Many old-timers from Hillsboro, Oregon can remember when they could take in a movie at The Venetian theater located at 253 East Main Street in the downtown area. Portions of that building date back to 1888, where banker John Shute started his financial empire. When the bank moved in 1911, local legend Orage Phelps bought it and opened as the Grand Theater before expanding in 1915 under the name The Liberty. A fire in 1925 forced Phelps to rebuild, at which time he rebranded again, naming his more extensive, more modern creation the Venetian. Every major movie that ever came out between 1925 and 1956, including the first Talkie in 1929, was featured at the movie palace.
Another fire in 1956 shut the Venetian, and Orange reinvented it into The Town. Many of us remember sitting on the balcony and enjoying a Disney film or perhaps a hot date night at the historic building. After 40 years as The Town, the theater was closed and sold to the City for just $1,500. The City of Hillsboro searched for 11 years for the right buyer before selling it to local businessman and longtime Hillsboro resident Denzil Scheller in 2007 for just $10. The old theater, and the adjacent building, were bundled together, and Scheller poured $1.5 million of his capital and his heart and soul into it. The City and Metro added another million to aide in the massive remodel. In 2007 Scheller unveiled the reborn Venetian, but this time it was bigger and better with a restaurant, a meeting facility, full bar, and performing arts center. Anyone who ate there or caught a show knows how great it was. But once again, times changed, and Scheller found himself needing to sell, closing the theater in 2017. After several failed attempts to sell the impetuous V, foreclosure was the only option.
The Future – Enter John Lee and NWEvents
It was late January of this year when local entrepreneur John Lee, who owns and runs NW Events, got the call from Heritage Bank that the Venetian had fallen out of escrow. Lee, who had tried to buy the building in 2019, told us he had put it out of his mind and somewhat forgotten about it, but when the call came in, he knew he had to act. Public records show that Lee purchased the property in April for $1,250,000. In the meetings we have had with Lee, the plans for an upscale restaurant, an exquisite upstairs bar, and an event space were all shared.
John and his team have had to face the pandemic, which hit them right as they bought the building. At a time when everyone worried about business collapse and millions of deaths, he pushed on. In the months that followed the Venetian was refaced with a rustic barn wood look outside. The new owner scrapped plans to take down the iconic Venetian sign that Scheller had recreated. The look may not be “Old Hillsboro” which features mostly stucco, brick, and cement. However, it is appealing, and based on the sneak preview we have had, it does accomplish the look and feel they want.
Our biggest intention is to brighten the space with more lighting, as well as clean up some of the outdated finishings with a modern take on NW Nature. “Modern meets rustic” is what we’ve been calling it. During the remodel we’ve been looking to expose as many of the old elements of the building as we can, for example, some of the original brick, as well as leaving the upstairs ceiling exposed. We’ve procured and finished reclaimed barn wood from the Helvetia area to use for the new façade, adding historical value to the building. There will be clean lines and wood, as well as plants, stone walls, and similar natural-looking elements. The theater space will be outfitted with a hardwood floor and other components creating a grandness that will make the space come alive. Ultimately we want all the elements in the space to drive interest and allow you to discover new and interesting features while you venture through the building, as many others have in the past. The Venetian Webpage
It has been a long, long year folks. From our offices along Main Street, we have seen several spaces go empty and business leave. Those that are hanging on are doing just that. The Venetian’s re-opening promises to be big news; the perfect shot in the arm to get our City moving out of 2020 and into 2021. John is a savvy businessman and is confident his event center and theater space will work and revitalize the downtown core. The food will be upscale. The event space will attract clients from all over the Westside of Portland and beyond. Having met John several times now and seen the team he has assembled execute on their plans, I believe he is the right man at the right time.
We wish them all well and look forward to bringing you all some news of when they can and will open. Stay Tuned!