The Kiggins Theatre event looks at city’s past, its future

By Mary Ann Albright, Columbian Staff Reporter



If you go

What: Preserve the Heart: Meet me at The Kiggins! featuring presentations on Vancouver’s history and such notable people as the late J.P. Kiggins, former Vancouver mayor and the theater's namesake, and the late Day Walter Hilborn, the architect who designed the theater.

When: 5 to 7 p.m. Friday.

Where: The Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main St., Vancouver.

Cost: Free.

Information: The Kiggins Theatre on Facebook: Event information:

When downtown Vancouver’s Kiggins movie theater closed in May 2010, it marked the end of an era. It was the last of downtown and upper Main Street’s historic movie theaters.

But Kiggins’ star had not faded for good. The building’s owner, commercial real estate developer Bill Leigh, poured about $200,000 and countless hours of work into renovations, and is about to reopen the venue.

The landmark single-screen theater at 1011 Main St. opened in 1936 and is named after entrepreneur and former Vancouver Mayor J.P. Kiggins.

Leigh, a 52-year-old Felida resident, said he tried to restore the building to its original glory while making some upgrades. In the works are a wheelchair-accessible bathroom downstairs and a bar upstairs.

The venue will host not only movies but live music and other events. Leigh said he hopes it will be open and ready for regular screenings in early September.

In the meantime, Kiggins is hosting events. In July, it offered free screenings of the film “American Graffiti” to coincide with Cruisin’ the Gut, an annual classic-car event.

The Kiggins also was among a number of venues screening films for the Columbia Gorge International Film Festival last month.

On Friday, Kiggins will host a series of lectures on Vancouver’s history.

Michael Houser, state architectural historian with the Washington State Department of Archeology & Historic Preservation, will speak about Day Walter Hilborn, the architect who designed the building.

Pat Jollota, historian and retired city councilwoman, will talk about Vancouver in the 1930s.

Douglas Wilson, National Park Service archeologist and director of the Northwest Cultural Resources Institute at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, will share information on the village at Fort Vancouver.

Historian Andrew Gregg will discuss J.P. Kiggins’ legacy.

The Kiggins Theatre holds many memories for Gregg, so he’s happy to see it reopen.

“It’s wonderful to see a piece of architecture returned to its original appearance and to fulfill not only its original mission, but also to take on new missions,” he said.

Gregg was born in Vancouver and has lived in Clark County most of his life. The first movie he said he remembers watching as a child was the 1961 Disney film “The Absent-Minded Professor,” which his parents took him to Kiggins to see.

“By the time I was 10, it was a big deal to be dropped off,” he said, noting that Kiggins had a phone in the lobby that kids could use to call their parents for a ride home once the movie had ended.

Gregg, a Barberton-area resident and chairman of the Clark County Historic Preservation Commission, also can recall watching the Beatles movie “A Hard Day’s Night” at the Hazel Dell Drive-In in 1964 and the 1965 James Bond movie “Thunderball” at the Broadway Theatre.

The Hazel Dell Drive-In was near the 78th Street exit off of Interstate 5. It opened in the early 1950s and operated through the mid-’80s.

The Broadway Theatre opened in 1947 at Ninth Avenue and Broadway, and was torn down in 1982. It was among a cluster of old theaters that came and went in and around downtown Vancouver over the years.

The New Society Theatre at 2300 Main St. opened in 1925 and later became the Mission Theatre. It closed in the mid-’50s. The building now houses LSW Architects.

The Castle Theatre, which opened in 1927 and closed in 1958, was on East Evergreen Boulevard between Main and Broadway streets.

The State Theatre at 615 Main St. operated in the 1940s through 1951.

These theaters are sources of fond memories for longtime Clark County residents such as Doris Balabon.

Balabon has lived in Vancouver since 1942 and patronized many of the now-shuttered cinemas.

“We always enjoyed going to the movies,” she said.

The Mission was a popular destination for her and her brothers.

“They had Westerns all the time, and my brothers liked Westerns,” she said.

They’d also go to the Saturday morning bottle-cap shows at the Castle. Admission was free with five aluminum caps from milk bottles.

“The neighbors would save bottle caps for us,” Balabon said.

The Castle had a stage, so there was often a live show featuring local talent before movies. Balabon says she recalls tap dancing on that stage as part of the preshow entertainment.

Camas’ Regina L. Enge says she also remembers tap dancing on the Castle stage, as well as seeing Popeye cartoons there on Saturday mornings.

“Those were the good, old days,” she said.

When she was older, Enge cut class at Clark College to see movies at the State with her boyfriend, she said. She also frequented the Kiggins and is happy to hear it is reopening.

“I do recall movies as being a happy time, and I liked all the theaters,” she said. “I think we kind of need those things nowadays.”

Darlene Warner of Hockinson said she feels the same way. She grew up seeing Rex Allen Westerns with her dad at the State in the ’40s and going on dates to the Castle in the ’50s.

She also saw movies at Kiggins as a child and later with her husband, kids and grandkids. And she said she’s excited to have the opportunity to do that again.

“We’re all waiting for it. We’ve gone to Kiggins our whole lives,” she said.