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Living Room Theaters

The Theater: Living Room Theaters

341 SW 10th Ave.

Now Playing:

  • Cave of Forgotten Dreams (in 3D)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (in 3D)
  • The Double Hour
  • The First Beautiful Thing
  • The Trip
  • Trigun: Badlands Rumble

Living Room Theaters was specifically designed by filmmakers to be completely unlike any other theater out there. Their film selection is a great example of how they strive to be different, purposefully avoiding the distribution strategies that led to the sharp divide between arthouses and mainstream theaters.

The programming department selects movies based solely on four criteria: 1. The quality of the filmmaking, 2. The film’s target demographic, 3. How it compares or contrasts with other films that were recently played, and 4. How it might clash with other events already scheduled.

Those are the only four criteria. The genres, budgets, and awards buzz don’t matter. The quantity and quality of the stars, studios, or directors don’t matter. This theater will play big-budget spectaculars, semi-arthouse movies, documentaries, foreign films, old classics, anime films, and movies so obscure that even people who write about movies for a living wouldn’t have heard of them. Nothing is off-limits here.

Even better, Living Room Theaters was specifically designed to help independent filmmakers get their movies distributed. Amateur filmmakers can simply go to the theater’s website, follow the instructions and submit their movies for consideration to be screened here. Accepted entries are guaranteed at least a full week with a full schedule on one screen, possibly more if the film does well. Promotion for the movie and encoding into the proper screening format will be provided free of charge and the filmmakers get 35% of the box office gross with no deductions. It’s a pretty sweet deal, all told.

More About the Place: There may be another Living Room location at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, but the original location was opened in December 2006, right here in Portland.

This is the concession stand, folks.

From the concessions to the decor, there is absolutely nothing ordinary about this place. The lobby features an open bar, restaurant seating, and free wi-fi. The place serves all manner of beers, wines, coffees, and espressos (quite a few of them are made locally), in addition to some great food. I’ll grant that the menu is quite expensive, but so are most theaters. At a Regal theater, $8 will get you a pretzel and a small popcorn, if that. Here, it’ll get you pulled pork sliders, with Balsamic reduced vinagrette and horseradish orange coleslaw.

Suck on this, Regal.

Then we get to the screening rooms. This theater is notable for being the first all-digital and only-digital theater in the country. This was done specifically to eliminate the cost of celluloid printing, passing the savings on to independent filmmakers, though it also helps make the theater more eco-friendly and energy-efficient.

Far more importantly to the viewer, take a look at the seats being offered in the auditoriums:

The armrest in the center has 2 (two!) cupholders.

Just look at how huge those seats are. Lots of armspace, lots of comfy padding. These theaters have tables. They have individual chairs. They have ottomans. No joke, there’s a theater in which you can comfortably kick your feet up without disturbing whoever’s in front of you. Oh, and did I mention that the waiters bring food out to you? Seriously, if you place your order 30 minutes before showtime, you can pick out your spot in the theater and your order will actually be brought out to you!

Also in the Area: Like the Fox Tower, Living Room Theaters is surrounded by no shortage of Portland landmarks, thanks to its downtown location. Buckle up, because this is gonna be a while.

To start with, Living Room Theaters is situated just outside the famous Pearl District, which means that you can find all manner of kitschy stores, exotic restaurants, art galleries, fashion boutiques and performance spaces simply by going a few blocks north. For example, just by going one block north of the theater — past the “Pod” sculpture made by Pete Beeman and David Bermudez in 2002 — you’ll find one of the most iconic and beloved places in all of Portland.
In 1970, Michael Powell opened a bookstore in Chicago to sell used and rare books. His father, a retired painting contractor named Walter Powell, spent a summer working for his son. Walter enjoyed the experience so much that in 1971, he opened a bookstore of his own when he came back home to Portland. In 1979, when Walter’s lease ran out, Michael moved to Portland to help his dad run the business. Together, they moved the bookstore into an old car dealership, which eventually turned into the place you see pictured above.

Today, Powell’s Books is the largest independently-owned bookstore in the world. It’s also notable for being designed in such a way that the building is actually larger on the inside than it is on the outside. I can’t find any sources to verify this scientific breakthrough, and I don’t know if the Powell family has ever admitted it, but it’s true. It has to be. If you’ve ever been inside, you’d know there’s no other possible explanation.

