The Fourth of Three Wishes: Portland’s Aladdin Theatre


If it’s lucky, a place gets three wishes. The Aladdin Theatre, built in 1927, located in Portland’s now-gentrifying southeast quadrant, got four wishes and hasn’t needed a djinni since.

People know The Aladdin today as a concert and comedy venue, capacity 620, with its few surviving touches of vintage décor and its reputation for intimate shows, all barely hinting at its colorful (and sordid?) past.

The word, intimate, is the giveaway. The Aladdin’s third wish was for a pornographic film theatre, a wish which ran its course for over 30 years, debuting such films as the 1972 golden-age classic, “Deep Throat.” Yet theatre is the true keyword, historically: The Aladdin showed talkies for nearly 40 years after being restyled under its existing name in 1934, after a failed run at vaudeville as Geller’s Theatre and a 1927 Christmas opening which should certainly count for some theatricality. Its second and first wishes, cinema and theatre before it, dying and recast, showed The Aladdin’s penchant for changing its tune from the first time the djinni left the bottle.

During my 4 years in Portland, I saw two shows there—both of them amazing in their own ways. And this is coming from a guy who, truth be told, doesn’t even like capital-m music. Not that much.

Music is just, frankly, not my thing. My tastes don’t update: I still listen to the Joan Baez and Harry Chapin CD’s my parents played in the car on childhood road trips. Nor am I plugged into the scene, culturally or historically. When my first college writing professor asked us to name off favorite poets, I was not one of the students who said Bob Dylan. (In fact, at the time, I objected to the very suggestion—though in a Backwords piece two years ago, reformed, I made the argument in favor.) When I go to a gay club for some dancing with friends, they know all the remixes, and I bounce dumbly along. You’d have to introduce me to an artist, if I should know about them: I’ll never go looking on my own. With poetry or photography, you can trust I’ll do some recommending. But not with music: I really am clueless about it.

This lack isn’t due to my surrounding influences. My dad’s an audiophile. One of my best friends at work, Ian, is an obsessive record collector—he used to link me music nerd message boards or send me Soundcloud tracks to distract me through data entry. Jason, my first boyfriend, works on Broadway for Christ’s sake!

It’s fitting, then, that I saw these two shows at The Aladdin Theatre of all places: a washed-up vaudeville house turned cinema turned porn bijou turned concert venue. Music wasn’t even its third choice!

The shows were the British folk and pop artist, Patrick Wolf, and bubble-gum pop singer, Mika; in September 2012 and March 2013 respectively, and general admission to not-quite-packed houses for under $30 apiece. Like with Joanna Newsom, Patrick Wolf was the fault of an ex-lover, Sa