Playing a Part in the Performing Arts

If you love the performing arts, Portland is a wonderful place to be. Our city is full of theaters and performance halls offering access to films, plays, and music of all varieties. Recognizing the value of the arts in making Portland the vibrant city we love, the talented craftspeople at Versatile Wood Products have been proud to lend their skilled hands to preserve and restore of some of our city’s most historically and culturally significant venues.

The exterior of the Hollywood Theatre during light snowfall on March 14, 2020.

In the early 1900s, during the era of silent film, Portland was home to many movie theaters, and our theater-building peak came around the mid-1920s. In the dawn of the silver screen, silent films were accompanied by organists, and more elaborate movie palaces, like the Bagdad and Hollywood theaters, even featured live orchestras. Theaters also were frequently used for vaudeville shows featuring singers, actors, dancers, magicians, contortionists, psychics, ventriloquists, comedians, and strong men, though vaudeville began to dwindle once the “talkies” were introduced and films became more widespread and sophisticated.

Posters and promotional images for vaudeville acts of the early 20th century.

While some stunning examples sadly went the way of the wrecking ball, like the ostentatious, ornate Oriental Theater (1927) that was demolished in 1970, preservationists have saved quite a few of our city’s most treasured architectural relics. Cinemagic (1914), Clinton Street Theater (1915), Laurelhurst Theater (1923), St Johns Twin Cinemas (1925), Hollywood Theatre (1926), Cinema 21 (1926), Moreland Theater (1926), Bagdad Theater (1927), and the Academy Theater (1948) are a few of Portland’s beloved historic theaters that remain standing today.

The interior smoking room and stage at the elaborately designed Oriental Theater, built in 1927 and demolished in 1970.

Today, Portland is listed by several sources as one of the top cities for film lovers in the US due to the number of movie theaters, film festivals, indie theaters, and film societies we have per capita. Our annual film festivals include the Portland International Film Festival, Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival, Portland Women’s Film Fest, Portland Jewish Film Festival, QDoc, Filmed by Bike, and the Cascade Festival of African Films, among many others.

For local cinephiles, one favorite place to catch a film is certainly the Hollywood Theatre. Built in 1926, the Hollywood Theatre was originally a “1,500-seat silent movie palace complete with an 8-piece orchestra and organist.” Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the theater is one of the few in the US that shows films in 70mm format. Film buffs love old-school 70mm for providing a clearer, crisper image and better sound quality than the newer 35mm format that is most commonly used today. In fact, in 2015, world-renowned director Quentin Tarantino himself stopped by the Hollywood Theatre for a showing of his film “The Hateful Eight.” (To learn more about why people love 70mm, watch this video featuring Tarantino, Samuel L. Jackson, and the crew of “The Hateful Eight.”)

The beautiful custom doors Versatile created for the Hollywood Theatre restored the entry’s original 1926 beauty.

So, if you think the Hollywood Theatre seems like a special place, you’re right, and Versatile Wood Products was thrilled to have a part in preserving the theater’s unique charm. Versatile replaced the previous aluminum entry system with gorgeous sapele mahogany doors that feature a continuous 16’ header and concealed motorized opening hardware. These custom-built doors were modeled after the 1926 originals, but provide ADA accessibility, energy efficiency, and increased safety. (Check out Versatile’s video about the doors’ creation here.)

The new Hollywood Theatre doors awaiting installation
and the door installation at the theater

In the neighboring cities of the larger Portland metro area, there are some wonderful historic theaters as well. Some have been repurposed and are now serving different functions, like the Hill Theater in Hillsboro, an Art Deco theater built in 1937 that now houses an antique mall. On this project, Versatile helped give the Hill Theater a much-needed facelift. The exterior façade was painted, the neon-lit marquee was repaired, and Versatile added a beautiful sunburst detail with new lighting to the underside of the marquee.

The historic Hill Theater in Hillsboro, Oregon.

Southwest of Portland in Corvallis, Oregon, the Whiteside Theatre is another wonderful historic landmark worth saving. An Italian Renaissance structure built in 1922, the theater was first built as a venue for the vaudeville circuit and silent films. After preservationists successfully fought to protect the theater from demolition in the early 2000s, the theater was saved and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. Contributing their significant expertise to the project, Versatile created poster cases for the exterior of the building to replicate the originals. This feature needed to be historically accurate, yet durable, so Versatile used Forbo Bulletin Board and solid brass hardware.

Poster cases installed by Versatile on the exterior of the Whiteside Theatre in Corvallis.

Beyond our city’s beautiful old movie palaces, other equally interesting venues await, delighting audiences with diverse offerings ranging from opera to punk shows, design workshops, stand-up comedy, and more

The intricate windows of the Hawthorne Theatre before restoration.

