|Panida Theater history short takes
F.C. Weskil, owner of theaters in several other cities, built the Panida Theater in 1927. He clearly stated that the invented name, reflecting the theater being built for the people of the PANhandle of IDAho, was to be pronounced PANida, almost rhyming with CANada.
Weskil sold the theater to manager Floyd Gray, the former Sandpoint mayor who appeared as “Farmer Gray” to give away baskets of groceries at movie showings. Gray left the theater to his daughter Loralee, who operated it with her husband, Bill Currie, until 1983. By that time, the Panida was being used little for films but mostly for occasional concerts and plays.
The first Unicorn Theatre production in the Panida was The Matchmaker in the summer of 1981; the last before it closed was Beauty and the Beast in autumn 1983. The last performance in the theater under the Curries’ ownership was a Christmas concert in December 1983.
The Panida Theater Committee was first a committee of the Unicorn Theatre, consisting of Laurel Wagers and Susan Bates-Harbuck, who investigated the possibility of the theater group acquiring the building. They determined it was more than the organization could handle. But their study of the question led to confidence that a separate, sole-purpose organization could take on the building and its operation. They joined forces with long-time Sandpoint musician and arts supporter Jane Evans; Pend Oreille Arts Council president and Panhandle State Bank Vice-President David Smith; Pacific Power & Light Manager Judy Hughes; and other volunteers in the summer of 1984 to build an organization, a real-estate offer and a fundraising campaign. The committee was incorporated in November 1984. The offer was accepted by Black Diamond Cattle Company, which had acquired the theater from the Curries, in April 1985, and the committee had 90 days to raise a $40,000 down payment plus enough funds for the first phase of renovation. The money came, and in July the “For Sale” sign came down from the marquee.
The first performance in the community-owned Panida Theater was the Old Time New Age Chautauqua. The performers arrived to find volunteers madly fixing and cleaning for their show, and they immediately pitched in. They played the next night to an overflow crowd. The first local production was the Unicorn Theatre’s Oklahoma! three weeks later.
The Panida Theater mortgage was paid off in 1995 and burned in a ceremony at Holly Eve that year. The Holly Eve fundraising fashion show and auction, produced by Marilyn Sabella of Eve’s Leaves, has raised well over $100,000 for the Panida since 1985 and generous support for other community organizations as well.