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Harvard Exit’s future is preservation-minded restaurant and office development

"machine of light and dream, harvard exit theater" (Image: davamoore via Flickr)

“machine of light and dream, harvard exit theater” (Image: davamoore via Flickr)

“Woman’s Century Club, Seattle, ca. 1925″ (Image:  MOHAI)

“Woman’s Century Club, Seattle, ca. 1925″ (Image: MOHAI)

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.

(Image via

(Image via

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.

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50 thoughts on “Harvard Exit’s future is preservation-minded restaurant and office development

  1. I’m not sure, but wouldn’t the fact that the movie theater is leaving significantly reduce foot traffic in the area making it difficult environment for a restaurant/bar? It already seems like a quiet part of Broadway.

    • it would be interesting if the Blog would make a nice map with restaurants/bars/facestuffingplaces blocked out in color. Would be a good visual.

  2. Why by a theater if you have no interest in running a theater? It’s a crying shame that it will be turned into offices, and another bar/restaurant which Cap Hill does not need. While, I appreciate that the outside won’t change, it’s disgusting that at least the first floor theater can’t be used and put your resto up stairs in the little theatre. But, I guess money wins.

    I am sure the ghosts will not be happy.

    • heidi,

      my understanding is that shapiro wanted to buy the building; which wasn’t originally built as a theater. your comment, if applied to other capitol hill buildings, like melrose market, reads as follows: “Why buy a run-down, auto repair shop if you aren’t going to use it as an auto repair shop?” and as others have stated, at least it’s not being torn down for new construction.

      jesus, people. damned if you do, damned if you don’t in this town.

      • hey Zeebleoop – we don’t need charming auto repairs shops as much as we need to retain charming theaters. how boring that this is being turned into another hipster bar/restaurant.

      • lolo,

        we don’t? seems like there are a lot of car owners on the hill and very few hill based car repair options – charming or otherwise. however, my point was, one does not buy a building to continue to run the business that happens to be in that building. one buys the building to do with it what they want; within the limits of laws, codes and ordinances.

        and, btw, how do you know this will be a hipster place? and are there really that many hipsters on the hill anymore? i thought it was bros and woo girls? no, wait, wasn’t it amazombies?

      • So is every bar/restaurant that opens now necessarily a hipster one? Because I didn’t see any specifics about what kind of bar/restaurant it will be. The only thing I can conclude from that is that by definition all new ones must be hipster ?

      • Agreed. ‘Hipster’ has pretty much become the term du jour of the small-minded who want to sound in-the-know. Pretty annoying.

        Is the implication that Melrose Market and its businesses are ‘hipster’? Because they seem pretty damn yuppie to me.

  3. The ending here is always either $12 “small bites” or $2200/month apartment. Too bad it is not going to be the latter. Remove the height restriction and let them build as many high-rises as possible, like those ghost cities in China. Supply glut is a great thing.

  4. The greed index is in the red, and it is burning down the neighborhood. The community is organizing and pushing back. If you care about making a change in this misguided redevelopment trend, send at letter/email to support historic preservation of the white motor building (stranger/velo bikes) by today at 5:00 pm. Email it to It goes before the landmark preservation board tomorrow. If we are successful, it will set a precedent and higher bar for what happens next in the neighborhood. If we fail, it and much of the neighborhood will be torn down except for the facade in the next couple years. Let’s demand better.

  5. I noticed that the plan does include keeping small theater spaces 5,000sf or so each, so that at least allows for some sort of arts to remain in the building.

    I *LIKE* the Harvard Exit, but I’m going to do my best to hold judgement until I see the finished product.

    I hope the ghosts stay too. :-)

    • 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

      Do you had drawing that indicated differently? This seems to show the theater spaces will become offices. I’ll miss the theaters, but having offices up at this end of CH will be a good addition.

      • As noted, the theater space is what is being used for offices. The building is only 17,000 sq. ft. of so. The theaters are going to be gone. We gained the 12th Ave. Arts, and we lost Harvard Exit. Ebb and flow of a neighborhood.

  6. Well you can’t please everyone. I for one am thankful the building will be restored. While I may not be able to see a movie in it at least I can get a drink or eat something in it. And most importantly it will be restored for generations to come.

    Office spaces, why not? Hopefully the woman’s club will still be able to meet there too.

