The historic Harvard Exit building is here to stay, but its 46-year run as a movie theater will come to an end this January. The building’s new owner, developer Scott Shapiro, tells CHS he is planning a year-long overhaul to transform the twin-cinema’s interior into offices, a restaurant, and possibly a bar.
The Harvard Exit is a marquee property in the Harvard-Belmont Historic District, and the preservation-minded Shapiro said the 1925-built masonry exterior will remain completely intact.
“You’ll drive by and you wouldn’t notice any thing has changed,” Shapiro said, adding that he would uncover one row of currently boarded-up south-facing windows. “I love historic buildings, and if there’s a way to keep them and find a new use for them, that’s what I’m for.”
Shapiro tells CHS a restaurant or cafe will likely take over the building’s 1,500 square-foot lobby, while he envisioned a bar moving into the 2,200 square-foot basement. The rest of the building will become “creative offices,” including the two 5,000 square-foot theater spaces and two upper floors of existing offices.
Unlike the Melrose Market, which Shapiro developed with his company Eagle Rock Ventures, Shapiro said the Harvard Exit won’t lend itself to the same interaction between its various tenants. As far as who might populate those spaces, Shapiro said he’s still in early discussions with food and drink owners.
Shapiro expects permitting to take up to six months with renovation work starting by summer 2015, setting up tenants to move in by early 2016. The Harvard Exit name will live on into the building’s new era as Shapiro plans to keep it tied to the new development.
CHS broke the news of the Harvard Exit building sale earlier this month. Landmark Theatres, the Los Angeles-based company which has operated the theater since 1979, announced it was leaving the theater after learning the building was being sold. Reaction on Capitol Hill and across Seattle was predictably dramatic as the much-loved if under-attended theater stands as one of the last active art house cinemas in the city. Many hoped for a deus ex machina moment like SIFF’s rescue of the Egyptian Theatre. Now is the time for eulogies for Harvard Exit’s silver screens and funky patrons and to look to the future of film on Capitol Hill. Landmark has not yet publicly announced its plans for the final Harvard Exit screenings.
The family behind O’Steen LLC, the entity that owned the Harvard Exit building for decades, had been looking for a buyer in recent years. Shapiro said it was never his intention to continue running a theater in the building, which he has been interested in buying for some time.
The building was erected in 1925 as a clubhouse for the Woman’s Century Club. It 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. Club members said they are currently looking for a new home. Friday, December 19th, the club will say goodbye to the building and its history with a “Thanks for the Memories” party.
Across the neighborhood, another one of Shapiro’s Capitol Hill holdings is also entering a new era. Chop Suey’s Tokyo-based owners are closing in on a deal to sell the the business to a Skid Row club owner and Los Angeles musician. Shapiro said we could expect more details from the new tenants in the coming weeks, but assured CHS Chop Suey will continue to rock. “The building is staying, and the business as we know it is staying,” he said.