In Our View: New Life at 1011 Main St.

Recently renovated Kiggins Theatre gains Historic Places recognition

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Clark County residents consistently maintain a healthy respect for the elderly, whether it's for people or for structures. In the case of the latter, 40-plus locations in Clark County have been added to the National Register of Historic Places.One recent honoree is the Kiggins Theatre at 1011 Main St. in Vancouver, and more than just respect has been devoted to the 77-year-old movie house. Owner Bill Leigh spent more than $200,000 renovating the building, and he and more than three dozen dedicated volunteers spent countless hours renovating the property over the past few years.

Their passion and hard work are paying off in multiple ways. First is the historic recognition, which, as Tom Vogt reported in a Tuesday Columbian story, shines a long-overdue spotlight on the late architect Day Walter Hilborn. Many of Southwest Washington's iconic buildings were designed by Hilborn between his arrival here in 1927 and his death in 1971. But the recognition bestowed upon the Kiggins Theater marks the first time a Hilborn building has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The renovation of the Kiggins Theater also is paying off in terms of adding to local culture. More than just a movie theater, it's also an architectural showpiece of the Art Deco style, combining the "Zig-Zag" and "Streamline Moderne" periods.

Another payoff comes through contributions to the revitalization of downtown Vancouver. In a 2011 Columbian story, Friends of the Kiggins board member Seanette Corkill was quoted regarding the old theater: "I think it's vital to downtown and Vancouver's identity. … People want to connect with the past. They also want to enjoy current events in a historic setting relevant to their lives. (The theater) bridges all the generations of Vancouver because of the memories that have been created and the memories being created."

Finally, there's a significant payoff in enhancing community pride. The Kiggins is the third theater in Clark County to be refurbished in recent years. The Old Liberty Theater in Ridgefield and the two-screen Liberty Theatre in Camas have undergone similar restorations.

But in all three cases, modernization has been accomplished while still preserving much of the old. At the Kiggins, Leigh and his volunteers were careful to use a historically accurate color palette when repainting the interior. Original light fixtures were brought out of storage and put back to use. In other ways, though, improvements were made in ways that abandoned outdated ideas. The Kiggins now has about 340 seats that are new and wider. Back in the old days, there were 540 seats.

Congratulations to the Vancouver and Clark County joint Historic Preservation Commission for nominating the Kiggins for historic recognition. And kudos to Leigh, theater operator Dan Wyatt, theater manager Chris Stapleton and all of the volunteers who painstakingly breathed life back into the Kiggins Theatre.

More efforts to preserve the past are in the works. The county is working on two more nominations for the National Register of Historic Places: the Clark County Poor Farm (now known as the 78th Street Heritage Farm) and the county courthouse, another Hilborn-designed building.

The best communities nurture a vibrant continuum from their origins decades or centuries ago until today, respecting milestone people and places all along that timeline. Restoring old theaters is just part of that proud effort.