On October 24, Willamette Week reported the iconic Hawthorne Masonic Building, located at SE Hawthorne and Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard—best known for housing the Hawthorne Theatre—was up for auction, with a starting bid at $1.1 million.
The auction listing went live last Monday, and included a countdown ticker that lapsed at the end of the week, but the current status of the sale remains nebulous. As of November 1, the $1.1 million figure no longer appears anywhere on the ad, yet there’s no indication that the building has sold. Macadam Forbes, the commercial real estate firm responsible for handling the sale, could not be reached for comment.
This is the second time in a mere five years that the former Masonic temple has changed hands. In 2016, the building was purchased for $3 million by Cyrus Etemad, an investor whose previous projects included buying multiple buildings in a low-income Los Angeles neighborhood and nearly doubling his tenants’ rent, according to Willamette Week. “It’s the most difficult part about what I’m doing,” Etemad told York & Fig in 2014.
Somewhat shockingly, the Hawthorne Theatre survived that sale intact. The venue’s CEO Gordon Cross emphasized to Willamette Week that this sale will likely be no different, and that the lease term won’t be directly affected.
2020 has already been fraught for the venue, and not only because of the pandemic—its former owner and head promoter Mike Thrasher passed away at the beginning of the year at the age of 48. Thrasher’s promotions company—Mike Thrasher Presents—had been a Portland music staple for nearly three decades; it was almost impossible to pass any telephone pole in the inner eastside without spotting a Thrasher Presents flyer. Thrasher took ownership of the Hawthorne Theatre in 2005 and made it a touring destination for national metal and hip-hop acts, two genres of music that remain underrepresented at other mid-tier Portland venues.
As it stands, the Hawthorne Theatre remains one of Portland’s only dedicated all-ages venues, although, like virtually every other legitimate venue in Portland, it closed its doors at the start of the pandemic. The last decade saw a dramatic transformation of Portland’s live music ecosystem, which can be interpreted as an extension of the city’s transformation in general. At the start of the ‘10s, Satyricon—the legendary westside all-ages punk club where Kurt Cobain supposedly met Courtney Love—was demolished, a poetic harbinger of things to come. Backspace—an all-ages venue-cum-internet cafe, which was as anachronistic 10 years ago as it sounds now—shuttered in 2013, with DIY venues Laughing Horse Books and Slabtown following suit in 2014.
Portland has a nationally reputed live music scene—and so far, many of its most famous mid-tier venues have been able to weather the economic effects wrought by the pandemic, thanks in large part to the $10 million in federal relief specifically allocated to Oregon venues back in the summer. But that still won’t solve a problem that plagued the Portland music scene even during peacetime—there is a laughable paucity of places for minors to experience live music here.
While Hawthorne Theatre is among the last, it’s never exactly been a local favorite. Countless Yelp reviews and Reddit posts from concert-goers reveal long-standing criticisms over the venue’s poor sound quality, strict no re-entry policies and unduly aggressive security staff. There have been complaints from artists, as well: In 2018, trap artist Ghostemane accused venue security of acting abusively towards his own tour staff and minors in the audience. “You have an incompetent crew of security who repeatedly choked out minors and my crew during the show and after,” read Ghosemane’s Instagram post. “Clean out your staff.”
Additionally, the Hawthorne Theatre hasn’t done a lot to champion local artists in recent years, aside from offering the occasional opening slot. Much of its events calendar consists of national tour packages—which, more than anything, speaks to the difficulty of maintaining solvency as an all-ages venue with a Portland focus. This was partly remedied by the venue when they opened the Hawthorne Theatre Lounge, an 21+ annex that hosts smaller shows.
However, what the Hawthorne Theatre lacks in local representation it makes up for in genre diversity. It’s still one of the only larger venues in town where minors can see famous hardcore, hip-hop and metal acts—and in that sense, the venue has stayed true to Mike Thrasher’s original vision. In 2016, working class heroes the Insane Clown Posse infamously drenched the entire venue in Faygo on their Riddlebox 20th Anniversary Tour—and it’s pretty hard to imagine that happening at a comparatively stiff-necked venue like Mississippi Studios or the Doug Fir. Like all venues in Portland, the Hawthorne Theatre’s future is uncertain—but losing it would ultimately be a net negative for the community. As the saying goes, you don’t miss your Faygo until your well runs dry.