Wave goodbye to the Auburn Avenue Theater in 2024

Demolition will pave the way for a new downtown theater complex.

Each new year is guaranteed to bring change.

The change in Auburn’s case will see the demolition of a landmark: the old Auburn Avenue Theater building at 1 Auburn Avenue, at an as yet undetermined date early in 2024.

The city of Auburn is in the preliminary stages of planning for a new theater complex. The plans encompass the property on which the Avenue Theater has stood since 1917, and the now-vacant property on which the old Max House Apartments and associated street-level businesses stood until destroyed by fire in July 2021.

The old theater was condemned and has been boarded up since early 2022, when the razing of the adjacent Max House Apartments damaged it, rendering it unsafe to occupy.

Built in 1926, the building was originally used as a bus depot, and later a movie theater and then a dinner theater. The city of Auburn entered into a lease in 2007 with the former owners, the Douglas family, which had operated the dinner theater.

Once in charge, the city ran its Bravo! Performing Arts season from the theater, offering teen and adult performances of all kinds, including bands, comedy, tributes, even full-scale theater productions for adults and kids. Most of the touring groups were from the Northwest.

In 2016, the city bought the theater outright. Receipts over the last 14 years show the theater was successful both in attracting people for entertainment in the downtown core and as a money maker. The venue hosted performances summing to about 80 each year with an average annual attendance of 14,000.

Early drawings of the future complex envision a two-story theater extending to the corner of East Main and Auburn Avenue, about 25 percent larger than the old theater with additional seating.

Among the many questions still to answer, however, are how the city would pay for a project estimated to cost between $8.5 million and $10 million.

Daryl Faber, director of Auburn Parks, Arts and Recreation, is undaunted.

“When you have a mission and a goal, you have to have a plan in place, and I have a passion for getting this theater reopened in our downtown,” Faber told the Reporter in 2023.