Ballet school director renovates Day Theater

Take a look at the renovations that are bringing this outer East Portland entertainment complex in Creston-Kenilworth back to life …

With unsavory people lurking around, and trash piling up, neighbors say they’d given up hope for the Day Theater building, and just wished it would be demolished.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

With years of delinquent taxes piling up – not to mention piles of rubbish – it looked as if the Day Theater building at 5516 S.E. Foster Road might wind up being torn down.

The historic building, constructed in 1915, which once was a hub for movies and live entertainment – and then a piano and music showroom – is now at last being renewed and restored by Classical Ballet Academy Director Sarah Rigles.

As the extensive rehabilitation of the Day Theater building proceeds, new owner Sarah Rigles goes inside to supervise the work.

Her Sellwood dance academy is bulging at the seams, Rigles told  East Portland News in the same building where she started in 2004 with only two students. “After 19 years, we ended up taking over the entire little building in Sellwood [where S.E. Milwaukie and 17th Avenue converge]. For quite a few years we’ve been looking for a larger space, but the timing just wasn’t right,” Rigles said.

“And, finding commercial space that’s zoned correctly, with a lot of square footage, and within the price range we could afford, that was pretty hard to come by in Southeast Portland.”

Standing where the theater balcony will be constructed after the illegally-built room is demolished, Sarah Rigles shows off the old-growth wooden beams that will be refinished and left exposed.

When her realtor showed her the Day Theater building, she confided, “I couldn’t believe it; and I was t thrilled! But it needs a lot of work.”

Before agreeing to acquire the building, Rigles had structural engineers and architects evaluate it. “The ‘bones’ of this building are really good and solid; it just hasn’t been taken care of for years, and needs interest, and love, care – and money – to restore it,” she commented. “I’m a person who sees the good in older buildings.”

A worker installs the base of a “floating” dance floor in one of the upstairs dance studios.

During our visit, licensed workers were making ADA upgrades, fixing plumbing and electrical systems, doing asbestos abatement, and ripping out a lot of the non-permitted and non-code-compliant modifications done by the last tenant. “Oh yes, we’re putting on a completely new roof, and installing a new HVAC system, as well,” remarked Rigles.

Dance school to open in late August
Classical Ballet Academy will move to the eastern, two-story, side of the building by the end of August, where it will also be offering classes in contemporary and modern dance.

“We also looking forward to have Pilates, aerobics, and other dance exercise classes here in our four studios,” said Rigles. “To me, the theater is a ‘bonus’ that came with the building, but renovating that is going to take about a year; we’re calling that ‘Phase 2’ of the project.”

The concrete thrust stage and proscenium will be demolished to provide a performance area, as will the back wall of the room, making space for the theater.

It’s a big project that will require demolishing a concrete stage, leveling the floor to make an open space for dance, live theater, or for music concerts. The room will feature riser seating, and a balcony accommodating from 225 to 275 people.

“I’m so looking forward to opening this space to small theater groups and for community events,” enthused Rigles. “If you know anyone, we’re looking for someone to reupholster all of the theater original seats because we want to honor the history of the building by reusing the seating.”

When the Classical Ballet Academy has moved in, Rigles promised to invite us back to see the dance school renovations.

© 2023 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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