Capitol Hill’s The Egyptian movie theater slated to close

(Image: Landmark Theatres via Facebook)

(Image: Landmark Theatres via Facebook)

Call it a sign of things to come. The curtains never rose for Saturday’s midnight showing of the classic Casablanca at the old Masonic temple that has become Capitol Hill’s Egyptian Theatre. The audience was told the projector was broken. Somebody else said it was a digital rights expiration issue. Whatever the cause, the disappointed crowd had better get used to a dark screen at E Pine and Harvard.

After more than 30 years of independent film, The Egyptian will go dark at the end of the month, according to people familiar with the situation. We have not yet confirmed details with management or the building’s owners.

It’s not yet clear what will come next for the old movie theater transformed by the creators of the Seattle International Film Festival and operated by indie film house Landmark Theatres since 1989.

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(Image: CHS)

Like the Egyptian itself, the Mark Cuban-backed Landmark chain has seen better days. In 2011, the investor put the company on the block in an effort to recoup massive investment in the theater chain. No buyer came forward. Meanwhile, the further erosion of the movie theater business coupled with new, more nimble, better financed competition has put the chain in an even more precarious place. Upgrades at The Egyptian and its sister Landmark venue The Harvard Exit as well as the other Landmarks Seattle locations have been mostly limited to changes like the addition of latte bars at the Capitol Hill outlets a few years back. Next month, Sundance Cinemas will re-open the former Landmark Metro location in the University District with “reserved seating, big comfy seats with tablettes, stadium seating, brand new digital projection, a new full bar serving drinks and bistro fare.”

We’re still confirming details around The Egyptian but it sounds like it’s not just about a challenged industry. Employees have shared with audience members that they were told the theater’s management was not preparing for the closure and that the situation with the building’s landlord has come about suddenly. A review of property records shows that the building once owned by the Seattle Community College system was part of a round of Sound Transit acquisition related to the U-Link light rail project.

We’re checking with Sound Transit to learn more about the $1.5 million price tag in the 2010 transaction and the building’s current relationship, if any, with the school. UPDATE: We’re also waiting on more information from SCCC. As for the Sound Transit transaction, another record we found indicates that the comment below is correct — Seattle Colleges is the property’s owner and the 2010 transaction was related to the tunnel easement. The $1.5 million value from the records is the original purchase price paid in 1992. Sorry for the confusion and mistake regarding the property records. UPDATE Monday 6/17/13 9:28 AM: Seattle Central tells CHS that the theater chain made the decision to leave. “Landmark Theatre declined renewing its lease with the college and said it would move out by the end of June,” a spokesperson tells CHS. “No decision has been made on what will happen to the theater space next.” UPDATE 6/17/13 9:45 AM: Local representatives for Landmark said they are not authorized to comment on the closure and referred CHS to the corporate offices in New York. We have confirmed that the rumored last night for the theater will, indeed, be June 27th.

The 1915-built masonry building continues to host Seattle Central facilities in addition to the theater. The three-story building appeared in a survey of Seattle masonry buildings that don’t appear to meet current seismic standards. There are currently no records listed with the city indicating plans for any near-term construction at the site.

As for movie end of things, Sunday’s first showing of Before Midnight was slated to begin as scheduled and a short line formed prior to showtime in the Father’s Day sunshine. The theater will continue to operate through the end of the month, we’re told. Next weekend’s midnight movie, if you’re feeling especially nostalgic, will be Brazil, the tale of “a dystopian world in which there is an over-reliance on poorly maintained (and rather whimsical) machines.”

“European cut” ending, of course.

UPDATE 9:20 PM: No further information from the theater or the school yet at this point.

We’ve reported on the changing real estate portfolio of SCCC in recent months including a possible expansion at this Beacon Hill medical facility. Meanwhile, the school is also considering a multitude of new development even as it overhauls many portions of its crowded classrooms. Despite an enrollment drop throughout the system, SCCC has found its facilities squeezed by the nearly 18,800 students it currently serves. Though it nixed plans to build a project with Capitol Hill Housing on property it already owns on Broadway, the school is very much in the mix for being part of the development around the Capitol Hill Station light rail facility where it could build a 105-foot student housing project if the cards play out. In March, CHS reported the school was planning to pull its Erickson Theatre property back into use for class space.

