Capitol Hill’s Harvard Exit Theatre to close

IMG_3045After nearly 40 years, the Harvard Exit Theatre will go dark this January. Landmark Theatres confirmed to CHS Monday that the company would cease screenings at the twin cinema mid-January after being notified that the longtime family owners secured a deal to sell the historic building at Harvard Ave and E Roy. CHS is working to confirm the buyer’s identity. UPDATE — Now showing: The Capitol Hill Developer Who Bought the Harvard Exit

Landmark president and CEO Ted Mundorff also said the Los Angeles-based company is pulling out of the the U-District’s Varsity Theater in January. “We’re sad to say goodbye to our loyal customers,” Mundorff said in a statement.

IMG_3056Rich Haney of O’Steen LLC, the entity that owns the Harvard Exit building, has not returned requests for comment. The longtime family owners have been seeking a buyer for some time.

Mimi Sheridan of The Woman’s Century Club, the organization that erected the Harvard Exit building in 1925 and continues to use it today, told CHS she was recently informed by the building’s owner that he planned to sell the theater in January. The club’s leadership is now preparing to find a new home.

“We don’t have very much time. We’re making a plan now,” Sheridan said. The building was transformed into a theater in 1968 after the women’s club sold it, though the club has continued to use the lobby through an informal agreement with the building owners.

The Mark Cuban-backed theater chain left The Egyptian on E Pine last year, paving the way for SIFF to reopen the theater in 2014.

As one of the first “art” theaters in Seattle, Harvard Exit primarily focuses on independent film and foreign language cinema. CHS checked in with the theater earlier this year, when a Landmark representative told us everything was “business as usual.”

The 1925-built masonry structure is not currently protected by the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board — though it is said to be haunted. UPDATE: As commenter Josh points out, the building does not have its own protections but is within the Harvard Belmont Historic District. We’re contacting the city to confirm how the protections apply to the building.

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Landmark also operates The Crest, Seven Gables and the Guild 45th. In his statement on the Harvard Exit closure, CEO Mundorff said plans are underway to remodel the Guild 45th in 2015 “which further reinforces Landmark’s commitment to the Seattle market.” UPDATE: The Seattle Times reports the Varsity theater will reopen with a new owner.

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99 thoughts on “Capitol Hill’s Harvard Exit Theatre to close

  1. This is really sad news. I enjoy seeing movies there, even when crammed in the balcony area for SIFF movies. It’s a special place.

  2. Bummer. Great theater for independent and foreign films. And conveniently located right by the Deluxe Bar ‘n’ Grill for pre and post-film drinks.

  3. I’m REALLY bummed about this.

    While I’ve distrusted Landmark for some time now, I never thought they’d stoop low enough to close this historic theater.

    I’ll just hope something bigger and better is on the way.

  4. Everyone prematurely jumps to the worst conclusions (again). Just because ownership is changing hands doesn’t necessarily mean the place will be torn down or destroyed. It could still be a special events venue or movie theatre with a new owner.

    • Run down?

      I enjoyed years and years of good times here. This building was never run down. Even after moving away from Seattle and from Washington, I would go to this cinema while visiting.

      That attitude is what has turned Capitol Hill into a series of giant holes in the ground. A neighborhood is no longer a neighborhood if the things that draw people there are forced out.

      The Capitol Hill of 2014 is certainly not the one that I remember and loved.

  5. Is this building actually a protected historic landmark or is it something the new owners will be able to just tear down to build more of the boxy condo buildings that all look the same?

  6. I really hope that the new owners will consider to operate it as a theater. Harvard Exit is part of the fabric of our neighborhood that we really don’t want to lose. If the Egyptian can be resucitated as better theater, hopefully HE can as well.

    If the new owner intends to tear it down for a 5 over 1, man, there’s going to be some ugly comments.

  7. That’s too bad. I enjoyed having a theatre with a good selection of indie/foreign films within walking distance. I hope it gets picked up by a local owner and operated as an independent theatre. It’s unfortunate to see Seattle’s art house cinemas close down one by one.

