It has been a lengthy process, but the construction of the Doerfler Family Theater on the lower level of the Pacific Maritime Heritage Center is nearly complete, and the theater should be operational by next month.
The Maritime Center, operated by the Lincoln County Historical Society, is located in an historical structure overlooking the Newport Bayfront at 333 SE Bay Blvd. This site was first graced with a home built in the 1880s for Dr. James Bayley and his wife, Elizabeth. That building burned in 1923, leaving only the foundation and chimney. A new home was built on the site in 1925 by World War I hero General Ulysses Grant McAlexander. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, the structure underwent extensive remodeling and expansion and reopened as Smuggler’s Cove, a restaurant and nightclub. Up until 1999, it housed Gracie’s at Smuggler’s Cove, a popular restaurant.
The historical society purchased the property in 2004 and later opened the Maritime Center, which features maritime-related exhibits and art. It has been designed to attract, educate and entertain people of all ages.
Part of the vision for doing that included construction of the theater. “That room that is the theater used to be a bar back in the day when it was Smuggler’s Cove. It had a little dance stage in there and a bar and musical performances in there, I think,” said Steve Wyatt, executive director of the Lincoln County Historical Society.
It was about five years ago that officials from the historical society first began talking about renovating this lower level to house a theater. That project received a major financial boost through a donation from the Doerfler family of Newport, but because the historical society was relying on donations and fundraising efforts to complete construction, it has taken time.
“The primary (funding source) has been just local people,” said Wyatt. “The Doerflers made the largest donation, but I’ve also had people donate several thousand dollars to $5. It’s just been a lot of local donations, and we’ve also received money from the Murdock Charitable Trust for this project, as well as the Collins Foundation.”
Local contractors have been used as much as possible during construction, Wyatt said, “and this has been a volunteer project, as well … a lot of the finish work is being done by volunteers.
“We completely gutted that area and rebuilt the entire shell of it,” he added. “A lot of the delay was raising the funds for it, as well as grappling with all the design issues, making it ADA compliant. So it’s been a long haul, (but) people are just blown away when they see how it looks now.”
On Wednesday, March 13, a crew from Irwin Seating Company was hard at work installing the theater seating, one of the final aspects of the project. Also that day, there were personnel on hand from Integration Engineers of Wilsonville, installing the audio and video control systems.
“I’m looking at hopefully in April,” Wyatt said when asked about the proposed opening date for the theater. “Essentially this week the theater will be functional and up and running, but I’ve got a lot of little details that I need to get ironed out.”
Once operational, the Doerfler Family Theater will be able to house a variety of functions.
“From a day-to-day basis, people will go in and be able to select short films on the history of the area,” said Wyatt. “There’s kind of like an iPad touch device that they can just (select a film), click it, the screen will drop down and it will play. And then of course we’ll rent (the theater) out for film screening, musical performances, lectures, weddings, all of those sorts of things can go on, so it’s very much a community venue. And we’ll have our own special events there too, of course.”
For people who would like contribute financially to this project, there is still an opportunity to do that. “One of the things that I’m still raising money for is the seating. For a $300 donation, basically you adopt a seat, and you can have whatever acknowledgement you want engraved on the back of the seat,” said Wyatt. “So far we’ve sold half of them, I’ve sold 60 out of 120.”
Anyone who would like to contribute in this way can contact Wyatt by calling the Lincoln County Historical Society’s main number at 541-265-7509.