Woman shares memories of opening night at Kiggins

Now 95, she was 19 when theater opened in 1936

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

Updated: May 14, 2012, 7:41 PM

 

Video at bottom of story

To watch Matilda Baran recall the early days of Kiggins Theatre, see the video at the bottom of this story.

Matilda Baran, 95, still remembers what she wore to the premiere of downtown Vancouver’s Kiggins Theatre on April 24, 1936: a long chiffon dress.

“It was flowered and, of course, it had a jacket,” Baran said. “We thought we were all dressed up.”

Share your experience

To take part in an oral history about Kiggins Theatre, email gm@kigginstheatre.com or call 360-980-7828.

That personal detail is one of the first that will be collected for an oral history of the theater, a downtown landmark and state heritage site at 1011 Main St.

Kiggins owner Dan Wyatt came up with the idea for an oral history after his mother, Janis Wyatt, had a conversation with Baran, a family friend, and found out the 95-year-old had attended the theater’s debut night 76 years ago.

“I guess the subject never came up until I became the owner (in March),” Dan Wyatt said.

Wyatt invited Baran to share her memories about the theater on film. They set up a meeting Thursday at the theater where Megan Trevarthen, Kiggins marketing director, interviewed Baran as Wyatt filmed the conversation.

The video will be posted Monday on the Kiggins Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/#!/newkigginstheatre.

Wyatt said he hopes the video will prompt others to share their stories about the theater.

Baran was 19 when the theater was built. She attended opening night with her twin sister, Adeline, who died in 2004.

“It was like being in another world,” Baran said of the theater.

Baran said she doesn’t remember much else about the night, but archived articles in The Columbian helps to bring the picture to life.

Baran would have walked into a foyer decorated in cool green with a silver ceiling and heavy pile carpeting. The theater itself had hand-painted walls reminiscent of Aztec or Navajo artwork and leather seats that looked onto a stage with an “elaborate modern proscenium arch” and green curtains. The main salon had stained glass windows and mirrors, and there were silver chandeliers in the auditorium.

The image would have seemed particularly luxurious given that it was at the time of the Great Depression.

“Nobody thought they were poor,” Baran noted. At Baran’s young age, the Great Depression had been part of childhood and continued into adulthood. Despite the depression, Baran said people dressed better than they do today.

A lady “wouldn’t come to downtown without (wearing) a dress,” Baran said. “I think that gave people a lift to dress up and go to church (or the theater).”

Baran said she doesn’t recall how many people attended the first show, but it was a full house, or 700 people. The Columbian reported that the information wasn’t available that night, suggesting the reporter possibly left the event early to meet deadline.

“The only thing I can remember is (former) Mayor (John P.) Kiggins cut the ribbon in front,” Baran said.

The former mayor owned the building that housed the theater and was the namesake for the business because he had opened the first theater in Vancouver and two additional locations in the subsequent 20 years, according to an April 24, 1936, article in The Columbian.

Kiggins’ “long association was the primary factor that guided executives of the new theater to choose him” for the honor, according to the article.

Kiggins, along with Vancouver Mayor C.A. Pender and Columbian publisher Herbert Campbell, spoke at the theater’s dedication attended by Baran. The opening night began at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday with the singing of “The Star Spangled Banner” and a tour of the new theater building described by The Columbian as “Vancouver’s latest exposition of streamlining in architecture.” Vancouver City Manager James Carey, master of ceremonies for the night, introduced the speakers.

The debut feature film was “She Married Her Boss” with Claudette Colbert.

But there also was other entertainment, mainly Johnny Green and Band in “Radiorhapsody” and Cartoon News, according to The Columbian.

It cost 23 cents, plus Washington state tax, to watch the feature film on opening night.

The opening of the single-screen theater was big news for Clark County.

The day before the Friday opening The Columbian dedicated nearly two pages to covering the new theater. Coverage included several articles examining every aspect of the theater, including leadership, construction and the playbill. A half-page advertisement accompanied the articles. Neighboring businesses bought smaller advertisements to congratulate the owners.

Baran became a hair stylist after her graduation from Vancouver High School the year after the theater opened. She still lives in the same Lincoln neighborhood house where she grew up from the age of 10.

She lives there with her husband, Al, also 95.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Trends;http://facebook.com/ColTrends;paris.achen@columbian.com.