The Craterian Story
The Craterian Theater at The Collier Center for the Performing Arts is southern Oregon’s state-of-the-art community performing arts center. The facility features excellent acoustics and sightlines, an impressive array of theatrical equipment and is operated by a professional staff. The auditorium is intimate and comfortable and seats just 732 patrons, yet the stage can accommodate large national concert, dance and theatrical tours.
The Craterian Theater is a vibrant facility utilized by all parts of the community for performances, rehearsals, classes and workshops, conferences, receptions, parties, seminars, trainings, etc.
Laughter and tears, mystery, romance and high drama…the sounds and sights of music, dance, vaudeville and old silent films! Applause, a great deal of applause, resounds in the walls and memory of this historic theater.
But first it was bricks and mortar, a business building designed in Spanish Colonial style by architect Frank C. Clark. Erected on this site in 1924 by J.C. Cooley and P.J. Neff, it housed law offices, shops and a theater leased by George A. Hunt.
A skilled promoter, Hunt staged a naming contest with a $25 prize. From 1500 entries, he chose “Craterian” for nearby Crater Lake, a creative variation of that era’s familiar moviehouse name, Criterion.
The grand opening was October 20, 1924. A sell-out audience of nearly 1200 came to see a play, “The Havoc” and hear music from a grand Wurlitzer organ played by Grace “Betty” Brown. Later, movie projectors were installed for silent film. Vaudeville and theatrical acts were booked, including a very young dancer named Ginger Rogers.
The next few years brought talking pictures (like Al Jolson in the “Jazz Singer,” 1928), the comfort of air conditioning and…the Great Depression. Hunt sold his lease to the Fox chain, then returned in 1933 after their bankruptcy. To bolster the box office, he remodeled the theater, lowered matinee prices to 15¢, showed first-run films (such as the “Thin Man” series with William Powell and Myrna Loy), staged WWII bond drives and numerous community events.
After several other owner/operator changes, more building alterations and sale of the old Wurlitzer, audience diminished. In the late ’70s, multi-screen theaters and home television had taken their toll on movie houses like the Craterian.
By the end of 1985, the historically-registered old building had been given to the neighboring Rogue Valley Art Association with the hope it might “…foster community theater activities.” After several years, the Craterian Performances Company (CPC), a nonprofit volunteer group, was formed. Its vision: to create a performing arts center, rich with history but modern in facilities for public multi-purpose use, in the heart of downtown Medford.
Response was enthusiastic: $5.2 million was pledged by more than 600 individuals, businesses and foundations as well as the state, county, city and the urban renewal agency. Renovation and construction with innovative use of large portions of the original structure, began in 1996. A March 1997 opening date was set…and met!
The Ginger Rogers Connection
It was a Texas contest that started Ginger Rogers on the road to Hollywood…and to Medford. In 1925, in Dallas, she won a statewide Charleston dance competition that led to a six-month theater tour of one-night performances. She came to Oregon and appeared on the stage of Hunt’s Craterian on April 21, 1926, just 18 months after its grand opening.
Heralding her appearance, the Medford Mail Tribune wrote “Miss Rogers is a winsome little miss with captivating mannerisms and a pair of feet that make the most intricate dances seem easy.” Included was a picture of a glamorous Ginger at age 15.
Of course, Ginger Rogers went on to Broadway and then Hollywood stardom, becoming an Academy Award-winning actress. She appeared in 73 movies, ten of them with Fred Astaire. She won her Oscar for the 1942 film “Kitty Foyle.”
Ginger Rogers loved Oregon. In 1940, she and her mother Lela bought a working ranch on the Rogue River near Shady Cove, where she spent many months each year. “I consider myself an Oregonian,” she said in a 1982 Mail Tribune interview. “I vote in Oregon and pay my taxes here.” When she sold the ranch in 1990, Ginger moved to a new home on Pioneer Road, Medford.
And she returned to the Craterian stage. On November 21, 1993…67 years after her first performance Ginger graciously appeared to benefit the theater’s rebirth. Before a full house that Sunday afternoon, she took center stage in an interview with newsman Al Reiss, then responded to many questions from the audience. She concluded her Craterian visit by showing “one of my favorite films, Roxie Hart.”
Ginger Rogers died on April 25, 1995 at her winter home in Rancho Mirage, California. She was 83. Across the nation, she was memorialized as “queen of the Silver Screen,” a world-renowned dancer, actress and repeatedly, as the star with a “graceful magic.” For many in this community, she is remembered as well for her quiet generosity and kindness.
Today her graceful magic lives on as the Craterian’s stage has been named in honor of this fabled entertainer and Rogue Valley neighbor.
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The Theater Facility
All of the information regarding the location, history and the different uses of the theater.