An important part of Orofino’s history, the iconic Rex Theatré, is being threatened. Not by floods, fires or natural disasters, but by something that has afflicted so many longtime traditions, technology. According to the Rex Theatre’s owner, Chris Wagner, of Grangeville, the theater is in dire danger of being closed permanently. The Rex was built in its present location, 156 Johnson Avenue, in 1914. The theater has been in Wagner’s family since his grandfather, Al Wagner Sr., purchased it in 1955. Chris’ father, Al Wagner Jr., and uncle, John Wagner, bought it from their father in the mid 1960’s, and Chris purchased the Rex from them in 1994. He also owns the Blue Fox Theatré and Sunset Auto, both in Grangeville.
According to Wagner, the cause of the Rex’s dilemma is one that distresses many theaters, streaming. People can now stay home and stream movies, making the trip to the local theater unnecessary. But, when the recent Spiderman movie was released only in theaters, not offered for streaming, “People came out in droves all over the country,” said Wagner. “They’re ready to go to the movies again.” The Rex, which is currently managed by Tony Crockett, Jaime Kasper, Ryan Smathers and Eric Boyd, was updated to digital and 7.1 sound in 2014.
In a 2017 interview with the Idaho County Free Press, Wagner said he began working at the Blue Fox Theatré in downtown Grangeville when he was 10 years old. He reported being behind the concessions stand at this young age, and said, “I do enjoy movies, it’s in my blood.”
Wagner says that since the pandemic, movies have been slow coming out of Hollywood, adding to the struggle for small town theaters (it’s unusual for a town the size of Orofino to have the luxury of having a theater.) He is anticipating that things will begin to improve with the release of new movies. Until then, the theater will be open Thursday through Sunday, but Wagner is hoping to resume showing movies seven days a week again in the near future.
When a longtime movie man such as Wagner makes a plea to a community to save a part of the town’s history, it is felt wholeheartedly. “We need the people of Clearwater County’s support if they want the Rex to stay open.”