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Alberta Rose Theatre adds comfort to shows

New 300-seat venue expected to attract mid-size concerts
by: Jeffrey Basinger, The Alberta Rose Theatre on Northeast Alberta Street was recently renovated into a mid-sized concert hall after closing as a movie theater 32 years ago.

The Alberta Rose Theatre, as it's now called, fell out of public view for the most part since it closed as a movie theater in 1978. Church groups used it, but few others found a use for the building.

In fact, new owner Joe Cawley never knew about it. While searching for a venue to open a mid-sized concert hall, the building turned up on a commercial real estate website.

'I'd been going to Alberta for 15 years, and I could not for the life of me think of what that building was,' says Cawley, 39, a Portlander for about 20 years. 'I set up an appointment to visit (in November), and immediately fell in love with it the second I walked into the building.'

With the help of friends and business acquaintances, Cawley fast-tracked construction and on June 24 opened the Alberta Rose Theatre. It's a 300-seat hall for music, theater and dance groups. Even the OPB radio show 'Live Wire' will make itself at home in the theater.

It has been well-received, Cawley says, with plenty of bookings for the mid-sized, seated venue in Northeast Portland - 3000 N.E. Alberta St. It is similar to what was done with the Aladdin Theater, an old movie house on Southeast Milwaukie Avenue that has been transformed into a venue for live performances.

The Alberta Rose was called Alameda Theater in the old days, opening in 1927 and showing silent movies. The building was built with acoustics in mind, given that silent movies often used organs and musicians. It later was named 30th Avenue Cinema and Cine 30.

'Those old houses naturally amplify pretty well,' Cawley says. 'We are constantly making adjustments, mostly on the equipment side - the right speakers, the right angles, right fills, and as far as the room, adding sound absorbing panels where they need to be.

'It doesn't need to be loud to sound good. The room naturally amplifies everything.'

Cawley had worked in the hospitality business, and yearned to open his own venue.

'The bones were all there,' he says, of the building.

He worked on getting electrical and plumbing up to code, rehabilitated bathrooms, put in a bar, refurbished the stage and seats, built a backstage green room and installed new air conditioning and heating.

Cawley says Alberta Rose Theatre fills a need, a concert hall with seats.

'I rarely went out to shows, and friends didn't go out, because they didn't want to stand up in a club,' he says, 'where it's more appropriate to have seats or an option for seats.'

Cawley has two full-time staffers: Adam East, the talent buyer, and Harriet Hargraves, the house manager. Alberta Rose Theatre serves beer, wine, champagne and non-alcoholic beverages, and features Pacific Pie Co.'s Australian-style pies and other snacks.

'All we have to do is get people in the door - listeners and musicians,' Cawley says. 'And, they love it. Word spreads quickly.'