The school’s Broadway Performance Hall continues to be used as a performance venue though it, too, has recently been used more frequently for lectures and instruction. The venue is regularly booked with what might best be described as an eclectic mix of concerts, local performances and recitals as well as the occasional forum — like this recent session about the possible “death” of Capitol Hill as we know it.

UPDATE 10:13 PM: If you’re looking for glimmers of hope, in addition to the upcoming Sundance opening showing that somebody out there still thinks there’s a market for movie theaters, SIFF moved in and reopened the Uptown Theater in late 2011. Given the festival’s historical and ongoing connection with the Egyptian, a similar pairing with SCCC would be an intriguing and positive outcome to the situation at 801 E Pine.

UPDATE Monday, 6/17/13 8:45 AM: We made mention of the aborted showing of Casablanca and a reference to a “digital rights” issue. Here’s an account from one person in attendance who shared the details with CHS:

It was after the saturday night showing of Casablanca was cancelled. They unfortunately took a minute before the showing to tell us about the closure. I say unfortunately because there was an electronic/computer timer on the movie for how long they could show it.. I guess it was digital. It seems the “Midnight Movie” was actually timed out at 11:59 pm. It wouldn’t play. About 45 minutes later when we were all getting refunds in the lobby [redacted] told us the story of what was going on.. Basicly a double suck. I worked at a movie theater (the Uptown) growing up. Really hate to see the Egyptian go.

The tipper said Egyptian’s management contacted the vendor for an updated code but didn’t receive an answer in time to salvage the showing.

70 thoughts on “Capitol Hill’s The Egyptian movie theater slated to close

  1. So, when are they going to break ground for the ground level retail and six floors of apartments? That seems to be the only thing they know how to do on the hill these days.

    • Hilarious, what’s happening now? It’s all just pretentious yuppies in condos that;s what! Bap Hill was very cool in the early to mid 90′d, ever since then it’s been all down hill

      • Nah, I lived here in the 90s and Capitol Hill is far better now. Sad to see the Egyptian close though. Maybe another group will buy the theater.

    • The resolution passed by Sound Transit’s board in 2010 doesn’t specify. We’re asking for clarification.

  2. Oh, no . . . this news deeply saddens me and fills me with trepidation regarding what will probably occur (demolition). I have walked by and ridden the bus past that building almost daily for the past 20 years. Crap.

  3. I agree with Robert – maybe fact checking was in order prior to posting this story? As a local filmmaker, it pains me to read this (and it’s not entirely clear who is responsible for the potential closing) – Our community is small but fierce, we can’t allow another indy theater to go down without a fight.

    • I do think that there is more come on this story. J obviously did legwork before posting this, though. Considering that employees are talking to customers, there obviously is something going on. If property and business owners want to avoid getting the community worked up, there are easy ways to do that — press release, fyi to papers, big poster on the door, etc.

      Weird unspoken actions rightly cause fierce uprisings.

  4. This is one of the worst things I’ve heard about the changes to Pike/Pine in my 10 years of living blocks from the theatre. I’m completely baffled.

  5. No no no!! Such memories. I have seen so many awesome movies over the
    Years here. No more apartment apodments or other crap holes they seem
    To be putting up around here!

  6. If this is true, it’s monumentally awful news for the hill and its culture, and we should find a way to pull together as patrons and see if other options are possible. In some ways, though, the news may not be surprising. The Pike/Pine trend in the past few years has been for more and more ephemeral food and drink venues, and pricey, shabby housing. How many of the bridge-and-tunnel and drunk-of-the week visitors to Pike Pine have ever bothered to attend a movie at the Egyptian? Precious few would be my guess.

  7. We the People would have helped save The Egyptian, with any notice. Why isn’t is declared an historical landmark theater and preserved? I am very saddened.

  8. This is depressing. I’m sick of hearing about something cool and older than a freakibg decade closing on the hill. Things are changing way too fast, this is such a beautiful theater.

