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December 5th, 2012 ROBERT HAM | Movie Reviews & Stories
 

Striking a Balance

Bringing a taste of Hollywood­—new and old—to Vancouver.

screen_wyattkiggins_3905MAIN STREET MARQUEE: Manager Dan Wyatt at Vancouver’s Kiggins Theatre. - IMAGE: vivianjohnson.com
The huge sign and marquee brightly announcing the Kiggins Theatre and its filmic fare (this week: Looper and Frankenweenie) to the drivers and pedestrians on Vancouver’s Main Street already look remarkably out of place. The movie house is surrounded by buildings constructed at least 30 years later. And the other shops nearby—including the art gallery/coffee shop with the rather on-the-nose name Angst and the massive, freshly minted rock-climbing gym—show modern aesthetics and sensibilities taking hold in the downtown core. 

But like its Portland compatriots, such as the Hollywood and the Roseway, Kiggins is one of few theaters left in the Pacific Northwest trying to maintain its independence while also paying heed to its heyday. 

“At its height, it could hold over 500 people,” says Kiggins manager Dan Wyatt, standing inside the auditorium, which now seats 342.

The modern seats with cup-holder armrests, the still-spotless carpeting, and the sleek-looking screen and sound system are the only things that have changed in the large theater space. The gorgeous art deco architecture, with its emphasis on straight lines and right angles, hasn’t been altered since the theater opened in 1936. 

In that respect, the Kiggins is in its best shape since its World War II heights. Today’s struggle is figuring out how to get bodies into those new seats on a regular basis. 

Wyatt is a film-industry vet who moved back to Vancouver from Los Angeles three years ago. Together with his booker, he has tried to strike a balance between art-house or independent films, one-off screenings of cult classics and special events such as a showing of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which coincided with last year’s anime convention, Kumoricon. 

So far, they haven’t hit on the right formula. “We’re trying to find those niches that will draw a crowd,” Wyatt says, citing the competition the Kiggins faces from the nearby movie multiplex, Regal City Center Stadium 12, and from everyone’s favorite distractions: TV and gaming systems. 

Wyatt’s biggest challenge since becoming theater manager in March has been encouraging the Washington State Legislature to pass a bill that would allow the Kiggins to sell beer and wine while also keeping the theater an all-ages operation. State Rep. Jim Moeller (D-Vancouver) introduced the bill earlier this year, which passed 87-10 in the House.

“It passed the House with flying colors, but then when it got to the Senate, some huge budget issues came up and they had to stop debating new bills,” Wyatt says. “If they would have waited 15 minutes, we would have had our bill.” 

Until the bill is reintroduced in 2013, beer and wine sales are relegated to a small space upstairs in the theater, where all alcoholic drinks must remain. 

Despite the obstacles, Wyatt remains hopeful for the theater’s future. He’s considering offering theater memberships, which would give patrons a pair of free tickets each month along with other benefits. And he’s already lining up a slate of holiday movies for December (including double features of A Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation, and both Gremlins movies). But first on Wyatt’s priority list is his dream event: an Oscar-night party complete with Klieg lights, limo service and paparazzi. 

“That’s like my Super Bowl,” he says with a big smile. “I enjoy the celebration of movies, and I love the culture of L.A. People think I’m crazy, but I want to bring a taste of that here.” 


GO: The Kiggins Theatre is at 1011 Main St., Vancouver, 360-816-0352, kigginstheatre.com.

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