o Virginia Durost, Northeast Portland’s Hollywood District has always been about one thing: the Hollywood Theatre. She’s not alone. When the eye-catching movie palace threw its doors open in 1926, it quite literally changed the neighborhood; formerly called Hollyrood (after an idyllic Scottish hamlet), the Sandy Boulevard–centric slab of city quickly swapped its “r” for a “w” in honor of the theater.
“This was the community center,” says Durost, who moved to the neighborhood almost 25 years ago. “Some of my favorite old pictures are of just lines of kids waiting outside for the matinee.” Recently, she found a home video of her with her own young children at the lighting of the new blade sign—the vertical letters that spell out "Hollywood"—in the early 2000s. “It’s been a part of my life for a long time,” she says. Now, after nearly 10 years at the nonprofit theater working in HR, finance, and facilities management, she’s leaving her mark on its façade.
If you’ve ever caught a screening at the Northeast Portland staple, you may have noticed something peculiar. For decades, the building’s ornate marquee has dissolved gracelessly into a solid slab of orange wall first put up (for mysterious reasons) in 1965. It’s an undeniable buzzkill. Once upon a time, the glitz continued all the way to the sidewalk, in the form of elaborate crests and terracotta. Now, thanks to Durost and her team—and a cool $450,000 budget—it does again.
Sort of. Durost is quick to point out the project she’s headed is not a restoration, but a renovation. “Restoration is a very specific word,” she says. “We’re bringing back a lot of the elements that were there before, but also, it’s 2022.” She’s overseen the demolition of the ugly orange walls, which have been reconstructed to facilitate large poster cases with sleek white tile that mimics the marquee. Some terracotta work above the front doors has been (yes) restored, and the sidewalk is now flecked with terrazzo and finished with a shimmery Hollywood Theatre logo placed where the original ’20s-era ticket booth once stood.
It hasn’t been a bump-free road. Fundraising for the project began shortly before the pandemic, but was waylaid by shifting COVID-era financial priorities. Once the renovation finally began in earnest last fall, it was beset by supply chain issues. Still, Durost and her team pressed on, and she posted regular blog-style updates to the Hollywood’s website detailing their daily ins and outs. “First surprise, an unexpected void. Dark and spooky,” goes one dispatch. “Some days you’re trying to figure out how to get through a concrete wall. Some days, in the process, you discover a safe instead,” goes another. (It was empty.)
And now, Durost and her team have successfully restored a bit of dignity to one of Portland’s foremost cinematic cornerstones. For her, it’s an act of respect for local history, and a culmination of a lifelong fascination with architecture. “I get excited about, like, HVAC. Working on a building like this is amazing,” she says. “I have my dream job, basically. It’s nuts.”