Kiggins joins national list of historic sites

Vancouver movie house exemplifies Art Deco style

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter


photoThe Kiggins Theatre was designed by Day Walter Hilborn, who also was the architect for the Clark County Courthouse.

The Kiggins Theatre, a downtown Vancouver icon for almost 80 years, has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The theater at 1011 Main St. is among almost 40 locations in Clark County to be recognized by the national register, but it's a breakthrough for a longtime Vancouver designer.

"Day Walter Hilborn is a very important architect in Southwest Washington," said local architect Derek Chisholm. "Despite the number of historic buildings he designed, he had nothing on the National Register of Historic Places."

Chisholm put together the nomination form on behalf of Vancouver and Clark County's joint Historic Preservation Commission.

Chisholm called the theater one of Vancouver's best examples of the Art Deco style, with Hilborn successfully combining the style's "Zig-Zag" and "Streamline Moderne" periods.

Ushering in an era

Like most styles of music or arts, Chisholm said, Art Deco represented what was going on in society at the time.

"In the 1930s, it was the entrance into the modern era," Chisholm said. "A lot of elements of Kiggins are still romantic flourishes, but they're very streamlined and celebrating the machine era."

On the theater, those elements are represented by rounded corners on the front of the building facing Main Street and five bands in the concrete that wrap around the corner.

Historic Places in Clark County

The National Register of Historic Places is part of a National Park Service program to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources. Clark County sites:

• AMBOY: Amboy United Brethren Church.

• BATTLE GROUND: Albert and Letha Green House; Venersborg School; Lewisville Park.

• CAMAS: Pittock House; Parkersville site; John Roffler House; U.S. Post Office; Farrell Building.

• GLENWOOD: Glenwood School.

• HEISSON: Henry Heisen House.

• RIDGEFIELD: Judge Columbia Lancaster House; William Henry Shobert House; Arndt prune dryer; Lambert School; Sara store.

• VANCOUVER: Slocum House; Covington House; Carnegie Library; House of Providence (Academy); Lowell Hidden House; W. Foster Hidden House; Evergreen Hotel; Fort Vancouver; U.S. National Bank Building; Elks Building; John Stanger House; U.S. Post Office; Vancouver Telephone Building; John Kiggins House; Vancouver-Portland Bridge; Washington State School for the Blind; Officers Row; Chumasero-Smith House; Kiggins Theatre.

• WOODLAND: Cedar Creek Grist Mill.

• YACOLT: Pomeroy Farm.

• YALE: Yale Bridge.

The interior included at least one forgotten chapter of history, said theater manager Chris Stapleton. It was the Marquee Lounge -- a place where moviegoers now can get a beer or a glass of wine. The second-floor lounge got its name from its spot directly behind the theater's "KIGGINS" marquee. It was partitioned off during a remodeling project.

"Nobody knew the lounge was there until the renovation," Stapleton said. When the building opened in April 1936, "It was a smoking lounge; it kept people from smoking in the theater auditorium."

Once they reopened the lounge after the theater was restored last year, workers found other forgotten features -- some original mirrors that had been paneled over.

Stapleton said working in a historic theater is a nice career change.

"I love it," Stapleton said. "I did the big-chain thing for quite a while. I like the fact that sometimes we're almost a tour guide.

"People have their own stories. They tell us about 'Popcorn Betty' yelling at them for running up or down the stairs," Stapleton said, but they don't realize everything that has been part of the theater in the last 77 years.

Owner Bill Leigh said he wasn't really thinking about the national historic registry when he bought the Kiggins.

"I did most of the restoration before I applied for it. I did it as true to the original as I could," Leigh said, even though he wasn't always certain what the original was.

To get a sense of the historic color schemes, "We sanded the walls and chipped away paint," Leigh said. "We got reasonably close."

A couple of other nominations are in the works, said Jacqui Kamp, with the county's community planning department.

"The county is in the process of working on a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places for the Clark County Poor Farm," now known as the 78th Street Heritage Farm, she said. "Following that effort, we will begin work on the nomination of the county courthouse."

And that would give Hilborn -- who died in 1971 -- his second project on the national register.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558;;