  7. It’s too bad that the developer can’t make it into a dinner and a movie place…Close down only one of the theater screens and make it into multi-purpose entertainment venue- maybe even live performances! That’s something I’d buy into. But just another bar + restaurant? Capitol Hill is getting bored/saturated- Change with the demands and innovate, please! :)

    • “But just another bar + restaurant? Capitol Hill is getting bored/saturated- Change with the demands…”

      but that’s just it, people AREN’T getting bored with bars and restaurants; particularly on capitol hill. it’s one of the hottest industries we have. why do you think so many open up on a near weekly basis? our neighborhood is known as a food/drink/nightlife neighborhood.

      while you might be getting bored with bar and restaurant openings, it seems to be a hot business decision to open one in this area. at least until the foodie/drinkie trend changes.

  8. Theaters are a tough business in this day and age. I’m glad the building is being re-used, and it’ll be interesting to have some office workers in the area. The neighborhood is constantly evolving which keeps things interesting.

  9. Dear Scott Shapiro, Please keep the main stage area on the 1st floor at least a combination performance space of some sort with live performance and film options. The cafe / lobby bar would be great in the living area with the fireplace. Much like the Triple Door uses. In fact you can have dinner and a show there with their banquets inside the stage area. Then you can turn the upstairs cinema space into a single giant office space or divided up for that matter. That part was never original and was a later addition anyway. The mainstage area however should stay in-tact, honoring it’s history. Talk about a fresh draw to this part of the hill. I’m sure nearby Cornish would find a way to rent it often as well.

    • Agreed. Set it apart from the other bar-restaurants alllllll along Broadway with a theater that does random shows, midnight movies, that sort of thing. Do it right and it will be more than welcome! I know I would go.

    • I agree as well. Surely there must be a compromise such that the main theater space can be preserved – it is such a gem. Fine with the restaurant and bar. The building could use some much needed upgrades as well. But losing the main theater space would be such a loss and a shame.

    • It’s hilarious that anyone would think any feedback/suggestion/logic/entreaty, etc. would have any effect on the outcome. Money talks. This is capitalism. Don’t like it? Then revolution! You can’t just pick and choose the parts of capitalism that benefit you.

      Yeah, I get maybe there is some public comment allowed in terms of landmarks, but that generally doesn’t work either and he can still do what he and his investors (money holders) want.

      As for seeing movies there, I guess there’s streaming at indieflix or fandor. So go into the restaurant bathroom and stream some indie flick while sittting on the toilet.

      I do hope the building will be disability accessible in the future (no elevator existed to the top floors of the theater as far as I could recall), among other accommodations.

      And for the record, I could much afford to go to Harvard Exit movies anymore anyhow. I hear there are some nice theaters in Portland.

  10. Scott Shapiro,

    Please do not throw out all of the beautiful (original) fixtures in the building. True historic preservation is not just about keeping the facade of a building but maintaining as much of the interior (or restoring it) as possible. If you decide not to use the fixtures, please make sure they go to an architectural salvage shop and not into a dumpster.

    Thank you.

  11. transform the twin-cinema’s interior into offices, a restaurant, and possibly a bar.

    I hope it’s an Olive Garden and a Chochkies. That’s what would fit in with the neighborhood ™ best.

  12. If the owner was smart he would not keep the name but change it. While I lament the closing of the Harvard Exit keeping the name just adds insult to injury. Stupid marketing move.

  13. Try running a movie theater or performance space at Seattle’s current real estate values and report back. Bottom line is the current owners, who probably bought the building for a song and hence with low overhead could afford to run a movie theater, are selling it. You couldn’t cover the present day Seattle mortgage using that much space as a theater or live music venue. That’s why STG (Seattle Theater Group) exists. The only reason the Neptune was saved, The Paramount and Moore Theater can survive is due to STG stepping in, but there aren’t enough events or audience to support more large performance spaces. The Egyptian and Queen Anne Theater were saved by wealthy SIFF benefactors, thank goodness, but unfortunately not everyone who wants to save an old theater has the funds to do so. That said, I completely agree with the person who mentioned the fixtures, and I would add the dark wood trim to that, paint that wood or remove those fixtures and you deserve to be hung by your balls.

  14. Glad they are doing something to keep parts of the building intact, but seriously, another bar? The last thing the neighborhood needs is another place to get wasted.

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  19. I grew up going to that theater. This city is full of poeple who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

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