It started with Ike
In 1920 Isaac "Ike" Binnard who was an impresario of theater throughout his life in Lewiston. His creed was to present the finest of theater offerings whether it be an amateur presentation, traveling troupes or movies. Binnard owned most and once managed all of the public theater stages in Lewiston. After a tiff with his management at the Temple Theater in 1919, Binnard went to Los Angeles and returned with plenty of ammunition for serious competition with his rivals.
Ike announced plans in 1920 to build a 1200 seat theater, the Liberty. Funds were raised through public subscription stock.
Building the Liberty
Built in 1921 in the Bee Hive Department. Store vacated by Ike's friend R.C. Beach at 610 Main Street. Binnard kept the bee-hive shaped, brick, front wall - "to keep the city's brick look" creating a most imposing structure and attractive front that - "sets the tone for a new block".
Inside the the elaborately decorated theater had candelabra that dangled from the softly colored ceiling. "Electric Flower Garden Walls," continuously changed color patterns. The floor was raked toward the recessed orchestra pit. Two of the six fire exits flanked a stage, large enough for vaudeville acts but not large enough for the few touring companies still in existence.
The proscenium arch framed velour drapes. Blue stars danced on a scrim in front of the screen. Scene drops were motor controlled. To reduce fire hazards, the heating plant was beneath the stage. Binnard developed an outside air system that pumped air through water in the basement until cooled, then into the auditorium. The original curtain still stands.
Marbled purple glass skylights allow natural light into the dressing rooms built in the vault under the sidewalk. Many stars signed their names on the walls of the dressing rooms downstairs which you can still see today. The tastefully accented ladies' powder room on the mezzanine, measured ten feet by 12 feet. An oval shaped foyer arrangement allowed good sight lines from all seats. The seats were extraordinary Haywood/Kakefield air cushion, leather upholstered opera seats. Rows were spaced 32 inches apart for more knee room. Each chair was placed over a drop in the floor, neutralizing stress. These originals were replaced in 1951.
In the projection room, two operating Simplex machines, a double dissolving Stereopticon, a spotlight, a double fifty-amp transverter, and a dimmer. An auto rewinder allowed a second projectionist to use state of the art equipment for showing the latest films on a Gardner Velvet Gold Fiber Screen that reportedly reduced eye strain and brought more natural color to the frames of hand colored slides still used for advertising.
The Show Begins
The first night when the Liberty was open in 1921, proceeds were donated to the Red Cross, and it is said that Ike was always willing to provide the theater as a site for charitable benefits. After Ike died in1932, the Liberty was managed by Ike's son Birka until 1933 when he resigned and turned the business over to partner Mary Pulver. Over the years there were few others who managed the Liberty such as Harry Wall in 1954-1979, various theater companies and then Regal Cinemas until 2005 when it finally closed.
One of the first films shown at the Liberty was "Through the Back Door" starring Mary Pickford. By 1929, the Liberty was showing all talking films. World premiers were shown at the theater such as "Miss Lewiston" (1922), "Stagecoach" 1966, "Breakheart Pass" (1976) and "Thousand Pieces of Gold" (1991).
When Isaac "Ike" Binnard built and equipped the Liberty in 1921, it was "not to be equaled by any city of Lewiston's size in the west." It was a lavish classic theater in its day seating 730 people. In 2005 the doors of the Liberty were closed to the public of uncertain future. Ninety some years have passed since Ike first opened the theater doors for the first time. Now is the time to reopen those doors and relive the history of the good ole' days at the Liberty Theater.