  8. I’ve enjoyed the Harvard Exit though I have to say that the last few years it has really looked sad and looks like a good coat of paint and a re-do of the carpet could have gone a good way towards making the place a bit more attractive.

  9. Pingback: Marc Cuban, Backs Out od Seattle’s Art Cinema /  The Ave

  10. Pingback: Harvard Exit Theatre will close in January | ArtsPage | Bebibubo

  11. Mark Cuban (Landmark Theatres owner) is a part owner of the Harvard Exit building. It has been purchased by developers who will not keep it as a theatre.

  12. In the end, they were just too heaviy on LGBT titles. It got to the point where it wasn’t an Indy/Arthouse theatre anymore, but more like an upscale Logo.tv. I have no problem with the genre, but at the end of a long week, even though the theater is just around the corner, I rarely felt like seeing yet another “Gay Cowboys Eating Pudding” film. And it would seem most of the rest of the hood didn’t either. Very sad. Love the building. Loved the Indies, the shorts, and the Oscar nominees. Hopefully a new owner will be found who will institute a larger variety.

    • In the past 12 months, only four movies that played at the Harvard Exit (without counting SIFF shows) had LGBT thematic: Dallas Buyers Club, Love is Strange, Pride and The Skeleton Twins. That’s not “too heavy” on LGBT titles. It was probably less than 10% of the movies that played there over the last year.

      Larger variety as in showing the latest Transformers and Guardians of the Galaxy? No, thanks.

    • Well said RG.

      It is clear that Micky (What kind of dumb-shit alternate spelling of Mickey is that anyways?) hates gays and lesbians. It is people like him that are the reason this country has so much hate for homosexuals and art house theaters. You should be ashamed for your homophobia. Honestly I’m surprised you didn’t try to blame this on Obama.

    • Even if it was true that Harvard Exit leaned heavy on LGBT movies, they clearly weren’t hurt by it business-wise or they’d have been showing Straight Cowboys Eating Pudding for *your* enjoyment. Too many people have moved into this neighborhood who are either ignorant of the fact that Capitol Hill is the heart of Seattle’s LGBT community, or who show a complete lack of disregard for the fact. Others still are just ignorant.

  13. This is great – the space can more effectively be used for apodments. Recreation, such as movie watching, is a lesser need than housing. Plus, who can afford movies today, except for the one percent? The buding was likely uninsulated, and destroying our environment. Being located along the future streetcar line, there should be no height limitations on the building that replaces it. The sooner we rid Capitol Hill of such vestiges of the past, the sooner Seattle will become a world class city.

  14. Having recently realized my upcoming rent hike of $400/month (thank you again bastards at Pacific Crest Property Management) will force me off the Hill, I thought of all those places I’ll miss. Sadly, so many of those places are also leaving the Hill, and list appears to grow every week..so my decision to vacate isn’t as painful as it first appeared. What I’ll miss won’t exist anyway.

  15. As a past president and past historian of the Woman’s Century Club I am devastated by the sale of the building. A building built be the Woman’s Century Club in 1925.

    When the building was sold by the members in the 1960’s a stipulation in the contract allowed the women to continue holding meetings in the building. With a unique partnering between building owners, the theater and the WCC we have maintained a wonderful association for over fifty years. One which I think may be very unusual but satisfying to all.

    My grandmother joined the club in 1905 and was a life member as I am myself joining in 1993.

    As a trustee I know that we will continue to exist. The club is in its 123rd year and was founded by the famous suffragist and founder of the League of Women Voters Carrie Chapman Catt in 1891.

    What form that will take and where we will meet are still unknown. However, I am a believer in miracles and I know whatever our future is, it is strong and our philanthropic work will continue as we work together.

    The club motto is: Steeped in tradition- Poised for the future- Ever in the present.

    Celeste Smith

  16. Pingback: Sad news about the Harvard Exit |

  17. I don’t own the building. There’s nothing I can do about this. I’m not going to give this emotional attention. This is how people are, how money is, how the world is. I don’t care anymore.

