chong and rock concerts in the end.

  12. @ Dave

    Amen. What’s even worse is we continue to knock down historic structures for new development instead of building on those said surface parking lots. Maybe if we had a tax on the value of LAND, and not improvements, the Goodman and Schlesinger empires that own all the lots would actually decide to build something!

    We can do a lot better, Portland.

  13. This type of thread always brings to mind Joni Mitchell’s song, “Big Yellow Taxi” ~they paved paradise, & put up a parking lot…..OOOH PA PA PA…..OOOH PA PA PA 🙂

  14. My memory of the Oriental theater goes back to the late 60’s when a guy took me to see Andres Segovia-the classical guitarist. I was so excited, not only for the concert, but to finally go inside the theater.
    When it was demolished I cried. How could the city do this to one of the most beautiful buildings on the east side. To this day I have never forgiven the city for making just a stupied, idiotic decision as this. Little did I know then how many idiotic decisions the city would continue to make. I am thankful for the honor to have been inside this building and thanks to all who created her.

  15. I am the last person to have danced on the stage of the Oriental Theatre. It was Sunday night March 29,1970. The electricity to the building was terminated the week before, and only a electrical generator was running to provide the last lighting
    in the theatre. I remember seeing one of the elephants laying face up on the balcony.
    All of the building fixtures curtains seats projectors furnishings and plaster work were previously auctioned off on Feb 17,1970. Most of the ornamental plaster work went down with the theatre. I was a student at Benson Tech High School during the demolition of the theatre which began on Monday March 30,1970.

  16. I am the last person to have danced on stage at the Oriental Theatre. In December 1969. I performed a hundred times from 1964-1970. I was in the Theatre with my father and other ATOS members on the last night of Sunday March 29, 1970. The Organ and Dome Chandelier were gone. One of the 14 Auditorium Elephants was facing face up on the balcony. Knowing everyone who was present, I am the last person still living in the Oriental Theatre. But my memories still live on. Pamela Thomas Scottsdale AZ.

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