Shell Theatre

731 Willamette Street,
Eugene, OR 97401

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Additional Info

Architects: John Hunzicker

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Shell Theatre

The Shell Theatre was located in downtown Eugene, Oregon and was part of a chain of theatres owned by J.T. Atwood. In Eugene, Atwood owned three nickelodeons with the Aloha Theatre, the Bell Theatre, and the Shell Theatre. All of the Atwood locations featured a forty minute program for a nickel that included two or three films, a song by Harry Bradford or other local talent, and generally a local live talent likely indicating that each venue had a single projector. Live acts and music were placed between to cue up the next film.

Managers Ray M. And Mike E. Walker opened the Shell on March 16, 1910 with “The Newlyweds", “The Right Decision”, and “My Milliner’s Bill". Ray Walker also operated the Aloha Theatre which offered buy-one-get-one tickets allowing people to go to both theatres for a single nickel admission. That price doubled in 1911 to a dime but competition would force the Shell Theatre back to its nickel admission in 1912.

Architect John Hunzicker designed the building’s main exterior to fit in with his other designs that heavily influenced Eugene’s cohesive central business district. But the building’s obvious departure was in Hunzicker’s audacious pink and white shell-shaped front containing some 400 lights as installed by G.W. Hunter Electrical of Eugene. Hunzicker’s terrazzo floor in the Shell Theatre was found in several of his other downtown buildings further lending aesthetic continuity.

The 270-seat theatre was labeled as “The House of Comfort.” It featured French stained-glass mirrors in the lobby to mask the restrictive narrowness of the building. The auditorium featured an Orchestrion providing musical accompaniment to both the films and live numbers.

The biggest film event at the Shell Theatre occurred in 1912 when the American Lifeograph Company of Portland shot an original film of Eugene featuring prominent citizens and its local downtown area “making the city ten times its size” according to the local newspaper. A shot of the theatre from that time shows the Shell Theatre and folks on the street and is in photos. American Lifeograph’s “Eugene, Oregon” film was premiered in the Shell Theatre. Also popular was an original live show staged by the University of Oregon’s baseball team.

But the theatre was decimated by the first generation of movie palaces that hit in Eugene and all over the country just prior to World War I. The opening of the 800-seat Rex Theatre a block away and the expansion of the Aloha Theatre turned Savoy Theatre to 600 seats both in 1912 upended the store show nickelodeons of Eugene. Among the casualties was the Shell Theatre closing after just three years on July 5, 1913. American Lifeograph ceased operation in March of 1923 following a fire. Two boys were charged with stealing the film’s archival holdings from the vault not long after the fire.

The Shell Theatre location became what appears to be the first of three homes for the long-running for Kuykendall Drugs affiliated for a period with the Rexall chain. The theatre was housed in the larger Delano Building which was in its Pre-October 1912 address of 513 Willamette. That address was changed to the 700-block thereafter. The building was later demolished.

Contributed by dsedman
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