Little Did I Know: History of the Tower Theatre


I moved to Central Oregon 10 years ago this coming November, but by that December I’d already been to The Tower Theatre watching one of my favorite movies and got introduced to some of my best friends that I have to this day.

Now over the last decade, the Tower has been a regular part of my life, but I realized I don’t know that much about it.

This makes it awfully fortunate that my segment is called Little Did I Know because this week we’re gonna solve that problem.

“The Tower Theatre is our last surviving historic theater from the 20th century, which makes it a darling to the Historical Society,” said Kelly Cannon-Miller, the Executive Director of The Deschutes Historical Society.

“The Capital Theater came and went, The Palace, all of the early theaters came and went, mostly because they were put out to pasture by the next great theater that came along with the newest technology. Which is what happened in 1940 when The Tower opened.”

“They had state-of-the-art sound and film equipment and really quickly put their competition in The Liberty Theater, a couple doors down, out of business.”

I had a chance to take a tour with David Miller from The Tower Theatre to talk about its history and what makes it a special venue in Central Oregon.

“One of the things we love about The Tower is it is kind of Central Oregon’s living room. You are going to meet friends here. You’re going to see people that you know in the community. We’ve always been kind of the heartbeat of Bend.”

“The first film that was ever shown here was called Four Wives and had a big Hollywood level opening and it was the grand opening of the theater and that was in 1940.”

According to Cannon-Miller, back in the day downtown used to look much different than it does today.

“Wall Street used to be filled with neon signs up and down the blocks. Every building had their own neon sign. It was a very different downtown in the 40s and 50s when it was really in its heyday as a theater. The neon standing up and lighting up every night and being the visible from everywhere is kind of our last historic flag of that.”

Throughout the early years, The Tower Theatre was mainly focused on movies, which made it susceptible to the changing times in the 80s and 90s when megaplexes became the fashion.

So sadly in 1993, The Tower Theatre had to close its doors. But not for long, according to David Miller.

“And then The Tower Theatre Foundation became a thing and got the theater and made it a nonprofit and did a huge renovation in 2008. There’s something about this venue that just feels comfortable. It feels like you’re playing somewhere you’re familiar with. It feels like you’re playing your hometown theater. And I think it feels that way from talking to artists that come here. It feels that way to traveling artists cause it’s intimate enough – it’s got that classic vintage movie theater feel that I think enhances any show.”

And while COVID took a huge toll, The Tower Theatre is once again open for business and continuing it’s mission as a non-profit to serve the community through scholarships and supporting performance arts groups.

“The idea behind the Tower Theatre Foundation is more than just the theater it’s about what can we bring through performing arts and through this facility to enhance our community and make the community something better.”

Oh, and if you didn’t notice the similarity of last names between my interview subjects, this investigative reporter had to uncover the truth…

I asked Kelly Cannon-Miller if she could confirm the rumor that she had the hots for David Miller to which her reply was…

“Well, he’s kinda cool. Maybe he’ll take my phone call, or something.”


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