A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE KIGGINS THEATRE
by Rachel Pinksy, November 2017
When the Kiggins Theatre opened on April 24, 1936, Frank Newman, President of Evergreen Amusements, declared it was “one of the most modern and luxurious theaters in the Pacific Northwest.” The lobby had gleaming silver chandeliers and the walls were hand-painted by R.B. Roberts, a member of the British Artist’s Society, who also painted Windsor Castle. Architect D.W. Hillborn designed the theater to create a “feminine sensibility”. There was a modern air circulating system to heat and cool the theater. Soundproof materials were used to provide perfect acoustics and the structure was made of fire-proof cement. Matilda Baran, who attended the opening of theater as a child remembers it being a glamorous affair with everyone dressed in their Sunday best. Mrs. Baran recalls, “It was a depression but the theater was an escape.” The film showed that night was the romantic comedy She Married Her Boss starring Claudette Colbert and Melvyn Douglas.
During World War II, Vancouver was bustling with laborers who came to work in the shipyards. After the war, the theater struggled and closed in 1955. It re-opened in 1958 with a new marquee (which graces the front of the theater today). Owner, Adamson Theater Chain, renovated the interior and exterior of the theater. On July 26, 1977, Adamson Theater Chain closed the theater lamenting “a lack of wholesome films to show there.” The site was used as a church and then for antique auctions. A fire, emanating from a large trash can on the stage, damaged the theater. Fortunately, the cement structure was made to be fireproof and the theater survived.
In the 1980s, the theater showed second run films at cheap prices ($1.50 for a double feature). Management blamed crowd control problems on the violent nature of films; along with alcohol smuggled in purses and winter coats. During this time, future Kiggins owner, Dan Wyatt, witnessed a fight during The Karate Kid that spilled into the lobby and ended up in injury to a priest who attempted to intervene.
In 2006, Bill Leigh bought the theater. A group of volunteers (including Seanette Corkill, Clare Ghormley, and Leah Jackson), called the Friends of the Kiggins, volunteered to restore the theater to its original splendor and Bill Leigh invested $400,000 along with endless hours of sweat equity.
Soon after the renovation, the theater was bought by current owner, Dan Wyatt. On October 3, 2012, Richard Beer joined the Kiggins as Director of Programming and Marketing and the current mix of independent film, community-oriented programming, classic film, and live shows was introduced. In 2012, the Kiggins was added to the National Registry of Historic Places.
In 2013, a chance conversation with State Representative Jim Moeller at Niche Wine Bar, next door to the theater, led to the passage of The Kiggins Act (on April 12, 2013) allowing the sale and consumption of alcohol at the Kiggins Theatre and other small theaters (less than five screens) in the state of Washington.