The Park Theater sign will once again illuminate the nights in downtown McMinnville as city voters approved a measure that will restore the historic building at a cost of nearly $2 million.
Meanwhile, things will be blue just a block away at the Blue Building as voters rejected a measure that would restore the historic building at a price tag of up to $6 million.
While not carrying every precinct, the Park Theatre restoration movement did get “Yes” votes from 57 percent of McMinnville voters, winning 2,008 to 1,512. Meanwhile, its older cousin just a stone’s throw away never even got close as 60 percent of McMinnville residents said “No” to the idea and defeated Blue Building restoration by a count of 2,083 to 1,368 votes.
The push for a taxpayer-backed restoration of the Park Theatre on Main Street began almost from the announcement the measure would be placed on the November ballot. An organized grassroots campaign with signs and commercials pushed the plan for most of the campaign year.
However, there was no such fanfare for the Blue Building as city fathers placed it on the ballot in hopes of getting feedback on what McMinnville taxpayers felt about restoring the old building for public use.
While the voters have spoken in both cases, neither is a binding vote, meaning the city does not have to restore the Park Theatre, nor does the vote tie their hands should they decide to restore the Blue Building.
As for the Park Theatre, its history is rich in McMinnville.
Cowan Oldham spent $50,000 constructing what was the most modern building and movie theater of its time with seating for 1,000 people on Main Street in McMinnville.
The theater was destroyed on Sept. 17, 1947 when a fire broke out in the early morning hours and destroyed the interior. Oldham announced he would rebuild.
On July 18, 1948, another grand opening was held. Seating was increased to 1,500.
The last movie shown at Park Theater was “Transformers: The Movie.” It aired the Saturday night at the beginning of fair week in Warren County in 1986. Traditionally closed the week of the fair, the theater would not re-open.
Park Theatre has been in the city’s hands since 2001. The property was leased to the Park Theatre Group for 10 years. The group tried to generate funds necessary for renovation, but was unsuccessful.
Meanwhile the history of the Blue Building goes back much further as its roots can be traced back to as far back as 1869. What began as a residence later became a school when it was sold to the board of education in 1915.
It became a grammar school in 1928 when Central was built and was known as Southside for its last years. It was closed due to unsafe conditions in 1977 and was most recently used to house McMinnville City Hall. The building was named in honor of former multi-term Mayor Franklin P. Blue. The city moved its offices from the building in 2008.