Gilded Pleasure

Cascade Theatre Renovations…

Movies and vaudeville acts. Seating for 1,300 people. Art Deco style and gold gilded walls. Intricate interior murals and elaborate plasterwork. A commanding neon marquee. The first building north of Sacramento with air conditioning. Built during the Great Depression. And added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

This describes the famous Cascade Theatre, the iconic arts and culture house in downtown Redding. It opened in August of 1935; that day and for the next 60 years, this ultramodern film palace was the place to go to watch movies, plays, concerts and more. It was the cultural gathering place in the heart of the bustling city full of shops, businesses, and restaurants.

Photos courtesy of the Cascade Theatre

However, as time marched on and downtown Redding evolved, the Cascade fell into disrepair.
“It was completely run down, rat infested, and homeless people were squatting in it. It was a structure that the city wanted to tear down,” says Cascade Theatre Managing Director Alex Hauf-Belden. Some theater aficionados suggest that the rise of multiplex cinemas also pushed out small arthouses that could’ve been a factor in the Cascade eventually shutting its doors.

Photos courtesy of the Cascade Theatre

The theatre building couldn’t easily be torn down, though, and the Redding community wanted to save it. However, it had a lot of issues that scared off potential buyers. In the late 1990s, Viva Downtown tried to revitalize the Cascade by putting on a free concert, and Jefferson Public Radio—Southern Oregon University’s nonprofit radio station—caught word of it. They looked at the building and eventually bought it, collaborating with many community partners and benefactors to restore the theatre back to its original glory.

Photos courtesy of the Cascade Theatre

“I think the renovation cost around $6 million. I remember people said that it took six years and $6 million to reopen it,” Hauf-Belden says. The McConnell Foundation was one of its funders, giving $750,000 to help with the restoration.

Much of the restoration work was removing old paint and taking its temporary walls down from when it was a fourplex.

Photos courtesy of the Cascade Theatre

“They had artisans from around the world come, and they put scaffolding all around the building to reach every nook and cranny. They revealed the original artwork and then restored it. It was quite an ordeal, and they did an amazing job,” Hauf-Belden says.

When mentioning the replacement of the AC system, we talk about how significant air conditioning was to the Redding area back in the 1930s.

Photos courtesy of the Cascade Theatre

“It gets to be 120 degrees here in the summer,” Hauf-Belden says. “And this was the first building with enough seats to warrant it. The population in Redding at that time was 3,000-4,000 people; they had shows and vaudeville acts, but people would just leave when it got too hot. When you look back at the marketing from that time, it says things like, ‘Come be refreshed’ and ‘This is the place to cool down’. The fact that they had air conditioning at that time is pretty incredible. One-third of the city’s population could come in.”

Photos courtesy of the Cascade Theatre

The Cascade Theatre’s restoration was completed, and it reopened to the public as a nonprofit performing arts center on August 14, 2004. Hauf-Belden says downtown Redding has changed a lot since the 1990s and it’s much more tourist-friendly now. The newly renovated theatre features innovative lighting, sound and theater technology in a main room that seats 1,000 people.

While the restoration was paramount to the Cascade’s resurrection, like many cinemas, the theatre is still feeling the effects of the pandemic.

Photos courtesy of the Cascade Theatre

“It’s been a struggle. Everyone got used to staying at home, investing in big screen TVs and streaming services, and those people haven’t fully come back to the theatre,” he says. The Cascade’s other main goal is to build bridges with the community by improving access to the theatre, making it safe and affordable for people of all backgrounds to experience the arts.

“Cascade is the community theatre; it is the Redding theatre,” Hauf-Belden adds. “This is their space to come celebrate, rent it out, and feel safe when enjoying events here,” he says about wanting to reach all demographics and form better partnerships with community members.

Photos courtesy of the Cascade Theatre

“We want to do more than present shows and sell tickets. We want to be that place that’s accessible and inclusive for everyone.”

The Cascade Theatre free historical tours on the first Friday of every month from 6-8:30pm. They’re planning a 20th anniversary event for June 22; keep an eye out for details. •

Cascade Theatre • 1731 Market St., Redding

Photos courtesy of the Cascade Theatre
About Kayla Anderson

Kayla is a freelance writer, marketer and action sports enthusiast who grew up wake-boarding on Lake Shasta and learning to ski at Mt. Lassen. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chico State University and loves to visit her parents in Redding.

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