Oregon’s Rural Historic Theaters Complete Major Grant Program
In 2020, as part of our Oregon’s Most Endangered Places program, Restore Oregon joined forces with Oregon Heritage to bring an unprecedented infusion of over $615,000 in grants to eight rural historic theaters in Oregon. Restore Oregon has acted as a technical consultant for these projects, many of which were affected by pandemic shutdowns, inflation, and supply chain disruptions. Although these obstacles prolonged many project timelines, an enormous amount of progress has been made and we reported on the first four theaters to complete their grants last year. The final four projects are now complete, and the grant program has successfully wrapped!
Restore Oregon provided assistance with researching eligibility determinations for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and helped with the application process. Throughout the program, we acted as a technical consultant for theater owners and operators sharing cost-free project support and our network of resources. We are inspired by the dedication of all eight grant recipients to see these projects through several difficult years as part of their commitment to contributing to the vibrancy of rural communities. Thank you for all your hard work!
Dallas Cinema - Dallas
The Dallas Cinema building (formerly Fox Theatre), constructed in the 1890s as a furniture store, is unique in that it is a conversion theater – a modified commercial storefront that was converted in 1948 to accommodate the rise in movie attendance. The building’s postwar design and dramatic neon marquee lighting evoked Hollywood glamor while showcasing the latest in movie-viewing technology and catered to movie-goer comfort with concessions, comfortable seating, and air-conditioned interiors. Its prime location made it both an economic anchor for downtown businesses and a social anchor for Dallas residents.
The 2020 grant from Oregon Heritage helped fund roof repairs, an updated HVAC system, marquee and box office repairs, exterior masonry/brick repainting, and paint sealant on exterior walls. Additionally, the grant helped to prepare the building to accommodate a mural in the near future. “The Dallas Cinema contributes to the vibrancy of the downtown not just culturally, but socially and economically as well,” said Tyler Ferrari, Economic Development Specialist with the Dallas Downtown Association.
As part of the 2020 Oregon Heritage grant, the Dallas Cinema was listed in the NRHP, further cementing its importance in downtown Dallas. Rebecca Ziegler, a historic preservation consultant and former Restore Oregon Board President authored the nomination and ushered it through the process of being listed as one of the state’s longest continuously operated movie theaters.
Rex Theater - Vale
As with the Dallas Cinema, Rebecca Ziegler, researched the history and significance of the Rex Theater and prepared its NRHP nomination as one facet of its Oregon Heritage grant-funded work.
The Rex opened in 1926 during what was known as the Golden Age of films. A two-story Art Deco building, it features about 150 seats on the ground floor, and another 50 in the balcony. A lighted marquee was added in 1931.
Despite its last film playing in 2006, the Rex has continued as a venue for events serving Vale and its surrounding communities. The property is owned by Mike McLaughlin, former mayor of Vale, and Sandijean Fuson, an attorney and director of the Drexel Foundation. Mike and Sandijean received a grant award of $90,000 and used it to help fund over $110,000 in renovations, including restoration of the 1931 marquee to lighted condition, replacing a coal furnace with an energy efficient HVAC system, and painting the exterior.
Cameo Theatre - Newberg
The Cameo Theatre’s Streamline Moderne architecture is a specific type of Art Deco design exemplified by curving walls and long, horizontal lines. Designed by architects Day W. Hilborn and Margaret Goodin Fritsch, this single-screen movie theater first opened in 1937 under the name Art Deco Cameo. Ted Francis, owner of a competitor theater, bought the Cameo in 1937. It has continued operating as a theater ever since, and as Newberg’s oldest remaining motion picture venue, its enduring presence has contributed to the downtown economy as a source for entertainment and community vitality.
In 2018, the Cameo was listed in the NRHP for its architectural significance and representation of recreation and culture in the early 20th century. Also significant is its status as Newberg’s first theater built with a sound system to accommodate talking pictures.
Owner Brian Francis, grandson of Ted Francis, worked with the Newberg Downtown Coalition to apply for and receive its Oregon Heritage grant to update seats and acoustical drapes in the auditorium, and repair exterior lighting on the marquee. In July 2023, the badly deteriorated 1965 Heywood Wakefield seating was removed and replaced with new reclining seats that capture the Art Deco/Streamline Moderne character of the theater. The front seven rows of original 1937 seats on each of the side aisles remain.
Alger Theatre - Lakeview
In early 1940, the owners of Lakeview’s circa 1930 Marius Theater announced that construction of a new theater would soon begin, with the intention of playing first run films. Architect J.W. DeYoung designed a “modernistic” theater in the Art Deco style that integrated new technology, art, and services. Everything from the ticket window, bathroom and lounges, to the light fixtures and concessions counter, brought Art Deco style to Lakeview’s downtown, forming a visual centerpiece to downtown.
With the closure of the Marius in the 1960s, and the Circle J M Drive-in in 1981, the Alger became the only theater in town. However, it closed for business in March 2014 with its owners citing that, in an era of on-demand movies, rising costs, and the lack of a digital projector, the Alger could not be profitable. Shortly thereafter, a group of citizens formed the Lakeview Community Partnership (LCP), a nonprofit with the goal of revitalizing Lakeview’s downtown. Knowing the Alger’s rehabilitation and reopening would provide a critical boon to the economic health of rural Lakeview, fundraising efforts took off immediately.
In April 2018, an anonymous donor purchased the building and gave LCP a one-year lease for $1 so they could fundraise to purchase the building. In September 2019, LCP completed escrow after raising $120k, receiving $111,685 from an Oregon Main Street grant awarded by Oregon Heritage and raising the remaining $47,865 themselves.
The 2020 Oregon Heritage grant helped LCP improve interior lighting, replace the building’s rear fire doors (drastically improving egress during an emergency), and restore its lighted marquee, set to be installed this fall. It also funded the Alger’s nomination to the NRHP, which was initially drafted by Restore Oregon staff. The Alger Theatre will be listed for its association with the Golden Age of Film and for its distinction as the only surviving example of Art Deco style architecture of its type in Lake County.
While this grant program is now complete, Restore Oregon remains committed to providing assistance to historic theater owners and to offering project support to all rural Oregonians.
Head to www.restoreoregon.org to donate in support of our work and to check out our recently launched Rural Resources Hub!
The circa 1948 Dallas Cinema used a 2020 grant from Oregon Heritage to fund roof repairs, updated HVAC, marquee and box office repairs, exterior masonry and repointing, and paint sealant on exterior walls. Photo courtesy of Dallas Downtown Association.
Co-owner of the Rex Theater, Sandijean Fuson, stands under a newly restored marquee, funded by a 2020 Oregon Heritage grant award, which was also used to replace the building’s antique coal burning furnace. Photo by Katelyn Van Genderen.
Newberg’s Cameo Theatre received funding to replace badly deteriorated 1965 Heywood Wakefield seating with new reclining seats that capture the Art Deco character of the theater. Photos courtesy of Brian Francis.
Workers dismantle the Alger Theatre’s marquee and blade sign for restoration funded in part by a 2020 Oregon Heritage grant. Installation is expected in fall of 2023. Photo courtesy of Lakeview Community Partnership.