Pasco's Liberty Theater could open its doors once again, though in hopes of attracting shoppers instead of moviegoers.
Some of the walls inside the 98-year-old building are being demolished as its new owners prepare to transform the building that housed everything from high school graduations to X-rated movies into a retail space.
Friends Octavio Rodriguez of Kennewick and Lorena Avila of Pasco recently bought the theater, which opened in October 1914, to refurbish as retail space and then sell to a business.
The city issued a permit for interior demolition work for Liberty Theater, 114 N. Fourth St., last week, according to city planning staff.
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Rodriguez said there is a lot of cleanup involved. If all goes as planned, they will be finished in about 75 days.
Rodriguez said the interior of the theater probably will be all new, but he does hope to restore the historic facade.
He was able to give some of the theater's surviving seats to the Franklin County Historical Society.
The theater is about 11,400 square feet and has two floors and a basement, Rodriguez said.
With its location in downtown Pasco, Rodriguez said retail seemed a great fit.
While it is the first time he has fixed up a commercial property, Rodriguez said he has bought, remodeled and resold homes.
And there already is some interest from potential buyers once the remodel is complete, he said.
In 1912, Pasco residents donated $15 apiece to pay for the Liberty Theater. But not enough people could afford to pay for the theater, according to the Franklin County Historical Society's archives.
So the basement was left unfinished for about two years before the theater was completed in 1914. When Sheriff J.W. Hays was pursuing a suspected burglar before the theater was finished, both he and the suspect fell into the basement. They climbed out, and Hays continued chasing the suspect down Fourth Street to Columbia Avenue, where the suspect was captured after a shoot-out, according to the Franklin County Historical Society's archives.
The Liberty Theater and its basement dance hall experienced a surge of popularity during World War II, when the Pasco Naval Air Station and Hanford Atomic Works were built.
It has been home to vaudeville shows, concerts, dances and school graduations.
But in the mid-1950s, audiences turned to TV, and the Liberty went into decline.
The theater was last owned by Roger Forbes, who started showing X-rated movies after he bought the building in 1976. Forbes closed the theater in 1989 as part of an out-of-court settlement with the city, according to Herald archives. At the same time, the home video industry was causing his revenues for X-rated movie showings to dip.
While there have been at least three attempts to reopen the theater, none has succeeded, according to Herald archives. In 1994, some Pasco residents tried to reopen the theater as a performing arts center.