The Hawthorne Theater started its life nearly 100 years ago as a Masonic lodge. Today, it’s an all-ages performance venue hosting rock, metal, punk, hip-hop, indie, and hardcore bands. Versatile restored the structure’s intricate original windows in 2018, helping preserve this historic building on one of our city’s best-known boulevards. Erica Witbeck, Versatile’s operations manager, told the Business Tribune,”It’s a job we [were] uniquely qualified to do. We brought back one of the badly deteriorated original units to use for reference. Since our reproductions [were] installed adjacent to restored originals, an exact match [was] critical. We replicated the profiles on the glass stops, the overall size, the sash thickness, and the configurations with precision.” Because Versatile specializes in historically accurate custom wood sash, cabinetry, doors, and millwork using traditional techniques, they are an obvious choice for architectural preservation projects.

Details from the restoration of the Hawthorne Theatre windows.

Versatile Wood Products also brought these skills to the restoration of The Old Church Concert Hall, a beloved Portland landmark. Designed by architect Warren Heywood Williams and completed in 1882, this architectural stunner is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is now the site of hundreds of concerts, performances, and cultural events each year. Versatile created the custom redwood doors for The Old Church twenty years ago, and recently updated the look of the box office with a custom-designed cutout.

An ornate door Versatile created for The Old Church
and architectural drawings for the restoration of decorative woodwork on the church’s façade

When it comes to replacing period doors and windows, Versatile provides expertise, skill, and quality that is unmatched in the Portland area, and they are proud to play a part in preserving these local cultural landmarks for decades to come.

Business Development Manager Ryan Burke Sees the Forest and the Trees

We meet Ryan Burke on a bright, bracingly cold mid-December day to talk to him about his new role as Business Development Manager for Versatile. As we head out for a stroll through the industrial landscape near the office, Ryan pulls a brown blazer over his grey button-up shirt and dark denim. His youthful face is dominated by neatly trimmed beard that’s more salt and paprika than salt and pepper, and while his demeanor is somewhat serious and no-nonsense, he laughs easily. 

In his early college years, Ryan explored computer programming, then psychology, and even considered becoming a science teacher before ultimately ending up with a twenty-year career in lumber sales. When asked what drew him to Versatile, Ryan explains, “I’ve watched Versatile over the years, and there is a very high level of quality in all that they produce. To have the chance to work with people that put so much time, energy, and craftsmanship into their work, it seemed like a great opportunity.” These warm feelings are clearly reciprocal, as Operations Manager Erica Witbeck describes Ryan in nothing less than glowing terms: “At Versatile, we have been fans of Ryan for years, and were thrilled when he agreed to come onboard. We were always impressed by his knowledge of wood, his understanding of our production needs, and his commitment to service. Ryan could be trusted for fast, thorough, and effective follow-through. His warmth and intelligence always made interactions with him energizing and pleasant, and we were eager to bring that energy in-house,” she says. The way Ryan describes his workplace demeanor as “kind and direct, with a mix of humor” clearly matches others’ perceptions of him.

Ryan and I discuss our admiration of the role Versatile has taken in restoring some of the region’s most memorable and beloved landmarks, including the Hollywood Theatre and Timberline Lodge. But Ryan says that beyond the impressive work Versatile does with these historic structures, “The people are why I came here. The projects are amazingly well done and well known, like we were talking about, but it was about the people. What’s fun for me is that everyone here has this passion for historic preservation.”

An interest in preserving vintage structures is also a part of Ryan’s history; as a youth, he helped renovate both his mother’s and grandmother’s homes. “We were do-it-yourselfers,” he explains with a grin. “For me growing up, it was about the bungalow house that I was remodeling with my mom when I was ten. There’s a whole host of beautiful homes that are getting the attention they deserve by the people who own them and love them, and that’s where my interest level is. There is so much detail that goes into the single family homes.” 

Pacific Northwesterners appreciate forests as both a natural resource and a haven for rest and relaxation, and this is a view that Ryan shares. Like a root system that is deep and intertwined, trees weave a complex pattern through his life. “If you grew up here in the Pacific Northwest as I have, then you can understand that forests mean everything. They are the natural beauty that we wander and play in. Our lumber industry is paramount to the culture here, and they are one of the few renewable resources that we silly humans can manage.” Born and raised in Portland, Ryan grew up skiing, hiking, and camping and enjoys similar activities with his wife and two small children, who are the center of his world outside of work. “We are pretty outdoorsy,” he says with a smile. Favorite spots include the Mount Hood National Forest and Cape Meares, where “one of the very last stands of native Oregon old growth coastal forest . . . stunning vertical sea cliffs and rolling headlands of native Sitka spruce and hemlock” make up the landscape. 

Cape Meares (left) and Mount Hood National Forest (right) – Photos courtesy Eric Muhr and Sarah Ardin.

As we bring our conversation to a close, I ask what Ryan likes about working at Versatile so far.“Shoot, everything!” he exclaims with enthusiasm. “I think they have crafted an incredible team of people at every level.” Asked how he sees his role at Versatile and what he hopes to bring to the table, Ryan pauses thoughtfully. “That’s a good question,” he says. “I think it’s easy for manufacturers to fall in love with the projects they are working on, and my role is to remember that those projects started with solutions and relationships with clients. My focus is on building those relationships and the creative work that goes into finding the solutions they might need.” Refining his answer further, Ryan adds, “I am less of a salesman and more of an advocate for Versatile’s craftsmen and craftswomen. I want to showcase their work.” 

