State board clears path for Rex Theater to receive federal recognition

The historic Rex Theater could be placed on the National Register of Historic Places after a decision in December by a state committee. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

VALE – A state committee is recommending the Rex Theater move ahead on a path to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Oregon Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation approved with some revisions an application by husband and wife team of Mike McLaughlin and Sandijean Fuson, owners of the 107-year-old Rex Theater to place the facility on the National Register of Historic Places.

The register is a federal program administered by the National Park Service. The program singles out buildings, objects and other sites as worthy of conservation because of their historical significance.

The Drexel Hotel in Vale – also owned by Fusion and McLaughlin – was placed on the National Register of Historic Place in the mid-1980s.

Getting the registration was a key requirement of a $90,000 grant awarded to Fuson and McLaughlin in 2020 by Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. As part of the grant, Fuson and McLaughlin are required to have the theater approved for the National Register of Historic Places before August 2022.

McLaughlin and Fuson have used some of the grant money to begin a lengthy renovation project at the historic theater in downtown Vale. Recently a new marquee for the theater was installed. State records show that the total cost of the planned repairs to the theater is $111,991 and Fuson and McLaughlin will provide a $23,000 match.

 “Most of the revisions related to adding additional historical context to the nomination regarding the history of entertainment and recreation in Vale,” said Robert Olguin, National Register program coordinator for the state parks department.

Rebecca Ziegler of Adaptive Preservation of Albany was hired by the state to complete the initial application for the Vale registration and is now working on the revisions to the application.

“It is not unusual for them (the state) to say we need a little more clarification. The board is looking for more rather than less,” said Ziegler.

Ziegler said will likely submit a revised application in early January to the nine-member State Advisory Committee on Historical Preservations. The application will then be reviewed by committee staff members and forwarded to the National Park Service.

Ziegler said the theater could make the national register by March.

Meanwhile, Fuson and McLaughlin can continue to work on the theater using the $90,000 state grant money as the federal process continues, said Kuri Gill of the state preservation office.

The Enterprise reached out to Fuson and McLaughlin – by phone and email – for comment but received no response.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

Previous coverage:

Covid, heat combine to stymie renovation of Vale’s Rex Theater

State grant will pave way for major upgrades to Rex Theater

EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM – Available for $5 a month. Subscribe to the digital service of the Enterprise and get the very best in local journalism. We report with care, attention to accuracy, and an unwavering devotion to fairness. Get the kind of news you’ve been looking for – day in and day out from the Enterprise.