West Seattle’s newly renovated Admiral Theater will celebrate its latest milestone Wednesday (March 22) by looking back at its storied past.
Four distinct eras will be recognized on the nautical-themed theater’s freshly installed four screens, part of a $1.7 million refurbishment completed late last year that doubled the number of auditoriums.
A silent comedy lineup will pay tribute to the Admiral’s original incarnation, the Portola, which opened in 1919. Charlie Chaplin’s short feature “Shoulder Arms” will screen alongside shorts starring Buster Keaton (“One Week,” “Cops”) and Harold Lloyd (“The Marathon”).
The Admiral’s 1942 opening will be represented by John Huston’s “The Maltese Falcon,” while its conversion to a two-screen theater in 1973 will be marked by George Lucas’ “American Graffiti.” The theater’s brand-new chapter will be commemorated with the newly released live-action “Beauty and the Beast.” Each film will be screened twice Wednesday night.
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The event is a clear testimony to the Admiral’s longevity, but It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the theater, which has endured periods of neglect and disrepair over its near-100-year history.
In 1989, after several years of ownership by the Cineplex Odeon chain, a message appeared alongside printed movie times with little fanfare, said Clay Eals, executive director of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society.
“Down at the very bottom, in 4-point type, it said, ‘Closing night Sunday,’” he said.
Eals helped organize a picket for the abruptly announced closing night — sample sign: “Don’t Sink the Admiral” — and collected signatures for a landmarking effort. The theater did close for more than three years, but was designated a landmark by the city six months after the protest.
“This proves that landmarking a building can turn it into a viable business,” Eals said. “If the building were not landmarked, it wouldn’t be here today. It would be another high-rise condo.”
That status also ensures the historic art deco features, designed by famed architect B. Marcus Priteca, have remained intact. At Wednesday’s celebration, Eals will announce a new fundraising initiative to restore murals that were recently revealed by the new renovation.
Local company Far Away Entertainment has owned the Admiral since 2008, and its recent refurbishments include all-digital projection and a return to first-run programming.
None of that would have been possible without a concerted effort by the West Seattle community, Eals said.
“When I see lines outside the door, it brings tears to my eyes,” he said. “This is more than a generation later. People are enjoying the fruit of what the community did. That’s profound emotional stuff. If you want to quote Humphrey Bogart [in ‘The Maltese Falcon’], ‘The stuff that dreams are made of.’ ”