The Waucomah Theatre operated on Main Street from late 1947 into the 1960s. (Photo provided by Jason Leonard via the Benton County Historical Society)

The next time you enjoy a downtown walk in Philomath, pause for a few moments at 1243 Main St., the spot right next door to The Dizzy Hen. Allow the traffic to pass by and during a moment of quiet, imagine the voices.

Built in 1947 as a movie theater and repurposed through the years to accommodate various businesses, it’s almost as if you could hear the history inside.

“Thank you everyone. We raised $450 at tonight’s talent show” — the master of ceremonies speaking near the end of a Lions Club March of Dimes fundraiser in January 1951.

“Calm down sweetie and watch the movie” — a mom with her 3-year-old in the movie theater’s upstairs “cry room” during a screening of “The Forbidden Planet” in December 1956.

“I’ll take three of those bagels and, oh, are those eclairs fresh from this morning?” — a customer putting in an order to take back to the office in January 1980.

“This is so beautiful … look at the intricate design in this one” — a quilter walking through an exhibit in September 1997.

If only those walls could talk.

Since the beginning of the year, Chiseled Spirit CrossFit has been operating at the site in the main space and Yours Truly Salon’s owner is doing hair and nails in a cozy spot with its own entrance. There is also an upstairs apartment that’s unfinished.

Jason Leonard acquired the building from JanniLou Creations in 2021. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Jason Leonard, a name you might know from the Corvallis Country Club or as a former Philomath city councilor, now owns the building, which includes the 1239, 1243 and 1245 Main Street addresses. He purchased it in August 2021 from sisters Lou Shafer and Jan Bressler, who operated JanniLou Creations at the location for more than a quarter century.

“There is a lot of great history here,” Leonard said. “I’ve been putting a new roof on it, new siding. I’ve still got to do the exterior, the front, but I’m just kind of getting it up to code and where it needs to be to have successful businesses in here.”

The building was constructed in 1947 with Waucomah Theatre, a single-screen movie theater, opening on Dec. 13 of that year. A popular eating spot was located next door on the corner back in those days, too, with the Chintimini Café.

Everett A. Mika, the theater’s manager, said in a newspaper article that the operation had been financed by C.A. Minty and his sons, Gene and Chester Minty. On an interesting side note, Gene Minty’s daughter, Barbara, married Steve McQueen and he appeared in the role of a sheriff in the famous actor’s last film, “The Hunter.”

An old Waucomah Theatre movie poster. (Image provided by the Benton County Historical Society)

“Take an evening off and see Benton County’s newest theater — 456 seats — in the neighboring city — forget the atomic bomb, the United Nations squabbling and the U.S. high cost of living — and see the high-spirited farce that offers escape from the world of reality.”

That’s an excerpt from a newspaper article promoting the theater’s opening. The first film to be shown was “Lost Honeymoon,” a 1947 comedy that starred Franchot Tone, Ann Richards and Tom Conway.

Leonard said he enjoyed hearing some of the building’s history from former owner Lou Shafer. JanniLou Creations maintained a movie theater theme through its remodeling after acquiring the building and opening for business in October 1993. The sisters even had a newsletter called “From the Cutting Room Floor.”

Leonard experienced some of that history himself during his own remodeling project.

“As we were doing some demo in the existing apartment, when it was a movie theater, there was a staircase inside that went up to rooms up there — one room was a projector room and the other room was a cry room. Parents could bring their child if they were crying up to this room and look through the glass and still watch the movie without disturbing other people.”

Jason Leonard pulled this comics page from underneath window trim in the building’s upstairs area. (Photo provided by Jason Leonard)

Leonard said glass was carefully removed.

“I put up some new drywall and so we were taking down some of the trim around those windows,” he said. “Well, stuffed around those windows were old newspapers. So I started pulling them out very carefully and they were comics from 1947. I have a big pile of comics at my house that I’m slowly trying to spread out and would like to frame, maybe even hang up something (in the building) just to have that touch of history.”

Leonard also came across the movie theater’s electrical system — state of the art in 1947 but now a relic.

“As we were demo’ing these staircases, there were the old breaker boxes from when it was a theater … big, beefy chunks of metal, pretty cool,” Leonard said. “I didn’t want to touch any of that — I let an electrician do it.”

Leonard also found evidence of what he believes to be part of a Waucomah Theatre curtain.

“There were remnants of fabric hanging … I believe there used to be a stage where they could do other types of productions in there,” Leonard said.

Leonard connected with the Benton County Historical Society to find out more about the building. Its collection includes things like ticket stubs and exterior photos. It’s unknown the exact date of the movie theater’s closure but it’s estimated to have occurred around 1963 when movie ads stopped appearing in local newspapers.

Chiseled Spirit CrossFit moved into the main building to begin the new year. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Several other businesses followed in the 1960s and into the 1990s. Leonard said he’s heard stories about a barber shop being located in the spot where the Yours Truly Salon is now operating. He also believes there was a lumber company and a print shop at the location at some point.

Wildflower Bagels and Deli, owned by Eva Mae Eggers and Marjorie Mersereau, opened at the location in November 1979 and continued into the early 1980s.

The building appears to work well for the crossfit gym. The main downstairs part of the building where the gym is located features significant square footage with an access to the outside through a back garage door — a feature that incorporates into the gym’s workout options. A small utility shed is located at the back of the building. In all, the building has about 5,800 square feet of space, Leonard said.

Michelle King operates Yours Truly Salon at 1239 Main St. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Yours Truly Salon opened in the middle of last year at the location. Owned by Michelle King and known to most as “Chelle,” she specializes in custom nails and hair, including extensions. Chiseled Spirit CrossFit features various fitness classes and open gym time for its members.

Leonard, who has worked as the golf course superintendent at Corvallis Country Club, has been slowly acquiring residential properties.

“I’ve been really interested in real estate, so this is my first commercial property that I’m tackling,” he said. “I’m very excited about that and seeing where it goes … I’m just wanting to provide something for the community for businesses.”

Leonard is excited about the city’s streetscapes project.

“We’re super excited about the infrastructure updating and what they’re doing out on the street, so I think that’ll help businesses and get more people stopping in,” he said.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.