    Same story. Different bricks. Now does everyone still believe capitalism is a positive force in society?

    I wonder if these same conversations were happening 30 years ago over another building, another history, another change. Of course.

    There are other, actual independent theaters in the city of course. But something is wrong now. Something is done.

    Capitol Hill can’t move though. It’s Capitol Hill because of location. I’m going to travel in time now. See you.

    • sadness is such a universal, as we get older the things we find beautiful are destroyed by our non-nostalgic children… they ship us off the hill to our old folks homes and what we have are stories, to which we hear a constant litany of “sure grandpa, good story” …nothing lasts forever, and the future has fewer historians than the past had visionaries.

  18. Having watched at least one or maybe even two movies at that theater in my 14 years in Seattle — living only a couple bocks away for my first seven years here — I am furious and heartbroken by the loss of this irreplaceable cinematic resource.

    • someone will make a cool theatre somewhere else. they’ll struggle to survive for several years, go through a period of plenty where they have suddenly become the hip spot, and then go into a long decline while the value of the surrounding property steadily rises. one day they’ll sell to a capitalist bastard who won’t give a single shit about the hundreds of people over the years that remember having a good time within those sacred walls. JERKS!!!

    • Creating a new public assembly hall is harder than you might think. A large open space is hard enough in this real estate market, then the public safety bits such as fire and seismic protections for large crowds. It is a lot of work to put together so the loss of an existing assembly hall is that much more painful.

  19. There are a lot of Shapiro’s in Seattle. Though i will admit this is the most likely to buy a building.

    Hey, it could be Stranger Editor Steven Shapiro since The Stranger is losing their office space. :P

    • Wouldn’t that be funny? All the prematurely speculative wailing and knashing of teeth predicting the inevitable destruction of this beautiful building — would suddenly cease as everyone collectively says, “WTF…?

  20. The information I’ve received is that major renovations and new uses are planned, so it seems highly unlikely that it will remain a movie theater.

    I have loved going to movies at the Harvard Exit for more than 20 years. It is a treasure, truly irreplaceable – not just a movie theater but a chance to step into the past, with its vintage 1920s parlor and hidden third-floor lounge. So many stories. It would have been 90 years old in 2015. This is heartbreaking news.

  21. This is really sad news. That stretch of street will be destroyed if the building is torn down. Just sitting at Joe Bar, in the beautiful Loveless building, having a drink or a coffee before heading across the street for a movie in the old fashioned Harvard Exit – not only will that experience be gone but think about the alternative – sitting at a table outside Joe Bar on a beautiful summer night across from a construction pit while cranes begin to take a year or more to construct another eyesore of a building with a gym and bank on the street level. Everyone loses.

  22. Heatbreaking, a beautiful successful theatre…make no mistake Mark Cuban and Landmark were not innocent bystanders here. They had no interest in looking for a way to stay.

  23. And you thought an Arts District meant something other than another marketing scheme for expensive new housing. Welcome to reality.

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  25. Paul Allen, if you read this, please consider stepping in and helping. Restoring and preserving this gem for generations to come would be an amazing gift to the citizens of Seattle and quite a legacy to leave behind.

    • Great suggestion! Paul Allen is a huge fan of movie theatres (he owns the Cinerama and recently completed a major renovation there) and it would be fantastic if he bought the Harvard Exit. But, unfortunately, there appears to already be a buyer (see above).

      If this building really is to be razed, I would hope the Capitol Hill community would raise hell and keep it from happening.

    • Nothing I’ve read anywhere (except people speculating) has said anything about the building being razed. Why does everyone persist in just assuming this without any evidence?

  26. Quick clarification, the building is not an independent landmark but I’m pretty sure it is part of the Harvard-Belmont Historic District. This would mean that changes, additions, or demolitions that are public facing would require Landmark Board approval. From the rules:

    “A Certificate of Approval issued by the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board is required prior to the issuance of any building, demolition, street use, or other permits for proposed work within the district that is visible from a public right-of-way. This includes exterior alterations or additions to any structure, new construction, and the addition or removal of major landscape and site elements such as retaining walls, gateways, trees or driveways.”

    http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/preservation/harvardbelmont_map.htm

    • Great. So the façade can be saved. The preservation wording seems to indicate that they can do anything that they want to the interior.

