In early March, the last adult theater in Portland died—not with a bang but a whimper. The Oregon Theater on Southeast Division Street quietly locked its doors after the owner went into foreclosure a few weeks before. Built by Aladdin founder Isaac Geller in 1925 as a 6,000-square-foot space for vaudeville shows, the two venues became movie theaters in the 1950s that pivoted to X-rated programming in the late 1960s. Adult entertainment businesses peaked in the city the following decade, a period that saw nearly two dozen porn palaces in operation. But by 2007, only the Oregon had soldiered on past the advent of VCRs, the rise of the online sex industry, and gentrification.

After the death of Oregon owner and Geller grandson Gayne Maizels in late May at the age of 69, the building was purchased by developer Kevin Cavenaugh, whose projects include the Fair-Haired Dumbbell at the east end of the Burnside Bridge as well as microrestaurant depots the Zipper and the Ocean. He intends to restore the theater's faded luster and screen more family-friendly fare.

As the last traces of its seamier life are scrubbed away, WW spoke with former Oregon employee Steve Tenhonen about the venue's boundary-pushing past.

WW: What was your role at the theater?

Steve Tenhonen: Over the last 20 years, I'd fix [owner Gayne Maizels'] projection equipment, organize events and handle repairs. When Gayne decided to install couches, I spent three days pulling out all of the original seats. Actually, I ended up on Daria O'Neill's morning radio show announcing these beautiful antiques would be thrown to the landfill. The phone line blew up. There were collectors showing up at the Oregon. I imagine they're now in houses all over suburbia, which makes me really happy.

Were the seats cleaned?

Ah, buyer beware [laughter]. When I worked at the Oregon, we'd always spray and vacuum, but nothing's perfect. If you shined a forensic light on those old seats, I'm sure you'd see a glow from decades' worth of unborn children. A lot of the people coming to get them had a great sense of humor, but some were reluctant to walk in the door. That kind of amused me.

How so?

The Oregon Theater was considered by locals to be this big bad bogeyman of sin, right? I won't lie to you. It was a place where exhibitionists went to have public sex, but we had all walks of life coming through. There were people who went there that you wouldn't believe: people from religious communities, civil rights communities, the medical industry. There was an ear doctor who loved bringing in his trophy wife and having people watch while they did their thing. Off-duty cops and firemen used to go. A very famous musician in town was a regular and wanted to buy the place. A lot of people out there have fantasies. They like to watch and be watched, whether they were drunk with their frat buddies or felt kinky and took a date.

How do you feel about the new direction?

Cleaning out the theater was very emotional. The heaviest part was when the contractors showed up with the developer and started to talk about the theater's history. I literally got teary-eyed. Gayne loved the Oregon. It had been in his family forever and was where he went as a little boy. Because of health issues, he could no longer manage the business and had been trying to sell it. Right before he died, he purposefully found a buyer who would take care of the building and not tear it down. At the end of the day, I'm happy that someone's going to restore that beautiful building, and I'm glad it was porn that kept it safe from the wrecking ball.

You're happy with the planned changes?

To be honest with you, I enjoyed the Oregon as a porn theater for 20 years. Many of those eccentric characters became my friends. Even though we kept things clean, it was still a sleazy, run-down porn theater, which I kind of enjoyed too, like a David Lynch movie. Believe it or not, that underground porn theater really filled a void, but I'd thought about the place being fixed up for decades.

The Oregon has one of the biggest auditoriums in Portland. I used to stand in there and look up at this circle in the ceiling where a giant chandelier had been hung when they first opened. The new owner's going out of his way to rebuild all of that, which makes me so happy I just want to cry. They have the blueprints and the black-and-white photos of what it looked like in the '20s. They're restoring the original neon marquee. I'd always dreamt about seeing the theater like it was, and they're trying to bring that back. To me, that's like a wet dream come true.