  9. They’ll probably just put in another bar or a bar that also sells pot to rich people. I feel like my neighborhood is quickly being destroyed and laid waste to.

  10. There sure are a lot of rumors posted here. I’d like to see some clarification and some fact-checking.

    If it’s part of the tunnel project, does that mean it’s going to be torn down for something transit-related?

    • The building is still owned by Seattle Central. The update above clarifies that element. Sound Transit’s 2010 transaction was an easement for the tunnel below.

      As for the rumors, I spent the day confirming as many details as I could and was able to make sure the rumors of a closure were backed up by people who know what is happening but can’t yet talk on the record. I would not have published the post if it were only rumors. The theater is closing. We do not yet know why.

  11. This has never been my favorite cinema. It was not built for movies, and the awkward seats and poor sightlines show it. But it is a fantastic bit of Cap Hill and Seattle history. And one thing we all learned with Key Arena, nee the Colosseum, is that a building can be retrofitted and expanded to fit new programs when considered in a thoughtful and caring manner. Like the Cinerama, King St Station, Arctic Hotel, and Paramount makeovers, we could end with an even greater building.

  12. Well, all those Amazon employees need to live somewhere close to their organic restaurants. At least it will look better than Belltown.

    • this one sums up all the idiotic responses to this news. yes its sad… but it usually showed 1 movie a day at midnight. I have lived here 10 years and went 3 times, so I have no right to be sad about this. Instead of complaining, do something, run a business. Its not that easy – nostalgia is no substitute for ticket sales.

      • What the heck kind of comment is that, paul? The Egyptian showed way more than “1 movie a day at midnight.”

  13. I’ve seen nothing that says the bldg will be torn down.
    I’ve seen nothing to preclude the theatre being rebuilt to an even better form.
    Why do you all insist on jumping to baseless conclusions, all of which are gloom and doom?
    How do you know SCCC, or someone else, won’t rebuild this theatre the same way Cornish restored the old Timberline building?
    Geeze, people, have a little bit of faith.

  14. Speaking of historical importance: Don’t forget that the real-life Big Lebowski, Jeff Dowd, once worked at the Egyptian, tearing tickets and helping with early SIFF organizing when the building was owned by Dan Ireland and his partner Darrell. Maybe someone should try to reach Dan and Darrell in L.A.,, — or heck maybe even Jeff Bridges — to see if they have any ideas. And while you’re at it, take the opportunity to go to the Egyptian and see “Before Midnight” — a thoughtful and grown-up film about what happens when a couple of privileged bohos turn 40 and have to come to terms with figuring out how to have a life that involves more than chasing after the latest trendy restaurant or “craft” martini joint or glamorous-sounding career. A movie that should be required viewing for more than a few privileged would-be hipsters who seem to own the hill these days.

    • Tony, just to clarify/correct your statement: Jeff Dowd, the original Dude, did not work at the Egyptian. He worked for Seven Gables, the local theatre chain now owned by Landmark, and he work with Dan Ireland, Darryl Macdonald and me on the film festival – mostly as a film booker.

    • That would be fantastic!!! Can you imagine all the tourists waddling up from their hotels & the Cheesecake Factory?

  15. It would be a cultural tragedy to lose The Egyptian. Having said that, the live theater scene has really been building on Cap Hill, and converting this into a performing arts venue may be an option. Probably a bit too big for that, and not sure the theater scene is THAT large yet, but it would be better than closing.

  16. Quite a change from those days when North Broadway, Broadway at Pine/Pike in the mid sixties looked like a regular neighorbood, a bit shabby, a lot functional, just another quiet, funky place which seemed to have had much better days. Then came the late seventies, the rejuvination of Broadway or at least north from what was now S.C.C.C. to Mercer Street.
    What had been the Masonic Hall, where older white males of another era met in that auditorium, now known as the Egyptian Theater. The closing of this theater, with all that funky, psuedo Egyptian decor–another blow to the history of Capitol Hill, those diverse neighborhoods from the down and out to the well kept mansions near Volunteer Park. Growth, new developments, new businesses—like another neighborhood, Ballard; too many new buildings, too many new residents, too little opportunity to turn all that new into something like a real neighborhood. How sad.

