Tonight Capitol Hill’s storied Egyptian Theatre closes its doors. The iconic 600-seat movie house is scheduled to go dark at the end of this month according to Landmark Theatres, which has leased the Egyptian since 1989. While Landmark Theatres has long used the Egyptian to showcase foreign films, art-house independent films, documentaries, and classic cinema, they have chosen to not renew their lease.
Movie theaters across America have struggled in recent years. Declining numbers at the box office and the conversion from 35mm film to all-digital projection has proven costly for many venues. The single screen Egyptian made the transition to digital, which can cost as much as $82,000 per screen.
Landmark’s Director of Publicity, Lauren Kleiman, acknowledged that “the Egyptian is a single-screen theater and single-screen theaters are tough to work from an economic standpoint.” With the Egyptian’s closure, the Cinerama Theatre in downtown will become the only single-screen theater in Seattle. Both the Cinerama and the Egyptian were two of the 1,600 single-screen theaters still remaining in the United States.
Located at 805 E. Pines the Egyptian was built as a Masonic Temple in 1915. During the 1960s and 1970s the Masons used the theater to host professional wrestling events to raise extra funds. In the early 1980s the Egyptian became the home to the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). In fact, the Egyptian owes its very name to the festival. When SIFF’s founders were unable to renew their lease at the then “Moore Egyptian Theatre”, they chose to relocate the festival to the Masonic Temple, taking the name with them. The Egyptian became the home for the fledgling film festival during the 1980s and early 1990s and has remained an important venue for SIFF ever since. In addition to showing films, the Egyptian has been used by Seattle Central Community College, which bought the building in 1992 for a variety of school-related activities.
The theater’s future remains uncertain, but not hopeless. In 2011 SIFF reopened the Uptown Cinema in lower Queen Anne, and has made the venue an important part of their annual festival. Whether or not the Egyptian can be saved in a similar fashion remains to be seen. “We are hopeful that SIFF will be able to continue to host the Seattle International Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre in the future,” said Carl Spence, SIFF Artistic and Co-Director, in a statement to the Puget Sound Business Journal.
There may be other parties interested in the space, and according to a KING 5 TV reporter; “at least a dozen companies have already expressed interest in saving the Egyptian Theatre”.
Landmark Theatres recently issued a goodbye to the Egyptian’s patrons via Facebook:
Thursday, June 27 will be the last day of business for Landmark Theatres as operator of the Egyptian Theatre. Landmark, and the Egyptian management and staff in particular, extend thanks to our customers and friends over the years; we’ve loved entertaining you there. Landmark will continue its commitment in the Seattle area to present quality moviegoing experiences with a focus on independent and foreign film, and we’ll see you at our other venues: the Harvard Exit Theatre, the Guild 45th Theatre, the Seven Gables Theatre, the Varsity Theatre and the Crest Cinema Center.
Take a walk down memory lane with this photo gallery of some of Seattle’s historic movie theaters from SeattlePI.com.