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Nearly a year after submitting for the designation, the ancient theater makes the list

GARY ALLEN - The Cameo Theatre was first opened under the name Art Deco Cameo in the 1920s. It was re-named by the new owner, Ted Francis, in 1939.

The historic Cameo Theatre is now truly that – historic.

The single-screen movie theater at 304 E. First St. was originally built in 1937. Now, more than 80 years later, it has been designated as something important for preservation.

It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, an official list of buildings, structures and sites in the United States deemed worthy of preservation because of their historic significance.

The Cameo, owned by Brian Francis, is open every night of the week. Francis also owns the 99W Drive-In, which was built by Francis's grandfather.

The Cameo was first opened under the name the Art Deco Cameo, and was built by A. Combs. Francis's late grandfather owned a competitor theater, which he renamed the Francis Theater in the 1920s. Francis's grandfather later purchased the Cameo in 1939.

Brian Francis said it was a good feeling that the theater had finally made it to the register. He added that many people assumed since it was an older building, it was already on the list.

"People think they magically get on it without any effort," he said.

Francis was notified at the end of October that the theater had made the register.

The next step is to have a plaque made to commemorate the event. He said he has some ideas for one, but hasn't started on it yet.

Buildings on the National Register of Historic Places may also qualify for tax incentives. For a property to be eligible for the register, it must meet at least one criteria point: either it must make a contribution to the major pattern of American history; a person associated with it is significant; distinctive characteristics of the property are considered important; or if the property is likely to yield information important to history.

The theater passed the Newberg Historic Preservation Commission review process last winter, part of a lengthy application process. Francis was awarded a $5,000 grant from the State Historic Preservation Office in August 2017 to help with the project, and along with matching funds from Newberg, he hired a consulting firm.

Francis said he was lucky that the consulting form did most of the work and in their research discovered things he had never known about the theater.

For example, their research through old newspaper clippings found there was a movie theater across the street known as the Bijou, which was a term occasionally used to describe small but elegant theaters.

To be considered, a building must be at least 50 years old and embody the distinctive characteristics of the period. The Cameo is decorated by a certain kind of art deco, known as Streamline Moderne, which means it has curving walls and long, horizontal lines. The building was also once home to the Cameo Fountain, which served ice cream and drinks as a separate business. That eventually became a snack bar.

Francis said the drive-in had already been placed on the register, which had been done by others. He added that there are some improvements that need to be made in the theater, such as modernizing the seating and touching up some paint, but said he wants to keep the theater in its original form.

Doug Rux, the city's community development director, said he worked with Francis on the process of getting the theater listed, which lasted 11 months total.

He added that these nominations take time to go through and get the documentation in order, which is why they hired a consultant with experience.

From the city's perspective, having the Cameo and the drive-in on the register is good for notoriety, Rux said, as it helps tourism, such as walking tours of historic places, and plus the theater has an added benefit of being a business visitors can go in and see.

"It's more accessible to the general public," he said.

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