On July 11, 1918, the Liberty Theatre in Chehalis, seating 500 patrons, opens for business. From the opening until 1926, when it was destroyed by fire, the Liberty is a modest small-town theatre but distinguishes itself with an innovative lighting scheme and excellent musical accompaniment for its silent films.
Let There Be Light
Managed by T. K. Metz (who also owned the Empress Theatre in Chehalis), the new Liberty featured 350 spring-cushioned seats and another 150 loge and gallery seats. The Liberty was state-of-the-art as far as rural theaters went, and was quite notable for its interior lighting scheme. Small electric lights ringed the ceiling of the venue, an indirect lighting method that coordinated with a row of lights on either side of the auditorium that were concealed behind colored glass.
Interior lighting was an important feature during the silent era -- with a picture show that ran continuously, patrons were rarely bound by start times, as we are today. Instead, audiences came and went when as pleased, often entering shows in the midst of a performance and leaving when the program began to repeat itself. This constant flow of arrivals and departures demanded some sort of indirect lighting that would allow patrons to move freely. (It was also a buffer against community moralists who fretted about what was going on in the darkness between young men and women attending the shows.)
Designed to Impress
Another distinguishing feature of the Liberty was its décor -- in keeping with its patriotic name, the panels above the colored glass were adorned with stucco work featuring eagles and shields. But by far the most impressive feature of the house was its pipe organ. Costing $5,000 by itself, the Liberty had been specifically designed with high ceilings and a sounding board above the stage to accentuate its sound. The Liberty also kept a piano on hand to supplement its films in case the show didn’t warrant a formal arrangement.
Chehalis’ Liberty Theatre would continue operation until the summer of 1926, when a fire caused more than $12,500 in damages. Owned at the time by the Twin City Theatres Corporation -- operators of several houses in the Centralia/Chehalis area – the fire (according to some reports, incendiary in origin) threw a monkey wrench into the pending sale of the Twin City theater holdings to North American Theatres Corp. The deal went through nonetheless, but the Liberty was never rebuilt.