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Historic Dayton Theatre Hopes For Summer Reopening

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Courtesy of Liberty Theatre
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The lights have dimmed for a couple of months at the historic Liberty Theatre in Dayton, Washington, due to the coronavirus. But its manager has plans to reopen the doors this summer.

The story of the theatre is similar to that of many other small-town art houses, says manager Mike Ferrians. It was a movie theatre in its early days. It endured a fire and an extended closure.

"Then in the mid-80s, when the Dayton community began its revitalization. Their first big project was to restore to its original grandeur the Columbia County Courthouse, which is the oldest continually operated courthouse in Washington state. And then their second project, right across the street, was the Liberty Theatre," Ferrians said.

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Credit Courtesy of Liberty Theatre
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The Liberty Theatre is Dayton's cultural center, with live plays and movies the primary entertainment.

It reopened in 2001. Now it’s owned and operated by the Touchet Valley Arts Council.

“Its primary programming is in live theatre and cinema, but civic events are held there. Business meetings are held there. Candidate forums, family reunions. We even had a couple of weddings in there, so it’s just been a community center," he said.

Since the pandemic began, the Liberty has been closed to events. The council received a small grant from the federal CARES Act, through Humanities Washington. Ferrians says that has allowed the theatre to keep paying its bills and its staff.  

Columbia County, of which Dayton is the county seat, is now in phase two of the reopening protocol. When it advances to phase three, Ferrians expects the Liberty will slowly come back to life.

“If we are able to open by July 1, then we would go ahead with our summer programming," Ferrians said. "That involves some kids’ films, which we run in a series at a very low admission price, and then bringing in the Missoula Children’s Theatre in the first week of August, which we always do.”

He says it will operate at 50% capacity with appropriate hygienic measures taken. There are questions whether to sell concessions and advanced tickets. Regardless, Ferrians says the Liberty will continue to serve its community through the reopening and beyond.

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