The Liberty Theater is the spark that ignited Astoria’s remarkable renaissance. For years, the once-elegant theater, home to silent movies and vaudeville performers, leaked, rotted and tilted with neglect until a group of civic leaders said, enough.

“It’s been around a long time and it happens to be fixed smack in the middle of town,” says Skip Hauke, executive director of the Astoria-Warrenton Chamber of Commerce.“Nobody likes to show their dirty laundry and that’s what it was.”

Hawke’s family owned a grocery business in Astoria for 113 years, and he grew up working there. He could not have predicted how the theater would change the town, he says.Since 1998, $9 million in public and private money has helped restore the theater.

Once again, the Libertysparkles with chandeliers, music, Greek columns, dancers and Venetian boat scenes.In turn, the theater’s rebirth fueled the restoration of vintage hotels and saw the once-grand city reclaim silent canneries for cafes and shops, replace dingy dives with hip restaurants and create a riverfront trolley with an adjacent walking path, running on abandoned railroad tracks.

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Story by David Stabler.

Photo by Michael Mathers.