Panida Theater celebrates 89th birthday with a Gala event

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

Arguably, one of the most recognized and important structures in Sandpoint is the historic Panida Theater. Built in 1927 as a vaudeville and movie house, the Panida has seen its fair share of notable performers over 89 years. Photos of Bing Crosby and other idols line the foyer. Household names like Bonnie Raitt, Arlo Guthrie and Mitch Miller have performed on the main stage. Viggo Mortensen even began his acting career at the Panida.

There have also been some dark days. In 1941 the Panida nearly caught fire when an adjacent building went up on First Avenue. The theater was rescued from a dark fate in 1985 when the community banded together to save it from the wrecking ball.

When Jane Evans, Susan Bates-Harbuck and Laurel Wagers first hatched the idea to have the community buy the Panida, they needed to raise a $40,000 down payment for a mortgage. The women sold bricks with donors’ names stamped onto them to install in the sidewalk in front of the theater. The scheme worked: they raised $90,000 in just 90 days.

Ten years later, the mortgage was paid off fifteen years ahead of schedule, assuring that the Panida would always remain a community theater.

In modern times, the Panida has continued to be a focal point of activities in Sandpoint. Featuring a wide variety of films, live music, plays and special events, there’s always something interesting going on. In order to keep up with the rising costs of maintaining such a historically important building, the Panida board have had to rely on assistance from the community to ensure the Panida moves forward.

On Saturday, Nov. 19, in celebration of the Panida’s 89th birthday, a special Gala fundraising event will take place with proceeds benefitting the theater. There will be a Black Box Speakeasy with hors d’oeuvres provided by Trinity at City Beach and a no host bar serving wine, beer and champagne from 5-7 p.m. in the Little Theater. Vintage 1920s black and white films will play in the background and will be accompanied by music from the ‘20s through the ‘50s. Vintage dress is encouraged.

Starting at 7 p.m. in the main theater, the Gala portion of the evening will begin. Diane Peters and her dance company will be doing the foxtrot and the tango, encouraging people to join. The night will conclude with a special performance by Sean Rogers and Stephen Craig, who will recreate the melodic tones of the Golden Age of Hollywood from the ‘20s through the ‘50s. The concert portion of the evening will begin at 7:30 p.m.

“The weekend of this event has always traditionally been for Holly Eve,” said Jacqueline Albright, secretary on the Panida board. “That particular event isn’t going to be performed for awhile and we need fundraising, so we thought this would be a fun way to do it.”

Holly Eve, organized by business owner Marilyn Sabella, has traditionally been a source of revenue for the Panida over the years. Funds raised from Holly Eve were essential in paying off the mortgage in 1995.

“Being one of the most historic buildings in downtown Sandpoint, it costs more and more as the years go by to keep it renovated,” said Albright. “We’re not privy to as many grants as we used to be in the ‘80s. Grants for renovations are more available than they are for maintaining and restoring. It’s up to us to fundraise in the community.”

While the Sandpoint Urban Renewal Agency awarded the Panida a grant for $450,000, the money was earmarked to replace the ceiling, a vital renovation to ensure structural integrity of the theater.

Albright said the funds will likely go to several maintenance costs: “It’s going to cost us about $6,000 to renovate the fabulous tile put in during the ‘80s,” she Albright. “We need to clean up the tile, redo the grouting and replace those tiles that are broken. Some of the names have worn off. We’ll also put a sealant on top so they don’t wear off in the future.”

In addition to the live music and festivities, there will also be a raffle and silent auction, with prizes ranging from staycations in Sandpoint, scenic plane rides and sunset sails, dining certificates to Sandpoint area restaurants, and a special tour of the area in a vintage automobile.

“We’ll have cigarette girls that range anywhere from 26 to 79 years old selling raffle tickets and serving food,” said Albright.

This event marks a recent shift to the Panida holding around four fundraisers per year. In years’ past, their ice cream booth at the Festival at Sandpoint has always been a big source of funds, but this year after fellow food vendors were encouraged to include desserts in their menus, the Panida saw a major reduction in funds normally earmarked for maintenance.

“We’ve got to come up with some new ideas,” said Albright. “We hope people will come out to support this community owned theater. An event like this before Thanksgiving is perfect to set off the holiday season.”

Tickets to the entire night of festivities are $50, which includes two $5 raffle tickets and preferential seating before the main show. For those interested in just attending the performance, tickets will be $35. All funds go toward the Panida.

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