A Glimpse of Portland’s Past Hidden in Plain Sight
As you stroll past The Works Cafe and Temple Street Parking Garage on your way to the Nickelodeon Cinemas to take in another round of the Barbie movie, you may not notice an intriguing stone object lying nearby amidst a small patch of greenery. Here lies the Face of Mirth; a lone remnant of the Elm Theatre, brought down for a surface parking lot over 70 years ago.
Face of Mirth present day. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dummaniosa/4508185059/
The Elm Theatre opened September 25, 1916 with a silent film double feature. Looking at the photo below, taken in 1920, we can see the Face of Mirth acting as the keystone of the theatre’s arch.
Below is another shot of the Elm Theatre and an advertisement for the grand opening. Apparently there was not an agreement as to the correct spelling of “theater” as the ad’s spelling differs from the “theatre” spelling on the marquee.
Getting top billing for the theatre’s opening was the silent film The Chattel. E.H. Sothern, an American actor, starred alongside English silent film star Peggy Hyland. He would have been 56 at the time of this film’s release. He would appear in just four total films; The Chattel (1916), being his first. His last appearance would come just one year later in 1917. Sothern passed away in 1933 in New York City at the age of 73.
E.H. Sothern. Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hyland was a successful silent film actress who appeared in over 40 films during her active years from 1914-1925. She would have been 32 at the time of The Chattel’s release. She made her last film in 1925 and lived in Britain until she passed away in 1973 at the age of 89.
Peggy Hyland. Source: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0405098/
The other film shown at the Elm’s opening was A Wall Street Tragedy.
Movie poster for the silent film A Wall Street Tragedy. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nat_Goodwin
Nat Goodwin appeared in five silent films, the last being A Wall Street Tragedy in 1916. He would have been 59 when the film was released. He passed away just a few years later in 1919 in New York City at the age of 61.
As for the Elm Theatre, it closed as a movie theatre in 1929. In 1931 it was taken over by the Portland Players and became a playhouse until closing in 1952. It was demolished in the same year. After many years as a parking lot, the theatre’s site and adjacent lots are now occupied by the main branch of the Portland Public Library. The face was uncovered during construction of the library; opened in September 1979.
Written by Tyler Rushmeyer – Portland Tour Guide
With a background in journalism and a passion for history, Tyler enjoys sifting through the works of those who came before us and exploring the local environs on foot all in an effort to bring together a coherent narrative and context to whichever subject with which he engages. He enjoys passing along his fervor for new information and his “aha” moments to those joining him on his tours or onto his friends and family whether they’d like to hear them or not.
Tyler is a lover of all things music, an obsessive cruciverbalist (it’s a word trust us), player of ultimate frisbee, lover of the hoppiest of beers, an average drummer, traveler, gardener and Simpsons-fanatic.
He and his wife Megan call South Portland their home; find them at Willard Beach tossing a frisbee when you’re in the area.