During discussions with the City of Vancouver to secure financial assistance, he relented and offered to put the building on the register. He thought he might leverage some influence.
The city did, however, help him find a consultant, Derek Chisholm of Parametrix Engineering, who took the reins of managing the six-month process to have the building considered for historic recognition.
The Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation announced this week that the Kiggins Theatre did indeed meet state requirements and is now officially listed on Washington’s Register of Historic Places.
Michael Houser, state architectural historian, says the Kiggins Theatre is one of the most prominent buildings in downtown Vancouver, and he thinks it can attain even higher historic status.
“Obviously, the building is certainly worthy of being on the National Register, it should have been on the register a long time ago,” says Houser.
To be on the register, a building must be at least 50 years old, have a high level of architectural integrity, meaning it has to be fairly intact both inside and out, and have “a great story to tell,” says Houser. The Kiggins clearly satisfies those requirements. The building’s long lines and curved surfaces represent the Moderne, streamlined features of the Art Deco and Art Deco transitional style, and can be compared to the Chrysler Building and the famous Odoen Theater in London.
When submitting for recognition, Derek Chisholm wrote, “the theater’s design is also outstanding among the various related buildings in the entire Portland/ Vancouver metropolitan area” and “the Kiggins Theater was built to represent vibrancy and success in downtown Vancouver.”
Michael Houser agrees, the Kiggins has significance in Vancouver as the center of entertainment and recreational life, and identifies why buildings come to be recognized.
“Most people get their building on the national register out of ownership pride, to formally document a building, to celebrate its history, and if you’re listed on the national register then you’re eligible to apply for a tax credit, based on the amount of rehab that you put into a building,” says Houser.
But tax incentives did not play into Leigh’s motivations, in fact, he hasn’t pursued them.
“Tax breaks are not enough to get excited about,” Leigh says.
What gets the historian, Michael Houser excited is the building’s designer, Day Walter Hilborn, “the most prominent architect in Vancouver for over 40 years.” In Vancouver alone, Hilborn designed almost 400 buildings. The nomination offers history buffs the opporutniy to reexamine Hilborn’s significance, as well.
“Shockingly, this is the first of his buildings to be listed,” says Houser.
Hilborn built the Kiggins with fewer plans than can be imagined, relying on the skilled craftsmen he hired to follow simple sheets and drawings. He also designed other buildings determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, including the Clark County County Courthouse, Luekpe Florist, First United Methodist Church, the former Spick-n-Span Drive-in, and Hilborn designed other theatres throughout the region. A full list is found on Chisholm’s submission.
“Always nice to be recognized on the National Register, your building is important and important to preserve,” says Michael Houser, and explains he will recommend the Kiggins for listing on the National Register pending technical issues. In 45 to 60 days after it is sent off to the National Parks Service, the Kiggins will likely be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
While financial assistance from the city didn’t pan out, Bill Leigh did get what he ultimately wanted.
“I wanted to protect the building, because it’s worth protecting. It makes it a lot harder to tear it down, or for the city or any government entity to take it by eminent domain.”
Audio produced by Ed Stortro and Carol Doane
Voice over by Carol Doane
Read more from the actual submission:
COUV.COM original video.
Watch it here .