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Memories of Seattle’s ‘world famous’ Egyptian Theatre


The Egyptian Theatre – the longtime art house movie theatre on Seattle’s Capitol Hill – is closing its doors at the end of the month. A lot of us movie buffs will be mourning its loss.

I first worked at the Egyptian Theatre for the 10th Seattle International Film Festival. The 39th Film Festival just wrapped, so you can see, it was a pretty long time ago. In fact, it was long enough ago to now seem like something of a Golden Age for moviegoers in Seattle.

The theatre has been in the able hands of the Landmark Theatres chain since 1989, but I was there when it was still a single theatre run by Dan Ireland and Darryl McDonald, the two founders of the film festival. It was those two visionaries who in 1980 turned it into a movie theatre and added the Egyptian theme.

As the new home of SIFF, and with a cast of real characters running the joint, including Craig “Cappuccino” as its wise-cracking barista, and theatre frontman Gary Tucker whose quippy introductions were often as popular as the films themselves, the Egyptian Theatre in the ’80’s was the hub of Seattle’s movie universe.

Tucker used to jokingly answer the phone “World Famous Egyptian Theatre” so often, that the moniker stuck. In a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy, the theatre eventually had their admission tickets printed with the “world famous” tagline.

The Egyptian also became famous for its midnight shows and its year-long run (on weekends) of the Talking Heads concert film, “Stop Making Sense.”

Even after the Landmark Theatres chain took it over in 1989, the Egyptian kept up its tradition of screening hip, adventurous and challenging film fare. And it remained the home of the film festival all that time.

So what will happen to the theatre now? No one knows at this point but one thing seems certain. There are no plans to demolish the building which is something of a Capitol Hill landmark, having been built almost a century ago (1915) as a Masonic Temple with two auditoriums and lots of office space. Over the years, it’s served as a dance hall, a wrestling venue, and a theatre space. (I remember seeing a stage production of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” there, with the audiences sitting in the balconies and the actors taking over the full length of the gym floor.)

The Masons sold the building to Seattle Central Community College in the early 90’s and it remains in the school’s hands.

The college says it expects to continue to rent out the space. SIFF’s current artistic director Carl Spence tells me he hopes The Egyptian remains their longtime home base for the festival. He did not address the possibility that SIFF might take over the operations of the theatre like it did when the Uptown Theatres on Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill folded.

Another longtime Landmark Theatre, The Metro, was bought out by the Sundance Cinemas chain this past year,
but a Sundance spokesperson told me this was the first she was hearing of the Egyptian closing, and so had no comment as to whether Sundance might be interested in operating it.

Finally, when yet another Landmark theatre, The Neptune Theatre in Seattle’s University District, closed its doors, it re-opened as a concert venue run by the Seattle Theatre Group. No word from STG on whether the city needs another concert venue.

So, although a lot of us will miss the old Egyptian, there are at least a number of reasonable options for the theatre to get a new lease on life.

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