The end of an era: OK Theatre to close

<I>Kathleen Ellyn/Cheiftain</I><BR>Shirley Crawford and friends buy tickets to the Sunday matnee at the O.K. Theatre. Like many long-term residents, Crawford has been coming to the theater since childhood.

A 90-year year tradition may end this year. David and Lisa Brandt, owners of the OK Theatre in Enterprise are reluctantly closing the historic theater the end of December. David Brandt said that he plans to end the theater's continuous run with the Disney picture, "Bolt."

The closure is yet another grief for the Brandt family to bear, David said. "It weights heavy on my mind," he said in a telephone interview Dec. 1. "I believe in this theater. I believe it is a great opportunity for someone in the community. We've hung on for a year-and-a-half since our daughter Shelby's death in April 2007, but in our grief, we just haven't been able to do the theater justice. What used to seem easy now seems insurmountable."

The family has moved to California be nearer extended family since Shelby's death, and Brandt said that attempting to divide his time between family in California and the theater in Enterprise simply became too much.

"I'm finding it much harder to focus and give the theater the time that it needs," he said. "We tried going back and forth and that seemed to make things worse for me. I need to focus on my family and life down here (in California)."

The Brandt family purchased the theater in 2001, when daughter Shelby was a senior in high school. Lori was a member of the Wallowa Valley Health Care Foundation board and David a former member of the Wallowa County Planning Commission. The couple were originally operators of two eldercare businesses in the county. As the family phased out of elder care, they entered theater and community events with energy and new ideas.

Now, David said, they get regular calls from both local and big-city event planners that would like to use the theater as their venue. For instance, Portland Light Opera was in negotiation to schedule a program for February 2008, Brandt said.

While he acknowledged that the depressed economy had affected his overall grosses, Brandt said that the economy was not a primary factor in the family's decision to close the theater. "It would still make a great living for someone who wanted to make a living promoting the performing arts and theater," he said.

The historic building and business are for sale for $240,000 - a price that includes the theater, three commercial rentals and two apartments.

The OK Theatre was opened in 1918 by A. Hackbarth.

It was renamed Vista Theater in 1933, but reverted to its original name after being purchased in 1981 by Russell Ford, who owned and operated it for almost 20 years.

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