Grant could make Cameo Theatre a little more comfortable
Newberg's Cameo Theatre hopes to get an $80,000 grant to add a few modern touches to the 83-year-old downtown landmark.
Theater owner Brian Francis and the Newberg Downtown Coalition applied in mid-April for the funding through Oregon's $620,000 Historic Theater Grant program. The program offers grants between $15,000 and $100,000 to properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, or eligible to be on the national list, in towns of fewer than 30,000 people.
The Cameo is one of 14 theaters around the state seeking about $1.2 million in grant funds this spring. Oregon's Parks and Recreation Department forwarded decisions on the grants National Park Service Historic Revitalization subgrant program. Awards should be announced by the end of May.
Francis said the theater would use the money to replace a large part of its 350 seats, install new acoustical drapes and replace soffit lighting in the marquee. The theater also plans to install aisle lighting and make a few other changes that Francis said would be in character with the 1937 Art Deco structure. When the theater replaced its carpeting 20 years ago, it used fabric as close to the original carpeting as possible, Francis said.
"We're going to do it tastefully," he said. "We're not trying to change its look as much as possible. It's a very Art Deco theater."
'Ripples in the forest'
The Cameo Theatre on Newberg's First Street is a two-and-one-half-story building with Art Deco and Moderne architecture features. The theater was named in October 2018 to the National Register of Historic Places. It's been in the Francis family since 1940.
Francis said improvements could cost around $110,000. The theater has gathered about $29,400 in private grants to match state funding.
Work would begin in January 2021 and take about six months. The biggest part of the project would replace hundreds of aging, dilapidated seats in the theater's center section with more than 200 new Mobiliario Imperial seats with cupholders and reclining backs. About 80 of the theater's original 1937 seats would be moved to the sides (40 on each side) and the loges.
Francis, like other movie theater owners around the state, had to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. As that was happening, major studios and film distributors got into a national tussle about online streaming of first-run movies, something Francis worried could hurt small town theaters like his.
"You hear ripples in the forest about Universal Pictures and AMC (the national movie theater chain) and the fight over Universal's viewing on demand experiment," he said. "That obviously causes some tension and ripples for indoor theaters. Not sure what's going to happen. I might be running old movies. I don't know how it's going to look like when we reopen."
When the theater reopens, Francis expects it to follow state physical-distancing limits and other guidelines to avoid spreading the virus. To maintain a cash flow, the theater has sold popcorn every weekend under the marquee.
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