New owners to refurbish Pine Theater for movie fans

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: January 17. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – Local residents have wondered for years when the rapidly growing city of Prineville would acquire that staple of small-town Saturday nights: a movie theater.

Now they have their answer. A Prineville couple, Oniko and Ali Mehrabi, has purchased the old Pine Theater in downtown and plans to begin showing movies there again within a few years.

The step is the latest in a series of business moves that shows developers and entrepreneurs are taking seriously Prineville’s economic potential as Crook County’s population continues to mushroom.

“It should be good for the downtown – I think it will only be a good thing for the city,” said Cathy Lane, whose husband and father-in-law have owned Prineville Men’s Wear, across Main Street from the Pine Theater, for 57 years.

Oniko Mehrabi said that most of the details of the building’s renovation are still up in the air.

“We don’t have definite architectural plans at the moment,” she said. “The biggest thing was acquiring it and knowing that our biggest plan was opening it as a movie theater.”

Mehrabi said that she and her husband plan to operate the theater as a “McMenamins-style” business, with a restaurant or cafe alongside third- and fourth-run movies. The theater should have a new marquee in a few weeks, she said, but there is no set timeline yet on renovating the inside.

“The main reason (no one has opened a new theater) is population base – there’s just not enough people here, so there has to be a different thing to attract them, like a restaurant to get people from out of Prineville,” Mehrabi said.

Mehrabi has experience with running a business in Prineville. She and her husband moved from Portland about a year ago, and she opened Main Street Fashions, a clothing store.

But she eventually decided she did not want to spend so much time away from her son, Michael, now 2. Ali Mehrabi works in Redmond.

They hope to run the business as a family, with assistance from other relatives, but will probably also hire some outside help.

One of the first phases in the process will be renting out the office space above the movie theater, Mehrabi said. That means the model railroad club that currently occupies the area will have to relocate.

“The first thing is beautification of the outside, then the second step is renting the office space and then the third step is to sit down and make plans for the inside,” she said.

The Mehrabis bought the property a few months ago from Prineville lawyer Jim Van Voorhees.

The Pine Theater opened in 1938 and was owned by Ken Piercy, who also operated the Lyric Theater across the street, said Steve Lent, a historian with the Bowman Memorial Museum. The Lyric Theater closed in 1966 after a fire in its building, and the Pine Theater closed in 1971.

“It’s been pretty much empty since then,” Lent said. “Commercially, it hasn’t been used much since that time.”

He added that another Prineville theater, the Patio Drive-In, stayed open for a few years after the Pine closed. In the early 1970s, new owners of the Pine tried to operate it as an adult movie theater, Lent said, but protests closed it down again.

“After they picketed and stared down everyone who would maybe want to go in there, they shut it down,” he said.

Prineville Mayor Mike Wendel said he often went to the Pine as a high school student.

“I’m excited to see somebody trying to renovate the old Pine Theater,” he said. “It’s one of the long-standing buildings in town, and the Pine Theater out front with the neon lights and everything is something that’s been part of Prineville for a long time.”

Local teenagers reacted with delighted surprise to the news that Prineville could have a movie theater in the near future.

“That would be awesome,” Shaylynn Curtis, 17, said. “It just gives us something to do.”

Shaylynn said she usually goes to the movies two or three times a month. Megan Messerle, 15, said that groups of friends often trek to Bend or Redmond on the weekends to go to the movies.

“There’s been a lot of talk about it,” Megan said. “A lot of high school kids would like to have a movie theater here so we don’t have to drive.”

Some of the owners of neighboring businesses also said they thought a revitalized Pine Theater would be good for Prineville. The theater is located just off Third Street, the main east-west corridor through the city.

“Hopefully, yeah, it increases my business because of the exposure,” said Rick Johnston, the owner of Main Street Barber Shop, which shares part of the Pine’s building. “I’m sure they’ll fix it up and that probably will help, too.”

Lane, of Prineville Men’s Wear, said the increased downtown traffic should help local retailers.

“It probably will (add to our business),” Lane said. “People will come down to the theater and look at us across the street and think, ‘Oh, I’ll have to go in there sometime.'”

Although the Pine won’t begin showing movies again for a couple years, Mehrabi said community members aware of the purchase have been very supportive so far.

“Coming to Prineville has been quite the blessing,” she said. “People are so excited, and anybody and everybody that we say something to they’re like, ‘Well, call me if you need any help emptying (the building) out.’ It’s been an outpouring.”

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