The old Star Theatre on the corner of Oregon Ave. and South 2nd St. is on the market. EMMA ROUTLEY/THE CHRONICLE
Edit: This story has been corrected to reflect that the property has not yet been listed on the market.
CRESWELL — The City of Creswell this week got first dibs on the purchase of the old Star Theatre on Oregon Avenue, but with no council consensus met, it won’t be making the transaction anytime soon – if at all.
The old theatre building is located at 187 W. Oregon Ave. at the corner of West Oregon Avenue and South 2nd Street. Elinor Ann Bright, 88, resided in the apartment above. She died on June 22, and Kathy Moran, Bright’s daughter, contacted the city to see if it would be interested in buying the building, but the council waved off the chance after Monday’s split decision.
The property's tax assessment value is $163,227 and will need to be appraised before being listed for sale.
The Creswell Community Center might be demolished if a 2021 bond measure passes to build a new fire station in its place, and if it does, the city will lose its recreation center. The city still owns the Cobalt Center, but is looking for another location for a future community center. That’s part of the allure for acquiring the property, city manager Michelle Amberg said; that, and its historical importance.
Owned by the Melton family, in January 1905 it was a Woodsmen of the World (WOW) Hall, supporting the organization’s meetings upstairs, and providing performance space for traveling entertainment groups, local talent and silent movies. In 1910, the city council also held its meetings there.
Creswell centenarian Katherine Melton donated all the land she owned on Oregon Avenue to the City in the 1940s, the WOW Hall included. The building’s upper story was condemned and demolished in 1948 and around the same time, the building was sold to Art Johnson, who renovated the building and operated the Star Theatre in the 1950s and ’60s. Local narratives also hold that the theatre was the only one in town large enough to host school productions.
The building retains a large theatre area on the ground floor with an upper balcony. In addition it provides residential living space to the rear of the theatre space.
City councilor Martha McReynolds Jr. agreed that a building of this historical importance could fare well under city ownership.
“We aren’t swimming in all kinds of historical buildings; we don’t have very many,” McReynolds said. “If we won the building, we would own a beautiful relic from our past that we can make a beautiful cornerstone for the community. It could serve as a municipal auditorium … we could rent it out, and it could be an auditorium for folks to have a music or film festival.”
Council president Amy Knudsen said that while she respects the historical aspect, the city has no business buying an old building in need of restoration.
“I am not interested in buying another historical building after (the City) just gave away an historical schoolhouse. We said back then that the city is not in the building-buying business,” she said.
Knudsen is referencing the Old Schoolhouse at 192 S. Second St. Dating back to 1874, the building is arguably the oldest building in town, and is the only Creswell building on the National Registry of Historical Places.
The city formerly owned the building, which required a lot of care. With the cost of repairs initially clocking in at around $250,000, in 2016, council said the city didn’t have pockets that deep, nor enough staffing to do the job to get the building up to snuff.
“We didn’t have money for it so it sat and got dilapidated,” Knudsen said Monday.
Council said back then that it was more a community concern than a city concern. A group of community members responded and the council ultimately voted to turn the responsibility of the Old Schoolhouse over to the group. That group turned into the nonprofit Creswell Heritage Foundation, which is still actively fundraising and restoring the Old Schoolhouse back to usefulness.
The theatre “looks like a huge nightmare project that would just sit there,” Knudsen said. “And we are asking the citizens to possibly pass a gas tax and then we go and buy a theatre building?”
Councilor Alonzo Costilla agreed that it “would be a money pit. We have to pass. I don’t see this panning out. I don’t think we have any business buying this building when we are trying to pass a gas tax.”
McReynolds said, “it might be worth a soft pass, and to at least look into it and see what condition is in … but y’all are right, and you are a bunch of buzzkills.”
Amberg said there is some concern over who may buy the building. “If we don’t buy it, we lose control over it,” she said.
CHF president Verlean McCoy said that while the nonprofit would love to own the building, “We don’t have the money to purchase it. There is interest but there is no way we could buy it.”