Local history lives in theater experiences

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Editor's note:

Sara Van Donge joins the ranks of community contributors to The Walla Walla Valley Weekly with this column. A lifelong resident of the Valley, her Deja Views columns will focus on things in Walla Walla's past and how they have changed to present day.

Out on the town. Who doesn't anticipate a romantic, elegant, entertaining or just plain fun evening out?

I so enjoy walking through our lovely downtown, visiting the latest restaurants or stores, seeing friends and visitors. But, oh, how our town has changed.

When I was a child in the '80s we went to the Eastgate Mall to see and be seen -- Hatfields! Fabricland! Payless! And to see a movie we had the Liberty Theater and the Plaza Twin Cinema.

Really, at the time none of these places were really very elegant or even attractive, merely just a reflection of the bustling functionality of the time.

But a generation before it was a different experience altogether. At that time there were no videos, Netflix or on-line movies; there were occasional 8mm home movies, the Milton Freewater Drive-In theater we are still fortunate to enjoy, and the Liberty Theater downtown that's now a Macy's store.

My Aunt Florene described to me how wonderful it was at that time to go to the Liberty with her husband Barry: "Oh, Barry and I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED going to the movies downtown and always sitting in the loges, these really comfy seats in the balcony. It was so cool because you could look down on all the kids below.

"The bathrooms were old world elegance. It seems like they used to have a maid in there also. Maybe I'm just imagining that," she continued.

"When you walked up and down the stairs, I always felt very glamorous. Especially coming down, alone. We still wore dresses and you could imagine yourself being a movie star coming down the long stairway."

Today you can still see some of the vestiges of the Liberty. When it was initialy bought by The Bon Marche the store did a nice job of paying homage to the glory days of cinema. I remember when they first expanded into the movie theater space in the mid-eighties all the dressing rooms were named after classic movie stars.

Going to the movies now is no longer as stylish an experience, although it is certainly high-tech and comfortable at The Grand Cinemas, especially if you splurge on a 3D movie.

Going to live theater, however, is still an elegant way to spend an evening just as it was a generation ago. I was lucky enough to attend "Through the Looking Glass: The Burlesque Alice in Wonderland," at the Power House Theatre in October. Amazing! Not just the fantastic show, which I can't describe adequately other than to say the women were gorgeous and classy.

But the entire experience made me feel, as my Aunt Florene did all those years ago, like a celebrity. I wore a cape and a mauve cloche hat over a fancy red dress. We had wine and visited before the show and partied afterward with the cast while DJ Adam Whiteside played a fun mix of dance music.

The Little Theatre is another part of Walla Walla that has survived from that era. Today it seems a little more reserved, but as social and elegant as ever. I recently saw "White Christmas," directed by Brian and Becky Hatley and featuring a talented, energetic cast. My whole family absolutely loved it.

Walla Walla has changed through the years, but in many ways has stayed the same. Going out on the town is still a wonderful way to experience our lovely city.

Sara Van Donge is a Walla Walla native and middle school dual language teacher. She can be reached at saravandonge@gmail.com.

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