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Application to be added to the National Register of Historic Places moves forward to the state level

GRAPHIC FILE PHOTO - Built in 1939, the historic art-deco Cameo Theatre is moving toward being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Cameo Theater passed the Newberg Historic Preservation Commission review process March 5, the first step toward being considered for the National Register of Historic Places.

It is a time consuming process to apply for the historic registry. Information must be gathered and include research and interviews as documents are shuffled and forms filled.

Cameo owner Brian Francis was awarded a $5,000 grant from the State Historic Preservation Office in August 2017 to help with the project. Matching funds for the grant came from the city of Newberg and Francis used the funds to hire a consulting firm to walk through the process and pay for filings and fees.

The application now moves forward to the State Historic Preservation Office for review. Once approved there, it will go to the State Advisory Council for Historic Preservation with the hope that they will recommend a listing on the National Register of Historic Places and forward it to the Keeper of the National Register in Washington, D.C., who makes the final decision.

The application includes sketch maps, photographs, location maps, historical information, architectural classifications, codes and bibliographies with around 41 pages of information to fulfill the requirements of the national historic registry.

To be considered, a building must be at least 50 years old and embody the distinctive characteristics of that period, looking much the same way as it did in the past with historical documents of its history.

The theater was first opened in August 1937 by A. Combs and called the Art Deco Cameo. The building was designed by Day Hilborn, a well-known Washington architect who began designing theaters in the 1930s. Ted Francis, Brian Francis' grandfather, owned competitor Baker Theater and renamed it the Francis Theater in the 1920s.

When Warner Bros. began showing movies at the Cameo, the competition was fierce. In response, Ted Francis purchased the Cameo in 1939 and designated it as an adults-only theater; children were not allowed to attend. The theater remained under the ownership of Ted Francis for 60 years until his death in 1999, when it was bequeathed to Brian Francis.

What makes the Cameo special is the type of art deco, known as Streamline Moderne, with its curving walls and long horizontal lines and ornamentation. Part of the building was also originally home to the Cameo Fountain, which served ice cream and drinks that ran as a separate business. The fountain was changed in 1965 to the Cameo Beauty Shop and then to a snack bar.

The Cameo has remained virtually unchanged since.

"In 1965 my grandfather removed every other row of seating," Brian Francis said. "A lot of theaters were trying to do something to improve the seating to provide more comfort. (Television) was the big competition. The new area was called the loge, a French word. Theaters are not removing every other row to put loge seating right now. Instead, they're putting in tables. Someday, I will need to replace the seats because the 18-inch seat doesn't work anymore. They all want high-rise and recliners."

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