Cinerama sign taken down: What’s next for the iconic theater and sign?

Oct 6, 2023, 5:20 PM

The iconic Cinerama sign was taken down Thursday as the movie theater in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood continues its transition to new ownership, including going through a name change.

The theater first opened in 1963, before falling into disrepair in the following decades. In the late 1990s, the late Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft who later owned the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, took over and began efforts to restore it.

More on Cinerama: Funds, partnership with Cinerama passes King County Council

Cinerama was forced to shut down once more when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. The theater was left vacated for the next few years before it was sold to the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) in May. That deal did not include the “Cinerama” name, leaving the theater to reopen later this year under a new name.

“SIFF is honored that this space, which has provided a truly powerful experience for filmmakers and film lovers alike, is now in our hands,” SIFF Executive Director Tom Mara told KIRO 7 in July. These funds make it possible for us to open the theater’s doors to the public as soon as possible. We’re very eager to see the seats full again and to elevate what this space can do for artists, theater-goers, and the city at large.”

Vulcan, a company founded in 1986 by Allen and his sister Jody, is the current owner of the Cinerama sign.

The sign’s future will be “decided and managed by Vulcan,” Madison Zimmerman, the associate director of communications for SIFF Cinerama, confirmed with MyNorthwest in an email Thursday. Vulcan and the Allen Estate licensed the name from the original owner when it reopened more than 20 years ago, but did not own the name “Cinerama.” The original terms of use of the name stated that upon sale, the name reverts solely to the owner and cannot be transferred with the property.

MyNorthwest reached out to Vulcan Thursday and asked about where the sign would ultimately end up and they have not yet responded.

Some dejection over the sign’s removal

Thursday’s removal of the sign marked the first step taken to rebrand the Cinerama to a yet-to-be-announced moniker and not everyone is happy with the development.

CT Kohn lives near the site of the theater in Seattle and snapped a series of photos of the crew removing the sign Thursday. In an email to MyNorthwest Friday, he paid tribute to the theater and its rich history.

“For 60 years, Seattle Cinerama has been an integral part of downtown Seattle and the city at large. As cinema loving residents, it is one of the reasons we moved downtown over 20 years ago, and this part of the Belltown neighborhood 10 years ago,” Kohn said.

He want on to express unhappiness about the sign’s removal and he hopes the historic piece will resurface in another part of the city.

“We were deeply saddened to see the signs taken down,” Kohn said. “We will miss them. We hope this historic signage stays in the city and ends up at MOHAI, for future generations to enjoy.”

Kohn posted some of his photos and a video of the sign coming down on X, formerly known as Twitter, Thursday and most of the responses were in alignment with Kohn’s views. One X user called it, “Another major Seattle leadership failure.”

During a phone conversation Friday, Kohn likened the Cinerama sign to the famous Elephant Car Wash sign that was given landmark status in 2022 and relocated near Amazon headquarters in late 2022.

“We are hoping they don’t erase the gems of the city,” Kohn said.

What’s next for the theater

There is currently no official word as to when the theater will reopen its doors and the SIFF team is not ready to share what fans can expect to see in the future yet. But they’re busy working.

“We don’t have any additional updates that we’re ready to share publicly quite yet,” Zimmerman said to MyNorthwest in an email. “There is a lot of work happening behind the scenes and when we have an announcement, trust us, you’ll know.”

More on Cinerama: Funds, partnership with Cinerama passes King County Council

SIFF Executive Director Tom Mara has said the theater will be bringing back its famous chocolate popcorn. The theater is slated to play blockbuster studio films, hold specialty festivals and events, and show first-run arthouse films, Mara told Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis in a one-on-one interview.

SIFF is in the midst of its third annual DocFest — a SIFF-sponsored celebration of documentary films from around the world — screening 15 films at SIFF Cinema Uptown from October 5-12.

“Seattle has one of the most enthusiastic documentary-going audiences in the world, as we see each year with the audience award winners at the Seattle International Film Festival,” Stan Shields, SIFF Programming Manager, wrote in a prepared statement. “For our third annual DocFest, we wanted to showcase a truly varied scope of thought-provoking, tenacious stories and are thrilled with our lineup of films that span from previous festival award-winners to US premieres.”

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Cinerama sign taken down: What’s next for the iconic theater and sign?