Like Father, Like Son – Skilled Craftsmanship Runs in the Brindusesc Family

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Danil Brindusesc is the Sash and Door Foreman for Versatile Wood Products.

With a ready smile and friendly demeanor, Danil tells his story. A charming accent gives away his Eastern European origins. Born in Romania, Danil arrived in the United States in April of 1989 after a brief seven-month stay in Yugoslavia. A husband and father of seven children from the ages of 15 to 32, Danil is certainly a busy man. When asked what he enjoys doing for fun, Danil says, “My hobbies are working all the time, doing work at home,” as he pages through the large stacks of architectural drawings.

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“I don’t like vacation. My wife doesn’t like it,” Danil says with a laugh. The concept of leisure time seems a foreign concept to Danil; in addition to working full-time at Versatile Wood Products, Danil is constantly busy with work and education, helping with projects around home, and pursuing the training needed to become a licensed electrician here in the US,  which was his previous vocation in Romania.

As he talks about working for Versatile, Danil explains, “Well, you know, this job is my life. I like working with wood. I have much experience because I have worked many years here. The shop is nice, the owner is nice, the people are nice.” Having worked at Versatile Wood Products for 28 years, Danil has the longest tenure of any employee. “My favorite thing is work. I like making windows, making doors. I like working with wood,” Danil says with enthusiasm.  As foreman, Danil spends many hours training new employees the techniques and methods used in the fabrication of Versatile Wood Products’ windows and doors, something he says he enjoys.

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As foreman and father, Danil is quite skilled at giving instructions.

One employee Danil has trained and knows quite well also happens to be his third eldest child, Eusebiu.

He is following his father’s footprints both literally and metaphorically as he walks carefully across the sawdust-covered floor of the workshop. Eusebiu Brindusesc, Lead Glazier and Carpenter II, has worked at Versatile since 2011 and is engaging and personable, much like his father.

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Eusebiu in front of the hundred-year-old stained glass window from First Baptist Church, which he has been restoring.

Eusebiu says working with his dad has had its ups and downs, as it would for any parent and child. He explains, “When I started it was more difficult. He calls me ‘son’ instead of by my name, so now everyone in the shop calls me ‘son’!” Eusebiu laughs with affection and just a hint of annoyance.

Asked about the project that he’s most proud of, Eusebiu immediately mentions the dovetailed wine bar Versatile Wood Products created for Revelry Vintners in Walla Walla, Washington. Operations Manager Erica Witbeck explained the complexity of this piece: “That project took an enormous amount of courage. [Versatile] had done the oversized glue-up for the sixteen-foot-long countertop and had taken it to a mostly finished state. Then the complicated dovetails had to be cut in by hand. There were no second chances with that enormous oak slab; one wrong cut and the whole thing may have been in ruins. Eusebiu did it without breaking a sweat. He’s amazing!”

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Detail of the dovetailing for Revelry Vintners’ wine bar.

Discussing what he loves to work on the most, Eusebiu says, “I love doing custom, unique pieces, like this stained glass.

These old historical windows — I love restoring those. That’s a huge part . . . it’s just working with old stuff. Those [windows] are over 100 years old. That glass is so fragile; it has its own personality.”

When restoring historic windows, including stained and leaded glass windows, Versatile uses both older and modern techniques, depending on what’s best for each project, and Versatile’s craftspeople, like Eusebiu, have the expertise needed to handle these delicate artifacts. In the article “The Preservation and Repair of Historic Stained and Leaded Glass” by Neal A. Vogel and Rolf Achilles, the authors discuss the importance of careful restoration work:

Extreme care must therefore be exercised, even in the most minor work. For this reason, virtually all repair or restoration work undertaken on stained and leaded glass must be done by professionals, whether the feature is a magnificent stained glass window or a clear, leaded glass storefront transom. Before undertaking any repair work, building owners or project managers should screen studios carefully, check references, inspect other projects, and require duplicate documentation of any work so that full records can be maintained . . . . The greatest and the most common threat to leaded glass is deterioration of the skeletal structure that holds the glass . . . . When frames fail, leaded glass sags and cracks due to insufficient bracing; it may even fall out from wind pressure or vibration. Wood sash are nearly always used for residential windows and are common in many institutional windows as well . . . Wood and glazing compounds decay over time from moisture and exposure to sunlight—with or without protective storm glazing—allowing glass to fall out.

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Eusebiu holds glazing compound used in the restoration of old windows.

Versatile’s work on various historic projects illustrates the ability of their craftspeople to handle such careful restoration work.

In the case of the stained glass window repair for the First Baptist Church in downtown Portland, Versatile recreated a red oak sash to match the original decayed version and glazed the original glass into the frame, carefully preserving this fragile stained glass window that is around 100 years old. Versatile can be entrusted to work with delicate originals, from antique stained glass to museum-worthy Setziol door slabs.

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Eusebiu demonstrates the glazing process.

The Brindusescs are certainly a valuable part of Verstatile’s crew of fine craftspeople. In their highly skilled hands, every project is treated with the utmost care and expertise.

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Danil doing what he loves most – working!