The Rex Theatre is shown in this 1920 picture of Orofino as the first building on the left-hand side of the street across from the Ford dealership. 

A front-facing picture is shown of the Rex Theatre with a vacant lot and barn to the left and a gas station located diagonally on the lot to the right.

Paint and popcorn, a grand old lady gets a facelift

By Alannah Allbrett

   Back in the early days, when logging was king in northern Idaho and people needed entertainment, Orofino did its part by providing two movie houses, The Rose and the Rex Theatres. Only the Rex remains to tell the story, however.

   The Rex Theatre, Orofino’s first theatre, was built in 1914 in its present location at 156 Johnson Avenue. But it looked very different from today. To start with, there was a vacant lot on the left of it (see photo) with a large barn in the distant background. To the right, facing on a diagonal, was a little gas station or “filling station” as they used to be called.

   Silent pictures, of course, were the films of the day – usually accompanied by either an organ or a piano. In 1917, The Girl of the Timber Claims was a typical movie. It starred Constance Talmadge, Allan Sears, and Clyde E. Hopkins and was billed as, the “story of a primordial girl who plays a man's game in a woman's way.”    

   The first printed article about a movie at the Rex was found in the Clearwater Republican in 1914 (see photo), entitled War is Hell. The WWI film was from “real war scenes taken at the beginning of the present struggle near Lille, Belgium.” The admission price was 10 to 25 cents, and patrons were strictly instructed to, “Be in your seats early.”

   Movies were not the only thing people paid to see in the theatre, newsreels were a large, visible source of how people received news from around the world. There were also community events held in the theatre as a public meeting place.

   The advertisements for films did not spare any adjectives in their abundant praise or attempts at humor. Married Life; “not a war picture” was said to be “screaming funny.” Likewise, The Truant Husband was billed as “One of the cleanest, brightest, snappiest comedy-dramas ever screened,” It starred Mahlan Hamilton and Betty Blythe.

   Local businesses had attractive, glass slides made up by the Kansas City Slide Company which the projectionist showed before and in between films. Several, colorful Christmas slides are owned by the Clearwater Historical Museum. To view some of these beautiful, color slides, please visit our website at: It is not necessary to be a subscriber to see these slides.

   The exact date of the photograph, showing the front of the Rex Theatre, is not known. However, one of the movie posters in front of it is for Mother Machree, which was a silent film from 1928, directed by John Ford. It was based on a novel by Rida Johnson Young, about an impoverished Irish immigrant in America who, to support her son, found work in a carnival. The movie had a minor part played by a young John Wayne.

   A sampling of movies shown in 1922 were: Zane Grey’s The Man of the Forest; Jackie Googan in Peck’s Bad Boy (based on the series of books by George W. Peck); and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

   The theatre not only advertised the movie, but included reviews from the New York Times, the Globe, The Sun, the New York Journal, the Detroit Journal, and many more newspapers.

   In the 1920’s the theatre advertised directly below where the newspaper’s banner (or nameplate) appears on the front page. In April 28, 1922, the newspaper was called the Clearwater Republican, and it changed officially to the Clearwater Tribune in the May 5, issue 1922. A full page ad, with poster pictures, from the film, would typically appear in the paper in addition to the front page listing.

   Before the “talkies” came in with The Jazz Singer, in October of 1927, movies began to have a sound track with recorded dialogue. This played alongside the film and had to be synchronized with the movie, which was a very difficult task. Coupled with poor sound systems, it left a lot to be desired in quality. The last of the silent movies was released in 1931.

   Chris Wagner, is the current owner of the Rex Theater. It has been in his family since his grandfather, Al Wagner, Sr., purchased it in 1955. Wagner, who also owns the Fox Theatre and Sunset Auto View in Grangeville, has some interesting facts about old time theatres. He said that he has a few of the original movie seats from the days when gents and ladies typically wore hats in public. The underside of the seat had a wire rack to store one’s hat, while watching the movie.  

   The Rex has recently undergone some renovations which will be enjoyed by today’s customers. My first visit to the theatre was during the remodeling, and I was struck by the not unpleasant odor of paint and popcorn in the air. The floors had just been painted, and only half the seats were in place. The plush new seats are fully installed now and are equipped with cup holders on each side of the seat. They don’t, however, have a hat rack underneath for your derby.

   Come on out and support your local theatre. The Rex has made it possible to enjoy movies locally since 1914. For more information on the Rex Theatre, visit their website at:

An antique theatre seat displays the built-in hat rack where one’s hat could be stowed safely during a film.

War is Hell,” the first article found in the Orofino newspaper advertising a movie at the Rex Theatre in 1914. The paper at that time was known as the Clearwater Republican, later in 1922, it became the present Clearwater Tribune.

Shown is the movie poster from the film, The Girl of the Timber Claim from 1917, Orofino.

Above, is the movie poster of Mother Machree which played at the Rex Theatre in 1928.


Below are Christmas slides the Rex Theatre used to offer and air during movies.