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Liberty Theatre - 2/6 Wurlitzer
Puyallup, Washington
116 W. Main St.
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Theatre Theatre, c.2000
The Liberty Theatre was built by Dominic Constanti in 1924 for a cost of $70,000. It featured a stage for vaudeville performances and a Wurlitzer organ. Mike Barovic - then the theater manager - married Constanti's daughter, Andrea. When Mr. Barovic purchased the theater in 1939, he renamed it Barovic's Liberty Theater. The house may also have operated under the name "Stewart Theatre," but this cannot be confirmed.
Barovic, a fisherman and longshoreman, came from a tiny fishing village on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. He became a major commercial property owner in Puyallup and owned many movie theaters, including two in Tacoma, two in Puyallup (the Liberty and the Roxy), and one each in Sumner, Parkland and Aberdeen. He was part-owner of the Fife and 112th Street East drive-ins.
The theatre originally had a Wurlitzer Style D, opus 848 that shipped from the factory in June 1924. The organ was later sold and moved to First Methodist Church in Klamath Falls, Oregon.
The theatre operated as a first run movie house until June 1999, when it was closed. The theatre was later converted to a special events center.
Visit the Liberty Theatre web site:

More information about the theatre closing can be found in the following articles from the Tacoma News Tribune. Thanks to Richard Wildhirt for bringing these articles to our attention.
Tacoma New Tribune
  • June 21, 1999 - Sweet memories linger as Liberty Theater closes
  • June 22, 1999 - Don't Bring Curtain Down on the Liberty
  • July 14, 1999 - Some on City Council hope Liberty can still be theater
  • August 10, 1999 - New lease on life for Liberty
    June 21, 1999
    Sweet memories linger as Liberty Theater closes
    Mainstay of downtown calls it quits in Puyallup
    by Rob Tucker, The News Tribune
    Puyallup's Liberty Theater, an institution among downtown businesses, has closed after 75 years.
    "People are very sad in Puyallup," said Nancy Mendoza, executive director of Puyallup Main Street Association, a business and community group. "It was a Puyallup tradition. Kids grew up there. Families took their kids there."
    The Liberty closed June 3. A handwritten note taped to the ticket window says, "The fate of the universe has finally closed our doors. Until further notice, we are no longer in business. Regretfully yours, the Liberty management."
    Reel Entertainment of Spokane leased and operated the theater. Reel's president, Dale Reese, was out of town and couldn't be reached for comment.
    Tacoma attorney Tanya Pemberton, trustee for the Barovic Trust, the theater's owner, said Reel Entertainment defaulted on its lease and left suddenly.
    Donald Barovic, whose father, Mike, bought the theater in 1939, is the beneficiary of the Barovic Trust. "I would very much like to keep it operating as a family theater," he said last week. But, Barovic said, if that can't happen, he would entertain a proposal to make the venerable building a civic center for the city.
    Puyallup Mayor Ken Martin said that's a good idea.
    "It wouldn't be a bad idea for the city to own it," he said. "It's got a stage. It could be used for all sorts of meetings, seminars, performances. It's special to me. I went there as a kid."
    Pemberton blamed the Liberty's demise on the City of Puyallup's three-year, $6 million street renovation project that has blocked downtown streets.
    But Barovic disagreed. "The street renovation wasn't that detrimental," he said.
    Rather, he said, the single-screen theater at 116 W. Main Ave. had struggled in recent years to compete with newer megaplexes on River Road East and on South Hill.
    "Small towns are changing," said Ken Placek, co-owner of the nearby Rose Restaurant. "Big chains, big franchises are moving in. There are lots of cinemas around here now."
    Some people said they liked the Liberty Theater because it catered to families.
    James Storey, a local insurance agent, said he used to take his three kids to the Liberty.
    "It's was great," he said. "I liked to go there, not the mall. That's so impersonal."
    Patrons said they liked the theater because it recalled an era of moviegoing that's long past.
    Admission was cheap. The big tub of popcorn they'd buy was buttery and bottomless. The single-screen theater was vast compared to the tiny screens at some multiplexes. And the painted landscape murals on the inner walls of the theater, which Donald Barovic called "the gardens," contributed to the Liberty's charm.
    Jim Reilly, 80, said he began going to movies at the Liberty in 1931 - "when I could get a nickel together." When not working at his job taking tickets at another theater in Puyallup, the Roxy, he would hang out at the Liberty. He recalls one big promotion there in the mid-1930s. The street were full of people who gathered to see MGM studio's Leo the Lion, who was in a cage on the back of a truck.
    "He must've drank a lot of water," Reilly recalled. "Because he did what puppy dogs do and he sprayed the whole audience. Some of us saw it coming and stepped back and just roared with laughter."
    Reilly said his children also saw movies at the Liberty. He said he went to his last movie there about 30 years ago. Reilly left Puyallup in 1972 and now lives in Edgewood.
    Sally Taylor of Roy said she spent a lot of time at the Liberty when she was a kid in the '50s and early '60s. Her parents were friends of theater owner Mike Barovic and his wife, Andrea. When her parents and the Barovics were playing cards for an evening, Mike Barovic would take little Sally down to the theater so she wouldn't be bored.
    "He'd tell them, 'Give her what she wants and she can watch the show as many times as she wants,' " Taylor said. "I watched horror movies, about giant ants and stuff, and I couldn't sleep for a week. I loved that theater."
    But first, this message ....
    Twenty years ago, the Liberty Theater - along with the Puyallup Fair and Tacoma's Temple Theater - was a stop for the LeRoy Hintz Variety Show. "We did some magic and dancing," Hintz recalled. But the Liberty's stage was too small for all 35 of the performers the troupe used at larger venues.
    From 1982 to 1995, before Reel Entertainment took over the lease, theater managers Bud Dunwoody and his son, Dennis, stood up on stage before each show and talked about the upcoming movie, cautioned against rude behavior, apologized ahead of time for onscreen swearing, gave warnings against illegal drug use and even led customers in singing "Happy Birthday" when there was a birthday kid in the the audience.
    The Dunwoodys booked only G- and PG-rated shows. When the theater struggled in 1995, popular R-rated movies were offered, but the operators still tried "to keep it as mellow and entertaining as possible," Dennis Dunwoody said at the time. He took over operations for a short period after his father died.
    Then the theater closed briefly for $50,000 worth of improvements and a change in management, Donald Barovic said. After it reopened, the anti-drug talks and personal introductions stopped, patrons said, but Reel Entertainment promised it wouldn't run R-rated movies until after 9 p.m.
    Dominic Constanti built the Liberty in 1924 for $70,000. It had a stage for vaudeville performers and even a Wurlitzer organ. Mike Barovic - then the theater manager - married Constanti's daughter, Andrea. When he purchased the theater in 1939, he renamed it Barovic's Liberty Theater.
    Barovic, a fisherman and longshoreman, came from a tiny fishing village on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. He became a major commercial property owner in Puyallup and owned many movie theaters, including two in Tacoma, two in Puyallup (the Liberty and the Roxy), and one each in Sumner, Parkland and Aberdeen. He was part-owner of the Fife and 112th Street East drive-ins.
    Madge Spear, a family friend, said Mike Barovic "started out with nothing, but he knew how to handle money. He was a very proud man. He could be very generous."
    Once in the 1920s, when there was a fire at Puyallup High School, Barovic allowed the school to use the theater for graduation ceremonies, said Rosemary Eckerson, director of the Karshner Museum in Puyallup.
    But even Barovic, in his later years, looked on his Liberty Theater as "more of a monument than a money-maker," as he put it in 1980.
    Donald Barovic chuckled when he remembered his father's words. "TV hurt," he said. "But it was able to survive."
    Mike Barovic died five years ago at age 97. His wife died in 1990.
    On West Main, near the Liberty, a new sign reads, "Construction: Downtown Open for Business." But the Liberty isn't open any more, at least for now.
    "It'll be missed," said Brigitte Placek, co-owner of the Rose Restaurant.
    © The News Tribune

