WA-List » Historic Theaters, Part 1: Western Washington

Historic Theaters, Part 1: Western Washington

Published by Steve Campion. Category: Buildings & Other Structures

Why would you want to stay at home and watch a little box? Because it’s convenient? Because you don’t have to get dressed up, because you could just sit there? I mean, how can you call that entertainment, alone in your living room? Where’s the other people? Where’s the audience? Where’s the magic? I’ll tell you, in a place like this, the magic is all around you. The trick is to see it.
-From The Majestic (2001)

There is magic in old theaters.  They share the character of an earlier age.  Whether a surviving theater in your home town once provided a stage for vaudeville acts, silent films, or the silver screen likenesses of Greta Garbo or James Stewart, they were (and many still are) social meeting places for generations of audiences.  Their architectural detail and pride of place can still be appreciated today.

Precious few old theaters and movie houses survived into the era of 21st century multiplexes. Those that still stand today, do so because of hard work.  They were cared for by local preservation groups and by owners who accepted the challenge of maintaining such grand old buildings.  In many cases, these theaters support themselves today by showing second-run films or renting banquet spaces.  In others, renovated interiors provide versatile venues for locally-loved community theater troupes and touring, nationally-known performers.

We asked Susan Johnson to help us identify some surviving gems among the historic theaters in Washington.  She is an architectural historian with Artifacts Consulting, Inc. and was a contributing author to the Washington State Historic Theaters Survey and Physical Needs Assessment (2008).

Johnson not only listed a few dozen theaters that she considers her personal favorites, but was kind enough to write a few notes for each: things to know, things to look for.  Her complete list includes theaters from all over Washington, but she consented to our request to publish it in two parts.  Today’s installment focuses on western Washington and lists the theaters in alphabetical order.  We’ll showcase her Eastern Washington favorites in June.

Part 1: Western Washington

  • 5th Ave (1308 5th Ave, Seattle)  One of the jewels! It’s also one of three theaters designed by R. A. Reamer in the state. Spokane’s Fox and Bellingham’s Mt. Baker are the other two, and they’re both among my favorites as well. (interior photo, below)

  • 7th Street (313 7th St, Hoquiam)  The only “atmospheric” theater in Washington (i.e., a type of theater designed to mimic sunsets, clouds, stars, etc. on the ceiling and side walls with special lighting).
  • Blue Mouse (2611 N. Proctor, Tacoma)  Oldest continuously operated movie house in the state. It’s now a second run film and film festival venue, offering regular Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings. Craftsman style. Dale Chihuly designed the blue neon mice on the marquee. (interior photo, below left)
  • Cinerama (2100 4th Ave, Seattle)  Extra large screen, comfortable seats, chocolate popcorn, and neat costume displays in the lobby from movie/TV history. What more could you want?

  • Columbia  (1231 Vandercook Way, Longview)  One of the best proscenium arches in Washington. Built in 1925 for hybrid live stage/cinema purposes. There’s a full balcony, orchestra pit, and fly loft, with original dressing rooms intact in the basement. (exterior photo, top of page, right)
  • Fox  (119 S. Tower Ave, Centralia)   An Art Deco gem coming back to life. (exterior photo, above right)
  • Kiggins (1011 Main St, Vancouver)  Great example of Art Deco ornament on a concrete structure. Love the 1950s concession stand, too! Built in 1926 as a cinema but has a small functioning stage. The proscenium arch is hidden behind the movie screen. (exterior photo, below)

  • Lincoln (712 S. First St, Mt. Vernon)  Has been both a live performing arts and cinema house. Built in 1926, it retains lots of original features including stenciling, light fixtures and coved ceiling (i.e., curved at the wall/ceiling intersections). The auditorium still has a fir floor.
  • Lynwood  (4569 Lynwood Center Rd NE, Bainbridge Island)  Fun, quirky atmosphere and décor – little bit Bohemian with Art Deco and Tudor. Built 1936.

  • Moore  (1932 2nd Ave, Seattle)  Built in 1907, it is one of oldest operating theaters in the state.  The Moore is significant for more reasons than I can list quickly; it’s a time capsule. Highly recommend doing a free tour with the Seattle Theater Group. A must-see for history and theater buffs. (interior photo, above)
  • Mt Baker  (104 N Commercial St, Bellingham)  One of three R. A. Reamer designed theaters. The Mt. Baker reflects the Moorish style, complete with gilded tracery, stenciled arches, and even a minaret (tower). The interior is a must-see. Built 1927. (interior photo, below)

  • Pantages (901 Broadway, Tacoma)  Gorgeous but also (one of?) the last Pantages theaters left. Designed by the renowned B. Marcus Priteca, and opened in 1918.  The Capitol Theater in Yakima is also by Priteca and its auditorium is very similar to the Pantages. (exterior photo, below)

  • Paramount (911 Pine St, Seattle) In a word: Glamorous. In more words: a fine design by famed theater architects Rapp & Rapp along with B. Marcus Priteca, who designed many of the Pantages circuit theaters. (interior photo, top of page left)
  • Raymond (323 1/2 3rd St, Raymond) Beautiful terracotta and stained glass on the front facade, with nice stenciling on the interior. Publicly owned.
  • Rialto (310 S. 9th St, Tacoma) It opened in 1918 as a movie house — not for vaudeville or live stage acts. (exterior photo, below)

  • Rose (235 Taylor St, Port Townsend) A beautiful movie house in one of my favorite cities. The original 1907 building has been expanded and renovated but I’m told the murals in one auditorium are historic and underwent restoration.
  • Joseph F. Wheeler (Fort Worden State Park) This was a neat find: the only military theater example I’ve seen. Original lobby, seats, etc. Simple and elegant at the same time. Built 1932, Georgian style.

See also Part 2: Historic Theaters of Eastern Washington!

SOURCE: Thanks to Susan Johnson for her expertise in selecting her favorite theaters, noting some of their best aspects, and writing about them for us.

PHOTOS:  The Blue Mouse, Columbia, Fox, Pantages, and Rialto © Steve Campion.  The 5th Avenue, Kiggins, Mt Baker, Moore, and Paramount courtesy Susan Johnson.

P.S.  Most of these venues spell it theatre.  It’s all good.


2 Responses to “Historic Theaters, Part 1: Western Washington”

  1. Mark Says:

    I used to go to the Columbia Theater in Longview for real, first-run movies. Yes, I am as old as dirt. Some dirt, anyway.

  2. Linda Says:

    This list calls for a road trip. I have only been in three of them. I saw the Bee Gees in the Paramount and kept thinking it was the perfect venue, so elegant.