Portland has had a long love affair with theaters. At its saturation point in 1915 there were 60 neighborhood cinemas in operation. This was at a time when Portland’s population was a third of what it is today. In the SE alone there were 39 single screen theaters.
The Bob White Theater opened its doors in March of 1924 as the 15th cinema in the SE. In the Arleta district it was the fifth, final and most grand theater, squeezed between the Arleta and Princess Arleta theaters. It was named by and for its founder, Bob White, who later developed and became the director of the Multnomah Theatre Corp., which eventually ran 17 theaters throughout Portland.
In 1930 the theater installed Western Electric Sound System and introduced all “talkie movie” programing. The 1950’s brought multiple remodels and design changes to the Bob White. In 1967 the Bob White began running western and country films exclusively. This was the first of many themed identities the Bob White would see. At the time it was one of the only places in the nation catering to this genre. That same year the stage was extended to accommodate musical performances, bringing live entertainment to the Bob White for the first time.
The 1970’s and 80’s witnessed many changes in the Bob White. It cycled through a series of names and specialized programs before closing in 1986. The theater was inaccessible to the public for the next 26 years, serving as a private residence. During this time the Warehouse was added to the back of the theater as an organ workshop.
Now the Bob White is gearing up for its next incarnation as a community focused cultural space, bringing film, music and art to the neighborhood once again! Between the theater and the Warehouse, Foster-Powell will have access to a multitude of entertainment and community events. We hope to work closely with the neighborhood and the greater Portland community to bring the Bob White back to its original gleam.