This store has new books, used books, old books, rare books, out-of-print books, textbooks, audiobooks, comic books, and board games. If there’s a book that Powell’s doesn’t have, it doesn’t exist. You want a great deal on a book? Don’t go to Amazon, go to Powell’s. Need to sell some books? Go to Powell’s. Need a cup of coffee and/or a quiet place to read? Go to Powell’s. Just passing through Portland? Get thee to Powell’s (and pick up a souvenir while you’re there).

Only a couple of blocks west, at NW 12th and Burnside, you’ll find one of many buildings dedicated to Portland’s world-famous microbrew culture. This is Henry’s Tavern, named for Henry Weinhard, who first brewed his beer in this very building. The brewery has since been converted into a massive diner and sports bar, with a sizable menu and a tremendous beer list populated largely with local brews.

But let’s go a touch deeper into the Pearl District, shall we? Only two blocks away from Living Room Theater, you’ll find another theater on NW 11th and Davis.
Welcome to the Gerding Theater, aka The Armory. In 1891, it was built to house the Oregon National Guard. Shortly after, because it was designed to handle large crowds, it was used to host movies, conventions, concerts, speeches, etc. In 2000, it was added to the National Registry of Historic Places. From 2002 to 2006, a massive renovation turned the Armory into the Gerding Theater, the current stage and headquarters for the Portland Center Stage theatrical company. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing quite a few PCS performances here and I can’t recommend this company enough. Also, you’ll have to trust me when I say that the building is even prettier on the inside than it is on the outside.Moving right along, here are the North Park Blocks, located along Park Avenue from Ankeny to Glisan, just a couple of blocks northeast from Living Room Theaters. These are some of the city’s original park properties, first dedicated by Captain John Couch back in 1869. It was also Portland’s first supervised playground, with play equipment in place as far back as 1908. A new playground was built in 1993 as part of a massive renovation that started the year before, replacing light fixtures and repaving the paths with more colorful tiles.

If you look very carefully at the background of the above photo, you can see a bronze elephant statue. Installed in October 2002, that statue is a replica of a Shang dynasty wine pitcher, 16 times the original size. It was a gift from Huo Baozhu, a Chinese man with a fondness for the city of Portland and a business reproducing Chinese antiquities. The statue and its two elephants are called “Da Tung & Xi’an Bao Bao.” The latter is the young elephant on top of the bigger one, symbolizing safe and prosperous offspring. And while we’re on the subject of Chinese art…

Living Room Theaters is only a third of a mile west of Chinatown, which is prominently marked by the gate pictured above. Completed in 1986, the gate was specifically designed to withstand the worst winds and rains that Portland weather could throw at it (which is saying something). At a total cost of $256,000, the gate was actually designed and built in Taiwan before being shipped to Portland. The Chinese letters in front say “Portland Chinatown” and letters on the back say “Four Seas, One Family.” At a height of 38 feet, this was the tallest gate of its kind in the nation… until one was built in Washington D.C. just a few months later. Gah.

Side note: Chinatown sits directly atop an underground network of tunnels that connected various bars and saloons to the waterfront. It’s said that from the 1850s to the early 1900s, people who visited such places of ill repute were often kidnapped, dragged into the tunnels, and sold for slave labor. Back then, Portland was considered one of the world’s most dangerous ports. Today, the “Shanghai Tunnels” are open for tours every Friday and Saturday.

The tower pictured at right is the U.S. Bancorp Tower, only a fifth of a mile east of Living Room Theaters. The tower, affectionately nicknamed “Big Pink” (yes, it looks like a penis, shut up) is the second-largest building in the city… depending on who you ask.

See, though Big Pink has 42 floors, the Wells Fargo Center has only 40. However, the Wells Fargo Center is 166.4  meters high, a good three meters taller than the U.S. Bancorp Tower. Then again, the Wells Fargo Center is built on higher ground and the difference in height may simply be a difference in elevation, but I honestly have no idea.

Completed in 1983, the tower was designed by the firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the same Chicago architectural group that was most recently put in charge of designing the Freedom Tower in NYC. A Portland architect (immigrated from Italy) named Pietro Belluschi served as a consultant on the Bancorp Tower. It was he who selected the glass and granite for the tower’s exterior, giving Big Pink its distinctive color.

