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.
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.