Cerf Theatre (Reed College Amphitheater) – Portland OR

Project type: Theater
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In 1936, young people employed by the National Youth Administration provided the labor for construction of an amphitheater on the Reed College campus in southeast Portland. The private college supplied the materials and land with the understanding that the theater would be used by civic organizations as well as for college functions.

Created in 1935, the National Youth Administration (NYA) provided part-time employment for young people (16-25) who either needed financial assistance in order to stay in school or were out-of-school, unemployed and in need. During its first four years, the NYA was managed as a program within the Works Progress Administration. When surveying the news of this program in the Portland area, the local newspaper called attention to employment opportunities ranging from clerical and sewing jobs for young women or landscaping or construction jobs for young men. In all instances, the NYA program offered positions that might build new skills and establish work experience.

When reporting on the opportunities at Reed College, the local newspaper quoted Reed’s president, Dexter Keezer, who said: “Preliminary work was done on this project by the college last summer but the permanent development has been completed by the NYA, which has provided approximately 3000 hours of labor furnished by 50 unemployed youth of this community.” The newspaper further describes the project, reporting: “. . . a 40×60-foot stage has been excavated and turfed on the shores of the campus lake, which forms the “backdrop” for the stage. The banks have been graded and terraced, and benches built to seat an audience of 1000.”

The Reed Amphitheater became an integral part of College activities, being the venue for graduation ceremonies through 1970. It continues to serve the campus for recreation and theater productions. The facility was renamed for Professor Barry Cerf (1921-1948) after his retirement. Cerf taught comparative literature at Reed and contributed significantly to the college’s humanities programs.

Source notes

"History of the Reed Canyon," Reed College website. https://www.reed.edu/canyon/intr/history.html (Accessed July 19,2021).

"Reed Theater Completed by Youth Group," Oregonian. March 29, 1936.

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Location Info

3203 SE Woodstock
Portland, OR 97202

Coordinates: 45.481614, -122.630962

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