The tower was initially the regional and national headquarters of U.S. Bancorp until a merger moved the company to Minneapolis in 1997. The building has passed between quite a few hands over the years, but its current ownership is split between LaSalle Investment Management and Unico Properties. For some reason, the tower’s title remains unchanged.

One of the tower’s more notable features is the Portland City Grill on the 30th floor. It’s commonly rented out for parties, and for good reason: The windows on that floor offer a panoramic vista of the city, right in the heart of downtown Portland. If you should ever be so fortunate as to see from that vantage point, you’d probably agree it’s among the best possible views of the city.

Last but not least, another of Portland’s many claims to infamy is our robust strip club industry. Until very recently, the Rose City claimed more strip clubs per capita than anyplace else in the nation (yes, including Vegas). This is where it all started. Only three blocks east of Living Room Theater is Mary’s Club, the first topless bar in Portland. It’s named for Mary Durst, who won the bar as part of a divorce settlement. Roy Keller bought the club from her in 1954, and eventually turned it into a strip club as gradually as changes in legality would allow. Since Keller’s death in 2006 (hence the tribute, pictured above), the bar has been owned and operated entirely by women, including Keller’s daughter, granddaughters, and daughter-in-law.

Nowadays, the bar is just as famous for its colorful blacklight murals as for the women who dance here (One of them was Courtney Love. True story.). Unfortunately, the place is cramped, the stage is extremely small, and the dancers have to pay for their own songs on a jukebox just offstage. It’s certainly not a bad place by any means, and the history behind it is vital, but there are so many better strip clubs in this city.

What? I’m a 24-year-old single male, I’m living in the strip club capital of the Northwest, and it’s my birthday. Don’t judge me.

Personal Memories: I don’t come to Living Room Theater very often. Partly, that’s because it’s as expensive as Regal, but without any of the freebies or kickbacks I get with that corporation (you should see how many credits are on my Crown Club Card by this point). Mostly, it’s because I don’t want the novelty to wear off. I only come to the Living Room Theater to see very special movies, and rediscovering this theater with every visit makes the occasion even more special. As such, though I have very few memories of this place, they all mean a lot to me.

My earliest memory of this theater is also perhaps my favorite: Evangelion 1.01: You Are (Not) Alone. I’ve long since given up this particular hobby, but I went through something of an anime phase during my teenage years. Volume 1 of “Neon Genesis Evangelion” was my first anime DVD, and it should say something about my godawful adolescent years that I really identified with that mopey git, Shinji Ikari. When they weren’t piloting giant robots or stopping aliens from destroying the world, Shinji and the other characters actually asked the questions and suffered the emotional dilemmas that were going through my head on a daily basis. For better or worse, they played a huge part in helping me grow up.

Flash forward to a decade later. I’m sitting in a theater, eating gourmet food and watching a re-release of Evangelion, updated with modern technology and with slight tweaks in the story. It was like meeting for lunch with an old friend that I hadn’t seen since high school: We were both just similar enough to show that I was dealing with that same former acquaintance, yet we were both just different enough to show how much we’d developed since then. It was really an eye-opener to see how much time had passed and how much I’d grown up without even realizing it. But I digress.

I also came here to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, mere months before going to see its sequel at the Fox Tower. Later on, this theater became the place where I first saw Raging Bull and Psycho. I’ve even sat in on one of Living Rooms’ 3D screenings, with Cave of Forgotten Dreams, though of course their all-digital method required a different approach to 3D. Instead of using plain polarized lenses, Living Room uses these glasses with LED shutters, and — if I heard the usher correctly — these shutters move according to instructions from the projector. It tended to blink out when I touched the glasses, but I won’t deny that the effect was very impressive overall.

Living Room Theaters can be expensive, but god damn, is the money worth it. It may not have screens like those at the Lloyd Center 10, a huge amount of history like the Cinema 21 or fancy architecture like tomorrow’s spotlighted place, but none of those theaters (or any others in the city that I’m aware of, for that matter) have style like this one does. From the uber-comfy seats to the lavish food, this place is enough to make any moviegoer feel like a king.

These are the bathroom sinks, for God's sake.

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