  17. An additional concern occurred to me and was mentioned in the above article, “Upgrades at The Egyptian and its sister Landmark venue The Harvard Exit . . .” I walked by the Harvard Exit just the other day, admiring it while wondering how long it would remain standing as being constructed of brick, isn’t it classified as “unreinforced masonry” and, therefore, either destined to be retrofitted at exorbitant cost or destroyed?

    Is there any way we can utilize a bit or forethought and work together to salvage some of these wonderful old edifices? A plaque commemorating where they once stood just doesn’t cut it.

  18. The loss of the use of the building is no big deal. It wasn’t built as a theater and its isn’t a good one. The loss of the concept is what will hurt. Small indie films, festivals, and the quirky midnight movies are the loss. The Harvard Exit still lives for this format. I mourn the loss of real theaters in the neighborhood. How many people walk into the Broadway Rite-Aid without realizing it was a single screen movie theater just a few years ago? Just to name one.

    What happened to the Egyptian, someone asked? Netflix happened, and Amazon Prime, and Apple, and IPads, and DVD and Blu-Ray and HDTV. Oh and cell phones constantly ringing in theaters. That’s what happened. Old is replaced with new. As it always was and shall be.

    • The Masons sold their building because it had gotten too expensive for them to keep maintained and heated, and the parking was terrible, and the neighborhood, in those days, was really quite sketchy.

      At least, that’s what I heard. I joined the fraternity after this building was sold. I’m no longer a member.

    • Yes, I agree. This is yet another manifestation of the downside of the “digital revolution.” Many people prefer to rent movies, or buy DVDs cheaply on the internet, to going to a theater for the “big screen.” I myself greatly prefer the latter, and will go to movie theaters as long as they still exist.

      But all the “doom and gloom” here is a bit much. Even with the Egyptian closing, Capitol Hill will remain a great place to live. And there is a reasonable chance the old girl will be renovated into something even better.

  19. I’m grateful that the NW Film Forum is also in the ‘hood and only a few blocks away. I’ve seen films there that haven’t played anywhere else. Still, I love the Egyptian as a movie theater and hope that use is retained.

    • We’ve confirmed the rumored June 27th last night of business is true — so, Brazil will be the last midnight screening

      • Thanks for the confirmation. Will have to make sure I get one last movie in on the 22nd. Brazil is as good a way to say goodbye as any!

  20. A question to everyone bemoaning the loss of The Egyptian:

    How many times have you patronized the theatre (outside of SIFF) the last year or so?

    If it’s no less that a dozen times you really have no right to complain. The reason it’s going out of business is well…a lack a of business.

    • I woulda gone in if they had rotated their programs more often. Six months of “The Kids Are All Right” — if they’d had a rep programming schedule at least a couple of nights a week I would have probably been there more often. Hey, remember when the old Neptune had their rep schedule? A week of Quay Brothers shorts, a week of Russ Meyer films, Ozu and Kurosawa and “Head” with the Monkees, every week something new?

    • No, TheEgT, that is not correct: Most Americans see far fewer than a dozen movies per year (if you really want to read the boring statistics, check out the Motion Picture Association of America’s recent study, below.) And attendance at SIFF should count, as it is a major source of revenue, just like retailers pin most of their financial success on few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. You cannot blame patrons for the loss of the Egyptian. The story is much more complex than that.

      http://www.mpaa.org/resources/5bec4ac9-a95e-443b-987b-bff6fb5455a9.pdf

    • GOOD POINT! I am sure those that are complaining have not been to the theater regularly in years – IF EVER! Theaters can only stay open if PEOPLE GO TO THE MOVIES!!!

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  22. What’s with the snark about Brazil, Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece? The author should be encourage to attend with an open mind. The film endures as a chilling and hilarious indictment of bureaucracy and technophilia run amok. It will show you the world you live in if you dare to see it.

  23. Hard to believe the Egyptian is closing. Hopefully, it won’t become a big box store/condo complex of somekind. ugh.

  24. The writing has been on the wall ever since they started playing those talkies. Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?

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