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LANDMARK | Liberty Theatre: Wenatchee’s ‘Show Palace’ is now in its second century

The Liberty Theatre is back in the business of showing movies, after shutting down for almost a year and a half during the COVID-19 pandemic. This venerable structure at the corner of Mission and Palouse streets has been part of Wenatchee’s entertainment history since its construction in 1919.

Pioneer businesswoman Rose Reeves Fuller Mann, who arrived in Wenatchee in 1891 and became a major land developer along with husbands O.B. Fuller and Eugene Mann (both of whom she outlived), was behind the construction of the Liberty Theatre. She and Fuller had purchased prime orchard land, subdivided it into 10-acre lots and sold the lots at a great profit. They bought and sold additional land and constructed several downtown office buildings. Rose and her second husband then developed more commercial property.

The Manns helped form the Mission Investment Co. in 1919. They built the Liberty Theatre on a downtown lot belonging to Rose Mann that was being used for hitching and watering horses. Rose was a patron of the arts — president of the Ladies Musical Club, board member of the Apple Blossom Festival and secret funder of children’s music lessons and college scholarships — and felt Wenatchee needed another entertainment venue besides the old Wenatchee Theatre and the tiny Gem Theater in the Olympia Hotel.

The original entrance to the Liberty faced diagonally, with the marquee straddling both Mission and Palouse streets. The three-story brick building had an elegant interior with plush seats, loges, velvet curtains and high ceiling. When it first opened, the theater hosted vaudeville shows, concerts and silent films. Accompaniment was provided by a “modern” Wurlitzer pipe organ whose console was centered at the foot of the stage. In addition to the keyboard, the musician could manipulate various buttons and levers for sound effects such as siren, train whistle, gunshot and bird trill to punctuate the silent action on the screen.

Silent films gave way to “talkies,” but the pipe organ was still played before movie features and during intermissions. By the 1950s, it had fallen into disrepair and was moved into storage. David N. Gellatly Jr. (1915-1989), who owned the theater, offered the Wurlitzer to what’s now called the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center. The museum raised $60,000 for organ repairs and installation, and the beautifully refurbished instrument continues to delight museum visitors. The Liberty Theatre — now called Liberty Cinemas — has now combined with the old Vitaphone Theater and shows new releases on eight screens.

Chris Rader edits the Wenatchee Valley Museum’s quarterly historical magazine, The Confluence.

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