    June 22, 1999
    Don't Bring Curtain Down on the Liberty
    On Main Streets all over America, downtown movie houses like Puyallup's Liberty Theater are fading away like an old photograph left out in the sun. They're being displaced - but not replaced - by shiny suburban megaplexes that have all the character of franchise convenience stores.
    At the Liberty, which has closed after 75 years, parents didn't have to worry that a child would buy a ticket to a G-rated Disney film and then sneak into an R-rated slasher movie being shown on one of the theater's 15 other screens. And it didn't cost close to $50 to take a family of four out for a movie, popcorn and soft drinks.
    Locals fondly recall the personal touches that made going to the Liberty special. From 1982 to 1995, managers Bud Dunwoody and later his son Dennis would give a little talk before the show, warn the kids to behave themselves, apologize for any off-color language in the film and even lead the audience in singing "Happy Birthday" if there was a celebrant in the house. They tried to make a go of it by booking only G- and PG-rated films, but finally gave in to economic realities and showed the selected R-rated movies many people wanted to see. The theater is owned by the Barovic family, whose patriarch, Mike Barovic, bought it in 1939. They hope someone will want to reopen it as a family theater, but that's not likely to happen given the competition from the megaplexes. Another option on the table is for the City of Puyallup to use it as a civic hall.
    It would be a shame if the Liberty - which created memories for generations of Puyallupites - were to shut its doors forever. It may be a vestige of yesteryear, but it could still have a useful future.
    © The News Tribune

