For over 90 years, The Panida Theater in Downtown Sandpoint has hosted many amazing performances. Who would have anticipated way back in 1927 when the Panida first opened that nearly a century later the iconic theater would continue its mission of showcasing great performers and performances for audiences in the Panhandle of Idaho—hence, its name the Panida.
But the past century has not been all glory for this historic structure. In the mid-1980s, the theater had fallen into disrepair. But thanks to the generosity of people and businesses in the community, the fundraising efforts put forth by many resulted in the restoration of the Panida, which today is on the National Register of Historic Places and has received numerous accolades from the governor of Idaho, the Idaho Commission of the Arts, the Idaho Centennial Commission and the U.S. Depart of the Interior.
In 2015 the theater underwent a ceiling restoration which required closure of the historic landmark during several weeks over the summer.
But when all was complete, a new fire alarm and sprinkler system was installed, and with the restoration of the plaster ceiling this beautiful landmark was closer to all the repairs and code requirements needed to carry on business as usual, which delighted locals and tourists alike.
A community-owned theater, the Friends of the Panida provide great support to this Sandpoint icon. The group assists with various tasks including fundraising and volunteering at events with everything from tickets sales, concessions and ushering.
With a capacity of 500 people, the acoustics in the Panida make it a wonderful place to not only enjoy performances, but the performers enjoy entertaining there as well. Just ask Teresa Pesce, who has staged many plays and musicals at the Panida.
“Believe me, you haven't lived until you've sold out the Panida with your musical! Every seat filled—it's the experience of a lifetime,” said Teresa. “You don't really ‘put on a play’ at the Panida; instead, the Panida bestows upon you the honor of bringing your play to life on its historic stage.”
Teresa shares that to stand on the stage at the Panida is a profoundly moving experience.
“The cavernous size of it, the ornate beauty, the weight of history giving substance to the very atmosphere, the sheer glamorous ‘gorgeousness’ of it all! You can just stand there, and you can still barely take it in. It's an honor. It is awesome,” she said. “It is a pinnacle experience for a playwright, director, producer or actor to stand on that stage. At that moment, it isn't the acoustics or the lights that get to your soul; it is the oneness of the theatre experience with everyone who ever stood on that stage. Theatrically speaking, it is holy ground.”
At rehearsals, Teresa said she has looked out from that stage at hundreds of empty seats and felt the daunting thrill of anticipation. “I've looked out before a performance and seen every seat filled and experienced that unique form of ecstatic terror only a waiting audience can give. And when you drive up to the theatre and see the name of your very own play on the marquee, the happiness fills you up like heaven.”
Kathy Chambers has lived in Sandpoint for 28 years and is still moved when she walks into the historic theater.
“I love the history of the building. Every time I enter the front doors, I feel transported in time. You can't help but think of all the people in the past that came to enjoy themselves in this time capsule of a theater, almost like their spirits are still present,” she said.
Kathy has attended concerts, movies, dance recitals, comedy shows and fundraisers at the amazing venue. “My kids have danced on the stage, and I have, too! We joke that Dad (Chris) is the only person in the family to never perform on the Panida’s stage.”
Kathy is not only a resident of Sandpoint but is also a very active member of the community. She currently serves as president of Kinderhaven, the local emergency shelter and group home for abused and neglected children. She is grateful to the Panida for what they have done to support the mission of Kinderhaven. “The Panida partners with us (Kinderhaven) to bring free movie events to the community, allowing local families to enjoy an event together that they might not otherwise have the extra funds to do,” said Kathy gratefully. In October, the Panida hosted a community Halloween movie night. “We packed the house, gave out free popcorn and goodie bags to all who attended—over 350 people in all.”
Whether performing on stage, attending an event or simply touring the historic venue, a visit to the Panida Theater is a must.
“The Panida is simply the jewel in Sandpoint's crown,” said Kathy. “I am so thankful to the Panida Moms who fought to save her, and the gift they ultimately bestowed to present and future locals and visitors!”