Theatre and Cinema in North Seattle

theaterfaces The Seattle Musical Theatre ended its 35th Season with “Gypsy: A Musical Fable.”  The musical first opened in theaters in 1959 and has become a standard throughout the world.  It is a long show, over three hours, and is packed with songs and a dancing cow. I saw the production with my daughter and two granddaughters who described the play as a story about a mother who gives all her attention to her youngest daughter because she is a “star” and ignores the older one.  They each thought the mother was scary but otherwise, enjoyed the musical, especially the songs, and thought the whole thing was fantastic, funny and a good story.

Seattle Musical Theater. 2013

Seattle Musical Theater.

The Seattle Musical Theatre began as the Civic Light Opera and performed at Jane Adams School in Lake City for 25 years before moving to the Shoreline Community Center for a few years, and then onto its current home in Magnuson Park in 2004.  Two years later, they changed the name of the company to The Seattle Musical Theatre.  Next season begins September 13, 2013 with the musical version of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”

Thornton Place Cinema (Regal Stadium 14 & IMAX), south of the Northgate Mall, is another venue for north Seattle entertainment. Currently, Leonardo DiCaprio, as Jay Gatsby, is starring on the big screen, in a lavish movie production of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, “The Great Gatsby.” The novel has been and continues to be on the recommended reading list for high school students and has been taught in English classes for decades. The latest movie version of the book is no less lavish and romantic than the earlier movie version that starred Robert Redford. The symbolism in the newer version is blunt, but spectacular with lush set designs and big name stars.

lakecitytheatersign Before Thornton Place was built many Lake City residents visited the Oak Tree Cinema on Aurora Avenue.  Long before the Oak Tree was built, the Lake City Theater, at N.E. 125th and 31st N.E. was the place to see movies.

A little historical research revealed the theater was designed by architect Bjarne Holten Moe, 1904 – 1980.  Mr. Moe was born in Norway, raised in Tacoma and Everett, studied three years at the University of Washington and received his state architectural license in 1930 (No. L126).  From 1928 to 1931, Moe worked for famed Seattle architect, R.C. Reamer whose designs are described as “French Norman contemporary” by Historic Seattle.  Moe designed apartment buildings for developer Fred Anhalt; whose Ten-O-Five Apartments are a Seattle historic landmark; and an article by Moe in the Seattle Times (April 11, 1932) presented ways for people to modernize their homes with brick facing.  The French style Ten-O-Five Apartments have a French tower and historic clinker brick facing.  “A clinker brick is one which was discarded because it was discolored or distorted.  In the 1920s, leaders of the Arts and Crafts design movement rediscovered its possibilities for creative and dramatic architectural detailing” says John C. Gavin, Founder of Historical Bricks.

Bjarme_MoeBjarne Moe opened his own practice in 1932 and began to designed movie theaters throughout Washington, Idaho, Montana and northern Oregon.  His projects included Green Lake Theater (1937); Lake City Theater (c1939); Renton Theater (1939); Varsity Theater in the Meister Bld. (1940); Coy’s Highline Theater (1947); Crest Theater (1949); alterations to the Rainier Theater (1945); and Moe is credited with the remodel of the Ridgemont Theater (1967).  Moe also designed auditorium seating for the B.F. Shearer Co., theatrical outfitters, located in the old theatrical district of Seattle, in today’s Belltown.

Clinker Brick

Clinker Brick

His non-theater structures include the French style Robin Welts House in Mount Vernon (1934); a market building for John Wilson in the Green Lake Neighborhood (1937); the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church (1940) in Seattle and a remodel of the Richmond Hotel Coffee Shop (1940).  The Richmond Hotel is now the Downtowner Apartments which is within the original plat of the City of Seattle as recorded, “This day personally appeared D.S. Maynard and acknowledged the within to be a true copy of the Plat of the Town of Seattle, in King County, Washington Territory and that the same is in accordance with hiss (stet) free will, wishes and desire of which he is proprietor.  Seattle, May 23rd, 1853, Signed H. I. Yesler.

University of Washington architecture professor and Seattle’s best-known advocate of historic preservation, Victor Steinbrueck, studied under Bjarne Moe from 1937 to 1938. Bjarne would have been about 33 years old and Victor would have been about 26 years old. Memorial services were held for Bjarne H. Moe, at the Acacia Funeral Home, 150th and Bothell Way, N.E.  on Wednesday, May 7, 1980. Acacia Cemetary is not too far from Moe’s Lake City and Crest theaters.

The Lake City Theater was within walking distance of my home and my son and his friends saw “Star Wars” there.  By then the theater was showing second run movies.  My husband, who had relatives in Lake Forest Park, remembers going to see the movie, “The Robe” in about 1960.  I met a woman on the bus whose sister-in-law was an usher at the theater when she and her husband were students at Nathan Hale High School in the 1960s.  Other people remember seeing “Saturday Night Fever” and “Gone with the Wind” at the venue.  Often my husband and I would have dinner at Bakers Restaurant and walk around the corner to see a movie at the theater.  We always sat in the balcony.  Bakers Restaurant is now Romeo’s and the Mennonite Church now owns the theater.

Entrance with original doors and posts.

Entrance with original doors, post and checkered deck from 1940.

I spoke with Marsha from the church and she was nice enough to give me an update on the interior of the old theater.  Marsha said someone used the heavy theater curtains for a home theater and the last eight seats were sold on eBay.  (There were originally 843 seats.)  The candy counter is part of their kitchen.  She didn’t know anything about the “Lake City” sign; it may have been removed before the church bought the property in 1990.  I remember the dark floral carpeting, which the church has since replaced, and the wonderful smell of popcorn.

Change is inevitable even for Lake City; the tower at old Fire Station #39, an unofficial landmark for Lake City stands for now, but the “Lake City” theater sign is gone with the wind.

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About Nancy Catone, Lake City of Seattle History

I live in Lake City up on a hill and watch the everyday events of our neighborhood unfold as they should. There's not much that happens in the world that doesn't happen or influence what happens here. By mixing current events with history and stirring a little of our charm into it., my writing brings out the robust flavor of Lake Ciy. We make our own history. I'm a history buff, one of the many here, our motto "Current Events are tomorrow's history. You are making history."