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A Grand Old Building

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The Panida Theater turns 75

February 27, 2002

The Panida Theater is 75 years old this year. F.C.Weskil opened the Premier Movie House on Nov. 22, 1927. Today it is even more than the premier movie house F.C. opened three quarters of a century ago. The Panida today is a cultural, social, and sometimes a spiritual center for Sandpoint and the surrounding communities.

As the cultural center of the area this historic building is the venue for many diverse performances. From plays to film, dance to concerts, from New York troupes to local performers, The Panida represents the best of Sandpoint and its diverse cultural and ethnic interests.

In many ways the story of the Panida is the story of the Sandpoint area. It ran very successfully as a movie house for many years. But, like its community, it had to rediscover itself when the economy, and the entertainment focus of the population, changed. It sat empty and in disrepair for several years until 1985 when it was restored and reborn.

The rebirth was due to a grassroots group from town who raised money to buy the building and do the repairs necessary to get it open again. Out of that group came the board of directors who, in 1985, hired an Executive Director and a Technical Director, the only paid positions of the organization.

In 1987, after the position was vacated for the second time, the board hired Karen Bowers as Executive Director and added Bill Lewis as Technical Director. They are the professional team that runs the day-to-day operation of the facility. Both are driven by their desire to maintain a high quality venue that can be used as a performing arts center, a facility for large meetings and gatherings and a home for a quality film series. Their goals are met through professionalism but one does not have to visit with either of them long to know the motivation behind the job is love for the Grand Old Building and all it stands for.

They have been on board ever since. Bowers keeps the place busy every weekend. Weekday functions are always being booked but she would like to get even more. “We can be used by organizations for their meetings,” she said “We are always looking for more functions.” One reason she spends so much time getting people to use the facility is the Panida is totally self-supported. Ticket sales, rental, some grants and donations from its supporters are the only means of support for this historic landmark.

Bill probably knows better than anyone how the place works. He has overseen and/or designed many of the restoration projects since he started. He also works with the people using the hall to make sure they have everything they need. Lewis knows where to find or rent all the equipment that may be needed for a performance.

During each activity Bowers acts as the Theater Manager. When I watch the two of them work Karen is everything from Manager to publicity to Executive Director. In some theaters that may be as many as 15 to 20 individual jobs. Bill does everything from maintenance man to Technical Director. In other places like this that would be several different positions, each with a crew.

Both are quick to point out how important the volunteer “Friends of the Panida” are. This group, which includes the board plus other volunteers, does everything from taking tickets to working the concessions stand and they're always looking for more members to help.

Bowers and Lewis feel well supported by the community but admit they still need more money. Many venues such as this are supported by a large corporation or an endowment that keeps them operating. The Panida belongs to the people of the area and its total support comes from them and any grants they may get. Bowers and some of the board members write grant applications “We can’t afford to pay a professional grant writer” she said. “We would use one but their fee would have to be written into the grant.”

Along with several smaller restoration projects in the works is fund raising for a new Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system. This new system will be mounted on the roof and will replace the old boiler in the basement. Included in the project will be new ducting as well as some insulation. Lewis pointed out the fan noise that is now in the building. “Sometimes we have to turn off the present system so the audience can hear what is on stage. The new HVAC will be quiet,” he whispered.

Some interesting facts about the Panida; It was the theater used for the production of the first Patrick McManus play. Both the Idaho Ballet, which brings the Nutcracker to town, and the San Francisco Opera Touring Company, builds their sets to the Panida specs because it is the smallest stage they use.  It was the first recipient of the Glenn Janss Award by the Idaho Heritage Trust. The building is on the National Register of Historic Theaters. And it is a recipient of the Idaho Community Foundation award as well as being awarded a Foundation Northwest Grant.  

On March 9 the Panida and SAIL Musicals on Tour will present The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain. This classic musical for the family begins in awful “Offal Court” in England where young Tom Canty is forced to beg and steal so that he may survive. Tom dreams of becoming a prince someday and of leaving behind his immoral life. Meanwhile, young Edward VI learns that his father, the King, is dying and that Edward will soon rise to the throne of England. Prince Edward dreams of a simpler life outside his palace walls. A twist of fate brings the two young men together, and the pauper assumes the role of prince and the prince takes on the pauper’s role. Only the two girls who truly love them know their real identities.

Audiences will enjoy the pageantry of the court and experience the poverty of the streets of London. This exciting and lively tale is a study in contrasts, as each boy learns to love the world in which he dwells and find satisfaction in serving humanity.

This all-new, fully staged, family performance is from SAIL Productions’ collection in their Storybook Theatre for Children. Previous productions have included Aladdin, Cinderella and The Emperor’s New Clothes among others since 1990. SAIL is a nationally acclaimed children’s and family musical theater company that entertainingly brings to audiences the depth and humor of this literary classic. It is presented with audience participation and features lively songs, dance and wonderful costumes.


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Author info

Ernie Hawks Ernie Hawks is a former theater director who has branched into the creative fields of writing and photography. He lives in a cabin in Athol with his lovely wife Linda, and feeds the birds in his spare time.

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