Jeff Keever’s phone lit up as soon as news broke about the pending closure of the Egyptian Theater on Seattle’s Capitol Hill.
As director of auxiliary services for Seattle Central Community College, which owns the Egyptian, he is basically the theater’s landlord. And the interest in preserving the theater has been so strong this morning that Keever said the college will quickly open a bidding process. “This is actually very exciting,” said Keever. He believes it would likely be attractive as a performing arts space as well as a movie theater.
That’s great news. The Egyptian is a civic treasure. Built in 1915 as a Masonic temple, it has been an art-house movie mainstay since 1980, when Dan Ireland and Darryl MacDonald, co-founders of the Seattle International Film Festival, bought, rehabilitated and renamed it the Egyptian. They sold it in 1988 to Landmark Theaters, who in turn sold it to SCCC in 1992. The Egyptian has remained a mainstay of SIFF, the largest film festival in the U.S. Capitol Hill Seattle, a Seattle Times news partner, has good coverage of saga.
The Egyptian clearly needs some love. It’s floors, seats and bathrooms are beyond funky, and Keever said he understands the screen needs work. The deferred work on the Egyptian mirrors Landmark’s poor caretaking of other local theaters, particularly the Guild 45th and the Crest in Shoreline.
That’s partly due the tough economics of a single-screen theaters in the multi-plex age, and the niche market for art-house films. Landmark owner Mark Cuban couldn’t find a buyer for the 55-theater chain just two years ago. Now, the required conversion to digital projection systems (Hollywood will stop distributing film prints later this year, according to the Los Angeles Times) has made those economic factors worse.
But the success of SIFF shows Seattle’s love of films. Venue after venue has been saved from destruction, often by civic-minded types. Paul Allen saved and restored the Cinerama in Belltown, and Ken Alhadeff stepped up to build a new Majestic Bay theater in Ballard. A restoration plan for the Admiral theater in West Seattle is in in the works, according to West Seattle Blog. The Princess Theater in Edmonds and Seattle’s Columbia City Theater were saved.
Keever said the long-term lease rate is about $8,400 a month. Who’s going to be the Egyptian’s savior?