Memorializing the Pix
It cannot be saved, but it will be memorialized.
That is the verdict and the fate of Woodburn's former Pix Theater building.
The city of Woodburn and the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) worked out details of the plan over the past couple of months, a process initiated when the city announced its plans to raze the building.
The building has deteriorated to the point where the city regards it as an environmental and safety hazard. Last month the city awarded a contract for the demolition project, and that elicited a number of social-media comments, including questioning the legality of demolishing an edifice of historical significance.
A report drafted by Woodburn Economic Development Director Jamie Johnk and Assistant City Attorney McKenzie Granum noted that the city compiled an inventory of downtown buildings with historical significance in 2014, and the Pix was identified by the city and designated by SHPO as a "contributing" historic building.
But the building needed repairs and maintenance, and none was forthcoming.
The city bought the 71-year-old, 5,660 square-foot building in late 2018. Woodburn City Administrator Scott Derickson stressed that the building had been on the private real estate market over the past decade prior to that purchase.
"During that time, no economically viable restoration or business model emerged that could finance the needed repairs to make the building environmentally safe and usable," Derickson said. "Even under public ownership, this is still the case.
"Unfortunately, the building has deteriorated to a point of being a hazard to the health of any occupant and a danger to surrounding buildings."
After the city notified SHPO of its intentions to demolish the building, the historic agency replied, noting that the Pix's historical significance warrants "a mitigation plan (to) remediate the impact that demolishing the Pix Theater will have on the community," according to the report presented to the Woodburn City Council on April 8.
"In evaluating the integrity of the structure, SHPO has acknowledged the poor condition of the theater and the structural safety hazard that it poses to the public, requiring the city to move forward with its current demolition plan," Derickson said.
"Part of the mitigation for the demolition undertaking will be developing a little interpretive display at the Woodburn Museum and Bungalow Theater," said Tracy Schwartz of the SHPO commission. "There is also discussion about the theater signs as part of the mitigation; salvaging it, storing it and displaying the sign — depending on its structural integrity and conditions."
Schwartz added: "The law does require political subdivisions like city councils to consult with our office when historical properties are (affected) including demolition...Unfortunately, demolition often does become the only option. "
The Pix was identified one of 127 historic theaters built in Oregon between 1892 and 1949, according to a study conducted by the University of Oregon's Community Service Center in 2015. Of those theaters, 74 were still in operation, and 34 were in use, but not as a theater. The Pix was one of 13 theaters that was listed as closed. Six others were demolished at the time of the study.
The Pix opened in 1948 and was operated through the '90s before closing down operations. The building received a second life as a furniture story, but closed in the mid-2000s, and has since been vacant for more than a decade.
The Pix has not been listed with the National Register of Historic Places, but it does meet eligibility requirements. Since demolition precludes such a listing, the city negotiated a memorandum of agreement with SHPO to undertake mitigation measures to preserve the historical element for the public, including photos, community recollections, facts and artifacts commemorating the Pix with an interpretive display.
"We are going to attempt to salvage the sign. We're going to salvage some of the glass blocks in the front of the building and some of the tiles as well as some of the seats," Johnk said, affirming that plans are for the informational/historic display on the Pix to be established at the Bungalow.
The Pix sign, if salvageable, would not be part of the interpretive display due to its size. It would be stored at the city's public works warehouse until an appropriate location is established to display it.
Derickson told that council that if the demolition details are worked out as planned, that project will begin April 22 and may take a couple of weeks.
For information about the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office, visit: https://www.oregon.gov/oprd/HCD/SHPO
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