Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cody Theatre

          If you had to assign an architectural style to my hometown, you might call it Western Vernacular. That would cover everything from the Poverty Primitivism I remember so well growing up (tarpaper and license-plate-sided buildings and repurposed concentration-camp barracks*) to the Easty-Coasty Log-Mansionism that has gradually infiltrated Cody from second-home enclaves like Jackson Hole.

          When I was a kid, you wouldn't have used the word "architecture" in association with any building in town, except possibly the Irma Hotel, because the purpose of most of the buildings was not to impress the eye and gladden the heart, but rather simply to keep the wind and snow and most of the larger wildlife out and at least 50 percent of the heat in. Impressing the eye and gladdening the heart, as anyone who's ever had to keep body and soul together on what you can earn in a small western town can tell you, will not heat your house nor feed your kids. Cheap and practical is all that's required of public or private buildings—and it's certainly the style of architecture I remember when I think of Cody—unremarkable, but it got the job done.

          Sometimes you have to go away from a place and return to it before you see the gems it has hidden in plain sight.

          I was back in Cody for a visit a few years ago, walking down Sheridan Avenue and marveling at how touristy downtown has become (and this is saying something, for Cody has always been very touristy), when I chanced to look across the street at the movie theatre that has been in Cody ever since God was a pup.

          If you had asked me to describe the theatre I grew up going to, I would have said, "shabby." I would have added, "nondescript verging on ugly."

          I would not have said, as I stood across the street, gaping at that very same theatre, "My God, look at that lovely little Art Deco gem!" Nothing—literally nothing—has changed since I was a kid, and yet now I notice the Deco details on the building and marquee; I notice that the typeface spelling out "Cody Theatre" is a beautiful example of period type design; I notice how much care was taken in the design of the facade, and how it impresses the eye and gladdens the heart.

          And I think that perhaps I didn't grow up in such an unremarkable place after all.

*The barracks housed Japanese-Americans imprisoned at Heart Mountain Relocation Center, one of ten centers where Japanese-Americans were imprisoned during WWII.

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