Step back in time, just past the box office and through the doors into the late 1930s. The Kiggins Theatre in downtown Vancouver remains an iconic symbol of the escapism millions of Americans experienced in cinemas just like it, toward the end of the Great Depression. Built in 1936 and named after former Vancouver mayor and businessman John P. Kiggins, the theater helped countless families forget about their troubles, even if only for a couple of hours.
Bill Leigh, current owner of the recently restored theater, said he wants to provide that same great escape for the next generation of moviegoers. Having owned several properties in Washington and Oregon, Leigh said he loves renovating old buildings. However, operating a cinema would be something completely new.
“I thought, it couldn’t be too tough to do a theater,” said Leigh. “That’s when the real education began.”
Like a time capsule, most of its original infrastructure of the Kiggins remains intact. Its symmetry, ornamentation and motif are prime examples of the Art Deco period of design, making it a landmark on Main Street for 75 years.
Leigh and a crew of volunteers used a lot of elbow grease to make tasteful upgrades to the theater, which reopened last month, while maintaining its overall look and appeal. New additions include a concrete floor, luxurious new seats and a sound system. Add to that, a soon-to-be completed bar on the second floor that will sell beer and wine.
Anni Becker, director of marketing for the historic theater, said the Kiggins’ new era will also include live music before some movies, offering local musicians a venue in which to perform. Becker said many local musicians don’t often get access to such a great location, and that the most important goal of the Kiggins is to be active in the community.
“Our focus is on community outreach and working with local schools, doing projects with the students,” she explained. “We will also be collaborating with other businesses in the area because we are a good draw for them as well.”
Part of being a good neighbor is recognizing the history behind the building and the generations who’ve grown up with it, added Leigh.
“The building is an important part of the community. In many ways, the building is more the community than the people,” he explained, adding that all too often when people talk of revitalizing a community they don’t think of the buildings, tearing them down to make new ones.
“There’s nothing else like these old theaters,” said Kiggins General Manager Ian Roy. “It’s about having fun and really getting the aura of the experience and sharing it with others. The experience is so much more than the sum of its parts.”
The team at the Kiggins said they aren’t worried about the Regal Cinema that’s just four blocks away.
“We compete for the same entertainment dollars, but that’s where the similarities end,” Leigh explained. “This is a different experience.”
The Kiggins Theatre shows independent, classic and family movies every Thursday through Sunday. For more information, visit