    • “This includes exterior alterations or additions to any structure, new construction, and the addition or removal of major landscape and site elements such as retaining walls, gateways, trees or driveways.” This states that ANY new construction would need to be approved. Superficial interior would be the only thing you could legally alter without approval. Though, that is laughable since most decision makers are in the pockets of developers. It’s like the FCC and ISP/Cable providers. They are all good ole chums that have their hands so deep in each other’s pants they are practically fused together.

    • Yes this is true, presumably the same way that the interiors were probably modified to accommodate the theater when it came in there as well.

  27. Can we get in a time machine and go back 15 years and have the whole “why-forced-density-in-a-bottleneck-city-surrounded-by-water-is-a-bad-idea” conversation again? And explain to me who benefits from on-line Walmart, oh sorry, Amazon taking over the whole damn city? The people they ship into the city to work for 1 year before they have turn over? (look up average Amazon turnover or length of employment). Now everyone can live in a closet for a grand plus and share a kitchen with 8 other people! Hooray! Now that’s world class!

  28. To jump off topic. Might be a good time to dig up its haunted history.

    I had heard about paranormal activity before coming here one night.
    Sure enough, I went to the bathroom mid movie and was leaking when I turned around and the light fixture was swinging pretty hard. No one in there with me and no windows open. Freaked me the F out.

    z

  29. My husband proposed to me at the Harvard Exit. I said “Of course!” from the red velvet sofa in the lobby on Dec. 4, 2009, after I stayed late at the Seattle P-I covering the Amanda Knox verdict and we missed our movie. I thought, Why is he walking into the movie theater when we missed our movie and need to get to dinner? It was because he’d heard, a couple years back, that my dream was to be proposed to in a movie theater – one of my favorite places in the world. This was going to be the night, so this was going to be the theater. I’ll miss it so much.

  30. Damn, damn, damn. I was just speaking of the loss of so many theatres where I watched wonderful independent movies: Broadway Theatre, Ridgemont Theatre, Neptune Theatre. Then there was the Coliseum Theatre,

    I wonder if they plan on closing down the Varsity, what will happen to The Seven Gables? That would leave only The Guild and The Crest. Not much selection for independent films. MY PREFERRED film viewing. I know, still have SIFF, but it still reduces the overall selections.

    Damn.

    • The article stated the same fate awaits the Varsity in Jan. It’s truly sad. Though, I would argue that the re-purposing of the Neptune as the concert venue it is now is miles above the movie house it used to be. I’m all for thoughtful re-purposing, but this city is only interested in cramming as many people in it as possible cause… uh…yeah…that makes a city great…right? Oh wait no, it makes people money…right!

  31. Pingback: Now showing: The Capitol Hill Developer Who Bought the Harvard Exit | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

  32. Half of the building was destroyed in the 80s when Landmark put in the upper theatre removing the ballroom/ kitchen/beautiful doors walls etc…SO they can do whatever they want on the inside now…….

  33. Just what Seattle needs, another condo project for well-heeled techie transplants. Seattle is quickly losing its hipster uniquely-Seattle vibe. This makes me sad.

    • Appears to be zero % chance of housing involved in this. Lodging of some sort? Could happen, I guess. But techies will likely be welcome, enjoy, spend wildly, tip ok and often generously

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  38. Perhaps the one thing fans and lovers of The Exit can do is an to appeal to save the lower theater as some form of venue for not only cinema, but also for concerts, performance art, lectures, readings etc. A restaurant and bar would dovetail with such a venue quite nicely and the surrounding businesses and neighborhood would benefit as well.

    Please send an email to Scott Shapiro at scott@eaglerockventures.com and ask him to reconsider his plans. Please be civil and constructive in your remarks and let’s work with him, not against him to make the redevelopment of The Exit a win-win for everyone.

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