    July 14, 1999
    Some on City Council hope Liberty can still be theater
    By Rob Tucker, The News Tribune
    Some members of the Puyallup City Council still want to convert the Liberty Theater into a civic center. But they will wait to see whether it will reopen as a movie house, Mayor Ken Martin said.
    After the Liberty closed its doors on June 3, several local residents told council members the theater should be preserved as a community performing arts center. Martin said he shared their hopes.
    But other council members say they aren't ready to purchase or lease the building at 116 W. Main Ave. The members urged private business groups, such as the Puyallup Main Street Association, to find money for the project.
    Don Barovic, whose father owned the movie theater, said some private operators have considered a lease, but no deal has been made. The theater was open for 75 years.
    © The News Tribune

    August 10, 1999
    New lease on life for Liberty
    Old Puyallup theater to become a space for special meetings, events

    By C.R. Roberts, The News Tribune
    If Tom Neumann has his way - and he just might - Puyallup's Liberty Theater will live again, expanded, renovated, made into a place freshly fit for a new century.
    Neumann, 38, never had seen the loved but lonely downtown landmark. By the time he did, nearly two months ago, it already was closed.
    Opened in 1924 as a movie and vaudeville house, the theater already had been declared dead more than once, only to face brief yet futile resurrections.
    "I just got a feeling," Neumann said.
    As he stood on the sidewalk, the building spoke to him - as buildings sometimes do to dreamers.
    The Liberty Theater said, "Come fix me," Neumann said.
    "I knew what had to be done."
    He recently negotiated with owner Don Barovic a multiyear lease with an option to buy. He estimates he'll spend more than $150,000 to remake the Liberty into a new kind of showplace.
    He intends it to be a meeting space for corporate gatherings and a venue for social events. He will wire the building for video and fiber-optic telecommunications.
    He'll keep the Cinemascope screen and projector and may show movies on special occasions.
    He plans to remove the 658 main floor seats and build another level onto the floor. He'll hang chandeliers, expand the restrooms, revamp the lobby and add catering facilities and a parquet dance area.
    He will restore the original 1924 marquee and call the hall Barovic's Liberty Theater.
    "I'm tired of everybody tearing down all the old places," he said. "All they make is boxes any more. You don't see good stuff like this. I love old buildings."
    Neumann spent several years helping to redevelop Tacoma's Temple Theatre and Landmark Convention Center. He currently runs a business called Weddings at Home, organizing all facets of home wedding ceremonies and receptions.
    "I've done 1,098 weddings to date," he said.
    He describes himself as "kind of like Martha Stewart, but the Tim Allen version from 'Home Improvement.' "
    Originally from Chicago, Neumann lives in Puyallup with his wife and two daughters. The former electrical engineer and Top-40 disc jockey toured, working the sound systems, with such rock acts as Billy Joel and Kiss. He has helped design and build recording studios.
    "My job has fundamentally been the production of the show," he said.
    His latest production may help to bring part of the soul back into the heart of downtown Puyallup.
    "He could be the catalyst for the redevelopment of additional businesses and retail," said Nancy Mendoza, executive director of the Puyallup Main Street Association.
    "I love the whole idea of corporate renters using it," she said. "It's perfect, it's close, the size is right. I think he could be very successful. He could provide a niche for us that's missing."
    Kevin Phelps, managing general partner of the Temple Theatre and Landmark Convention Center, knows Neumann's work.
    "He was involved in our in-house remodeling projects," Phelps said. "He is a very talented young man. He always had high hopes and aspirations. I think he'll do well."
    No one has hopes higher than Don Barovic, 72, of Federal Way. It was Barovic's grandfather, Dominick Constanti, who commissioned the theater. It was Barovic's father, Mike, who managed construction of the project.
    "My family has owned it all these years," Don Barovic said.
    Neumann's was one of 15 offers Barovic received after the Liberty closed in June. Proposals ranged from retaining the Liberty as a movie theater to turning it into a church.
    But Neumann's offer "was the best, the most viable plan that's been presented. He seems to be a fellow with a proven track record. Should the gods will, he may end up owning it some day," Barovic said.
    Like a child given the keys to a toy store - or like a lover reunited with the object of his affection - Neumann leads a tour of the Liberty's back rooms and attic.
    Disturbing decades of dust, he points out old projectors, a ticket machine, torn seat cushions. He tenderly points out several cans of 20-minute newsreels, of old, fragile nitrate-based film.
    Pigeons coo from the rafters above.
    "This is mine," Neumann said, spreading his arms in wonder. "This is what I want to do. There's love in this town for this place. It has a life of its own. All those people who've been here left a little something."
    And Tom Neumann wants to give a little of that back.
    "I'm just trying to bring some joy," he said.
    © The News Tribune

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