by Kimball Allen
– The Capitol Hill Times –
The historic Capitol Hill Egyptian Theatre, built in 1915, has been operated for 24 years by the art and independent movie house company, Landmark Theatres. Over the past few days, rumors of a looming closure have been whirling around the Hill. Landmark Theatres’ spokesperson, Lauren Kleiman, has officially confirmed that they will be closing at the end of the month. Art imitates life as the final film, which will be featured on June 27, will end minutes before the theatre goes dark, and is coincidentally titled “Before Midnight.” This is a sad farewell to a theatre that has been so influential in bringing diverse and sophisticated films to the neighborhood.
The cinema’s history goes far beyond Landmark Theatres. Landmark’s website gives a nice historical bio of the property: “It was originally built as a large Masonic Temple, with offices, a main auditorium, and a smaller auditorium. In the 1970s, the Masons used the large auditorium as a wrestling arena to earn extra money. In the early 1980s it became the home of the Seattle International Film Festival, at which point the founders of the Festival moved in and gave the theatre its current Egyptian décor. The Egyptian continues to host SIFF, the largest film festival in North America.”
This raises a few important questions: Will SIFF continue to show films at the theatre? Will other community events and festivals, such as Capitol Hill’s non-profit Three Dollar Bill Cinema, still showcase their Lesbian and Gay Film Festival movies at The Egyptian?
Landmark Theatres also operates the following Seattle movie houses: Guild 45th, The Seven Gables, the Varsity, the Crest, and the Harvard Exit. According to a Landmark spokesperson, the Harvard Exit, the other Capitol Hill Landmark Theatre is still fully operating, and there are no plans of closure.
It’s no secret that Landmark Theatres, which is the largest theatre chain in the United States for art house movies, has been pulling back its reins In fact, co-owner and billionaire Mark Cuban (owner of the Dallas Mavericks) put Landmark Theatres up for sale in April of 2011. In the Texas publication “Dallas Business Journal,” Cuban made it clear that he was not interested in selling the company unless there was a “very, very compelling” offer. To this day, there have been no public offers.
The Egyptian Theatre is owned by Seattle Central Community College. The college’s Interim Director of Communications, Janet Grimley states that, “Landmark chose not to renew its lease with Seattle Central Community College for The Egyptian, and informed the college on May 1 that it would vacate by the end of June. Because Landmark just made public its intent to vacate, no other tenant has been signed. So it appears that as of July 1, The Egyptian Theatre will be available for another tenant to rent.”
The Stranger’s blog (the “SLOG”) also raised the question to Seattleites of what SCCC should do with the property and the next tenant. Readers didn’t hold back with their entrepreneurial creativity, and one individual suggested that The Egyptian become Seattle’s first pot smoking cinema club; another recommended that SIFF could step in again (much like they did with the Uptown). There were also a handful of comments more along the lines of an angry cinematic mob mourning the loss of their beloved theatre. “Lame! Capitol Hill cinema is dead!” reads one post.
Before we have a funeral procession down Broadway with empty popcorn bags in hand, it will be interesting to see what the college does next with The Egyptian. Besides Northwest Film Forum, Harvard Exit, and Central Cinema there is a desperate cry for the Hill to not lose its creative, artistic soul. The majority of Hillites head down Pine Street to attend nicer theatres downtown that offer more variety (I am guilty for being one of them). Perhaps this a good reminder to us, the residents of Capitol Hill, that we need to invest in our neighborhood and continue to support establishments that provide unique and fulfilling experiences.
“Before Midnights” runs through June 27 at The Egyptian Theatre, 801 E Pine Street, Seattle, WA. For info or tickets, call 206-781-5755 or visit www.landmarktheatres.com