|O. K. Theatre Building
The grand opening for the O. K. Theatre was held in February 1919 after a flu epidemic delayed the dedication of the theater. Plans for the new theater were started in October 1917, when A. and May Hackbarth purchased a city lot on Main Street from G. J. & Fanny Wagner for $1.00. Hackbarth, a native of Wisconsin, began planning for the new modern theater for Enterprise. At that time, the town relied on the Opera House and the People’s Theatre for entertainment. Hackbarth hired La Grande contractor and mason Samuel Haworth to construct the building (he constructed many of the buildings in downtown Enterprise). Plans for the theater were based on East Coast theater designs.
In anticipation of the completion of the theater, Hackbarth leased the building in November 1918 to Portlander J. A. Van Wie to oversee the final construction phase and operate the business. Van Wie hired Howard and Vesta Goodfellows, also of Portland, to manage the new theater. The building process was slowed by the winter weather, but by December, the building was completed. The management, however, could not open the theater because of the 1918 influenza pandemic and the restriction put on public gatherings. The December 18, 1918, Chieftain newspaper reported that Van Wie prepared for the theater opening while waiting for the flu ban to be lifted. The walls were decorated, the wiring finished, chairs placed in the building, and the “picture machines” installed. The east storefront was leased for use as a barbershop, owned by W.I. Calvin, and operated by Fred Lamberson. George A. Hillstrom rented the other storefront for his plumbing shop (he used the theater’s large basement for storage and a work area). The larger storeroom west of the theater had not yet been leased. The theater and storefronts were heated by steam heat, and two apartments were located in the basement.
By the end of January, the flu ban had been lifted and the grand opening of the O. K. Theatre was scheduled for Saturday, January 25, 1919. The January 23 edition of the Chieftain states, “In opening the O. K. Theatre, we offer to the citizens of Enterprise and Wallowa County a complete modernly equipped comfortable theater. The first year’s program we dedicate to the unparalleled photo productions of Paramount-Art-Craft Pictures . . . at a fixed price of fifteen cents for children and twenty-five cents for adults, which includes war tax.” Shows were scheduled for 7:15 and 9:00 pm seven days a week except Sundays. The ad for the opening states that “Each show will consist of feature productions of not less than five reels, and a comedy or educational of one or two reels.” Large advertisements donned the papers with photographs of the stars in the ArtCraft pictures.
The opening night was a success as people filled the lobby waiting to be ushered into the theater. Speakers gathered before the first show was played and owner Hackbarth was praised for erecting such a beautiful and modern building, the finest in Eastern Oregon with the only possible exception being the theater in Baker, Oregon. The January 23, 1919 Chieftain praises the theater, “The theater marks an advanced step in amusement facilities of the county. It will have 500 seats when all finished, with wide aisles, and a floor which slopes at such a degree that a child can see the stage and the screen from any part of the house. Artistic landscapes adorn the walls and the lights are decidedly pretty. The management promises that the pictures shown will be of as high order as the house itself, and the theater is bound to attract patronage from far and near.” The speakers announced that Austin Haughey was the projector operator and Henry Bell, pianist.
In February 1919, soon after the theater was dedicated, Van Wie announced that he would open the theater on Sundays. Petitions were circulated and given to the town council in favor of Sunday matinees. Van Wie explained that the practice was common in other Oregon towns, and no law prohibited theaters from being open on Sundays. Others worried that it would interfere with church and baseball games. The managers prevailed and the first Sunday movies where shown in late February.
The theater’s stage was used for many different venues. Local plays and musical productions were held at the theater, and traveling Chautauqua’s and touring groups made visits to the O. K. Theatre. The storefronts along the front of the building were continually occupied. In 1927, the O. K. Men’s Shop, in one of the storefronts, was remodeled when the Emporium moved into the shop. The front door was moved back a couple of feet to give a deeper window display. The following year, J. A. Williams purchased the O. K. Barber Shop from Earl Morrison; the barbershop was a fixture on Main Street for many years.
In 1929, Hackbarth leased the theater to M. E. Ward, who had been living in Pendleton, Oregon. That same year, the first talking movies made their debut at the O. K. Theatre. Royal Tone sound equipment was installed, and in September 1919, the first movie was shown; the R.K.O. picture “Street Girl.” The film had only opened in Portland the day before, a feature the management was proud of. A full house greeted the management the first night the talkees were shown. The “Music is reproduced beautifully and the spoken word can generally be distinguished” (Chieftain, September 19, 1929). Many first dates were held at the theater when tickets were a dime and popcorn five cents (interview with George Justice, long-time resident of Enterprise).
Hackbarth continued to lease the operations of the movie theater while pursing other business interest. He operated a plant in Echo in the early 1930s that manufactured fox and dog food as well as food for other animals. Hackbarth hired Alvah B. Stockdale and G. A. Reed to manage the theater in 1931; they changed the theater’s name to the Vista Theatre in 1933. At that time, they also modernized the theater with a new screen and sound equipment. Despite the improvements, the Depression took its toil on the theater business and the building went into foreclosure at the end of the year.
After legal dispute about the property were settled, James H. and Laura A. Thompson purchased the property in a sheriff’s sale. James and Laura were natives of Pennsylvania and came to Oregon after 1900 with their son Harold. James, born in April 1868, was a physician who married his wife, Laura around 1897. By 1910, the couple was living in Joseph where James was working as a doctor, and by 1920, the couple had moved to Enterprise where they lived until James died on November 20, 1936. Laura owned the theater after her husband’s death until the building was sold in 1945 to Anna and Alvah B. Stockdale, who were former managers of the theater. After Alvah died on March 6, 1954, the Stockdale family continued to own the property until selling the theater in the 1970s. Lloyd and Dale Stockdale also opened the drive-in movie theater in Enterprise that operated for many years. In the 1980s, under the ownership of Russell Ford the name was changed back to the O. K. Theatre. The O. K. Theatre was one of the oldest operational theaters in Oregon before it closed in December 2008. The new owners (August 2009) plan to rehabilitate the theater and open the theater for the community of Enterprise in September 2009.
Chain of Title
1917-18 G.J. and Fanny to Wagner A. Hackbarth
1933 Wagner A. Hackbarth to J. H. & Laura A. Thompson
1945 James H. & Laura A. Thompson to Alvah B. & Anna Stockdale
1970s Alvah B. & Anna Stockdale to Lonnie and Marion Myer
1981 Russell Ford purchased
2001 Russell Ford to David and Lori Brandt
2009 David and Lisa Brandt to Bill and Melisa Bush