He Won't Sell

My partner at the time, Rosie Paavola, was renting a commercial space in the corner of the Liberty Theater building in downtown Astoria. One morning when I was down from Portland, she casually said, “buy this building. It leaks and the damn landlord won’t fix anything”. I told her that the community group called “The Friends of the Liberty Theater” had been trying for over a year and all they did was anger the tough old Chinese owner Mr. Eng. My partner said that she didn’t care, just buy the God damn building.

After six months of the most horrendous negotiations I’ve ever been in, Mr. Eng finally took my offer, a handwritten piece of paper, and called me that night. Ae said meet me in Astoria Sunday night at the theater. He had accepted my price and terms reluctantly but he said there's no way in hell that the candy he had just bought goes with the price. I said but you got to be kidding me. For $865,000, you think you would include the candy. He said no it did not. He was one weird character.

In the lobby that Sunday night, he and his 20-year-old helper counted the milkduds and jujubees. They kept screwing up and finally at midnight I said and pick a number, I'm leaving. He came out of the candy closet mad and said, “there’s at least $4000 worth in there”. I said, “pick another number”. He said, “$3000”. I said, “pick another number”. He said,” $2500. I said, “you got one more chance. Try again or I quit”. I meant it. Christ, it was candy. He said, “$1800”. I said, “were done. I'll meet you tomorrow morning at the title company”.

The next morning my partner and I signed the papers. I quickly ran to the newspaper office and told the owner/publisher, Steve Forrester, that I had just bought the liberty. I told him we had bought it on a contract and it was assignable and I could assign it to Steve's" Friends of the Liberty" immediately without Mr. Eng’s consent. Steve said that this is serendipitous. I said what does that mean.

The next morning my partner and I realized we didn't know how to make popcorn let alone run a movie house. Oh my God what have we gotten into. It took the nonprofit group 2 years to finally take over the Liberty. Thank God they did because Rosie and were about ready to pull our hair out, and by the way we still don’t know how to make popcorn or run a movie house.

Steve and his group did a miraculous job. Today the Liberty Theater is as impressive and ornate as it was in 1925. Steve and his group made their dream come true.