Star Theater

on December 14, 2015
Photo by Todd Walberg

Photo by Todd Walberg

The Star Theater has changed hands several times since it first opened in 1911. It’s been a film house, a burlesque theater, a musical venue, and a warehouse owned by a famous filmmaker. These days, the reincarnation of Star Theater envelops both the rich history and the bright future of the venue.

It began as The Princess Theater, a 300 seat silent film house complete with an orchestral pit. In the 1940’s it transitioned into a burlesque theater, and featured famous vixens like Tempest Storm and Candy Renee. Current Star Theater manager Randy Capron says there are rumors of “seriously creepy ghost shit.” Performers like Clem Burke of Concrete Blonde and comedian Dwight Slade have stopped shows to check on a mysterious young woman in distress that simply vanishes. Many believe that this “young woman” is Candy, or perhaps an organist who once committed suicide on the stage after “talkies” took over film and her live scores were no longer needed.

During times of political corruption and defiance to prohibition, the venue was in full swing. Historical photographs show that the Star was one of the only places that would become desegregated at night, with all kinds of people enjoying a show together. Later the theater screened pornography by day, and family features by night. The projector room is now balcony seating and a bar.
In the ’80s and ’90s the space was used for storage while owned by filmmaker Gus Van Sant. This part of downtown was a war zone between vigilant property owners and drug dealers, and was barely saved after a string of downtown firebombings, one of which took out the vacant building next door. The hollowed out shell of the burned out neighbor now provides the Star with a rustic brick patio complete with firepits and awesome tacos. After Van Sant sold, the building was briefly a dance club before becoming what was rumored to be a modern speakeasy that was shut down by the OLCC and building code violations. There it sat until its 100th anniversary in 2011.

The venue became part of a creative property network when it was purchased by the same proprietor of several other locales like Dante’s and Lucky Devil Lounge. Somehow this helps retain some of that old Portland flavor. A major remodel that revived the the building as a beautiful, classic theater ensued. Although the bright star at the top of the tall sign can’t return due to new street ordinances, the lower marquee is shining bright. The interior regained a swank vintage feel, with its high ceilings and plush curtains, which cover soundproofing panels. If the venue isn’t the biggest (with a capacity of 500 for intimate shows), it at least has excellent sound quality. It is predominantly a music venue, featuring everything from Viva’s Holiday–a one act opera–to the industrial dance worship at Church of Hive, as well as touring bands. Star Theater also amasses social gatherings, comedy, and yes, plenty of Portland’s finest burlesque.»

– Brandy Crowe

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