Painting the Egyptian

J.W. White paints some trim on the front of the Egyptian Theatre in downtown Coos Bay Wednesday afternoon as things are in their final push for the grand reopening Friday. After being closed since March 2011 because of safety concerns in the structure, it is set to reopen Friday evening with tours, music from the Mighty Wurlitzer and a silent film with live music.

By Lou Sennick, The World

COOS BAY — The Egyptian Theatre building in downtown Coos Bay, at 229 S. Broadway on U.S. Highway 101, has existed in many forms since its creation in 1922.

It will add one more when the Egyptian Theatre Preservation Association holds a “grand reopening” this weekend. The new Egyptian age will start with a film cutting ceremony replacing the usual ribbon cutting at 5 p.m. Friday.

Operated by the ETPA, but owned since 2006 by the city of Coos Bay, the Egyptian stands as an ongoing example of a working government-private sector partnership. Something both sides currently mark as a success.

“This new facility, I should say revised, rehabilitated, new facility, is going to last for the next 100 years,” said Coos Bay operations superintendent Randy Dixon. “That’s the goal here. I think this facility will stand out, by far, compared to any historical building the state of Oregon has.”

He made those statements as he surveyed work going on inside the building Wednesday. Also, with the understanding that some relatively minor facade work still needs to be done out front before theatergoers will be able to bask in the Egyptian’s full glory.

Still, it is undeniable that the building has come a long way since it was shuttered in March of 2011.

Entombed

For one thing, it is now far sturdier than it has ever been, and it has been brought into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“What made the building a dangerous building,” Dixon said, when asked about the closure, “was the fact that we had separations in the attic areas, which were the main trusses, and foundation deterioration in the back, off of Second Court. The last 30 percent section of the building was virtually going down, which was separating from the rest of the building.”

Greg Rueger, president of the ETPA, says that sinking may have had something to do with the original incarnation of the building.

“It was originally a garage,” he pointed out.

The story is there, for everyone to see, on the National Park Service website at nps.gov. Originally built in 1922, it was three years before owner Charles Noble transformed the structure into a movie palace.

“Mr. Noble, always wanted a theater,” Rueger explained, “but at that time there were restrictions, because it was right after World War I, on what you were allowed to put money into.

“Well, as soon as it was allowed, he put the fly-loft on, (and) that added a lot of weight, unfortunately, to the back wall. I don’t think it was ever designed for that to start with. So, over the years it had sunk. We needed to fix that.”

Phase one of the plan to get the building reopened then was to stop the deterioration and increase the stability.

Workers from DLB Construction first had to go to work in the rafters. Dixon says they spent a couple of months working in the tight space, which span just 36-48 inches, between the ceiling and the roof.

“We put in new beams and then put some new metal tie anchors, to tie them together and then strap them down,” Dixon said. “It keeps the building from moving one way or another.”

They then turned their attention to the troublesome 30 percent in the back of the theater.

Twelve helicals, or metal pilings, were driven down more than 150 feet into the soil below the back wall. A concrete header was added, along with other stabilizing constructs, before main steel beam supports were added to the exterior of the back wall.

After it was stabilized, workers turned their attention towards making the theater ADA-accessible at the entrance way, and by building new ADA-compliant bathrooms on the main floor.

But, Dixon said, there was one more thing they wanted to do with one eye on the future. They wanted to bring the buildings electrical wiring, which was still the original, into the 21st century.

“We put in a total new electrical system, electrical system transformer, out on Second Court, and brought in two new panel sources into the building; which is all new wiring and current. So, down the road, if we want to upgrade our lighting, for instance, we’ve got the main source in there so its only interior improvements that your going for.”

Egyptian rising

There is that one little piece of exterior improvement that still needs to be done, however. It is something that will require more funding, through grants and donations.

Canopy work out front, which includes design and construction, will run at least an additional $171,000.

That work, they say, entails taking off the existing facade and attaching the new canopy, which will extend out the width and length of the front sidewalk. A new marquee would come in and sit right in the cradle, where it would mount in the middle. The iconic Egyptian sign, upgraded, will then be placed on top of that. The hope is that they can find a way to complete that by the end of the year.

“The project itself has been, overall, very challenging, but we’ve been lucky to have good leadership,” Dixon said, “not only from the city, but from the community at-large. Good management, good contractors, and the will to do it, has made it great.”

It also has a new Pharaoh in charge. Kara Long, who joined the team as the theater’s executive director after Memorial Day, says an exciting era is dawning for the historic theater.

“Everything is possible down the road,” she grinned. “Everything is possible.”

Reporter Tim Novotny can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at tim.novotny@theworldlink.com. Follow him on Twitter: @novots34.​

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