98-year-old Port Angeles cinema falls victim to changing movie technology
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Clallam County Historical Society (left); Peninsula Daily News
The Lincoln Theater as it looked soon after opening in 1916, left, and as it looked Tuesday, less than a week before it closes.

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — The North Olympic Peninsula's oldest continuously operating cinema will close for good Sunday night.

The lights will go down for the last time at Port Angeles' Lincoln Theater at 132 E. First St., which opened in 1916, for showing its final two films: “RoboCop” at 7 p.m. and “Frozen” at 7:10 p.m.

Bryan Cook, general manager of Wenatchee-based Sun Basin Theaters, which owns and operates both Deer Park Cinemas on the east side of town as well as the downtown Port Angeles landmark, announced the closure Tuesday because of costs associated with converting from 35 mm film to digital projection.

“It's [an] expensive conversion. We just don't think it's justified,” Cook said.

“It's been a process for a few years, making this decision,” he said. “It's been a tough one.”

Cook estimated that Sun Basin, which has operated the theater since 1971, would have had to invest about $200,000 to convert the theater's projection and sound systems to show movies in digital format.

Movies simply are not distributed on 35 mm film anymore, he said.

“It [was] all about motors and gears and sprockets, and now we're talking about computer servers and data and bits,” Cook said.

“We've operated it since 1971, and we appreciate the community support of it,” Cook said.

Although the Rose Theatre in Port Townsend originally opened in 1907 on Water Street, moving to its present location at 235 Taylor St., in 1908 — eight years earlier than the Lincoln — it closed in November 1958.

The building did not house a movie house again until after it was restored in 1992 by Rocky Friedman and Phil Johnson.

The Rose converted to digital projection in 2012 at a cost of about $200,000.

Attendance at Lincoln Theater has been relatively steady over the past few years, Cook said, even through the economic recession.

“We appreciate the community support of it,” Cook said.

It also holds the distinction of being the suggest cinema that Edward and Bella had their first date in the Twilight series of teen romance books.

As the result, the Lincoln held midnight debut showings of the “Twilight” saga films, before which dozens of devoted fans of the movies would camp outside on the sidewalk for days.

The Lincoln's closure will allow Sun Basin to focus on its other theaters, which include Deer Park Cinemas and two theaters in Wenatchee, Cook said.

The Lincoln's employees will be shifted to Deer Park Cinemas, Cook added.

Cook said Sun Basin plans to market the Lincoln Theater property for sale or lease, hoping that an interested party will breathe new life into the building as different kind of theater or even a church space.

“Perhaps there's a different use of it that the community will support in a different way,” Cook said.

Sun Basin has no plans to remove any of the interior until a new owner or lessee decides what would be done with the building.

“[There are] no plans to gut anything or do anything until [there is] a new user for the building,” Cook said.

Barb Frederick, executive director of the Port Angeles Downtown Association, said the Lincoln's looming vacancy will be a blow to a downtown business community that already has sustained several large empty storefronts.

Two large antique shops in the Port Angeles downtown area have closed in the last year, and Maurices clothing store next to the Conrad Dyar Memorial Fountain at First and Laurel streets moved to the east Port Angeles Safeway shopping center.

“This is sad news,” Frederick said Tuesday of Lincoln Theater's closing. “It's such an iconic place.”

Frederick said she hopes the space won't stay empty for long.

“It would be great if it could remain some sort of entertainment venue — whether it's art-type movies, or maybe it could become a music venue, or something else,” she said.

Frederick, a lifelong Port Angeles resident, said her first memory of the Lincoln Theater was watching Disney's 1961 animated classic “101 Dalmatians” there as a child.

“I'm sure I speak for a lot of people in the community whose first experience watching a movie was in that theater,” Frederick said.

The news of the theater's imminent closure came as a shock to Cherie Kidd, a Port Angeles City Council member and another lifelong city resident.

“It just stabbed me in the heart,” Kidd said. “It's just been wonderful for family entertainment for generations, really, in Port Angeles.”

Kidd said she remembers the Lincoln not only as a place to watch a movie with friends and family but as an opportunity for teenagers to land their first paying job.

“That was my first job when I was 14, making popcorn and selling tickets,” Kidd said.

Kidd said the theater for a time was operated by Kidd's aunt and uncle, Ruth and Evar Halberg, which meant free popcorn for birthday parties held at the theater.

Kidd said her first memory of the Lincoln Theater was seeing Disney's “Bambi” as a child.

“I'm sorry to see it go,” she said. “I'm very sad.

“It was an important part of the community. We appreciate having had it.”

The Lincoln Theater's single screen was split into three in the 1980s, Cook said, and all of the theater's roughly 500 seats have been replaced within the past 10 years.

When the theater opened in 1916, it was described as “one of the most pleasing and imposing edifices on the Puget Sound,” according to a newspaper article of the day.

The theater's first film featured Mary Pickford in the silent “The Foundling,” accompanied by a $5,000 pipe organ.

Port Angeles city records describe the theater's original style as inspired by the Italian Renaissance, though its look has been substantially altered since it was first built.


Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 25. 2014 5:34PM
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