Twenty-nine moviegoers sat in the dark on Sunday watching Oscar-nominated short films at the Edmonds Theater. Earlier in the day, the place was rocking — Freddie Mercury-style — during a “Bohemian Rhapsody” sing-along.
Our minds are on movies just before and after the Academy Awards, set to air at 5 p.m. Sunday on ABC (Channel 4). It dawned on me that I haven’t seen even one of this year’s Best Picture nominees: “Black Panther,” “BlacKkKlansman,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “The Favourite,” “Green Book,” “Roma,” “A Star is Born” and “Vice.”
How about you? And when was the last time you watched a movie at a theater? In all of 2018, I saw just one in a theater. It was the movie “Tag,” which I saw before writing about a local man with a connection to the plot. Last weekend I finally saw “Moonlight,” the 2017 Best Picture winner. And that was a DVD checked out from Sno-Isle Libraries.
The Edmonds Theater is one of the area’s few independently owned single-screen movie houses still showing first-run films. Gary Hoskins, its manager, talked Sunday about the Main Street landmark, built in 1923, and business survival in this era of Netflix and other viewing options.
“We’ve played some art films, but we’re trying to stay with the times,” said Hoskins, 58. He grew up in the Edmonds area and started coming to the theater in 1975.
The theater’s feature film Sunday was “Mary Queen of Scots.” Oscar-nominated shorts will run during three separate showings Wednesday, animation at 4 p.m., live action at 6 p.m., and documentary shorts at 8:40 p.m. Friday will bring the Oscar-nominated “The Favourite.”
Hoskins has seen some reduction in audience sizes over his four years as manager, but said the theater has its regulars. At times, every one of its 235 seats is occupied.
“For ‘Jaws’ we turned people away,” he said. Granted, the 1975 killer-shark classic was shown on one of the theater’s Throwback Thursdays. They happen the third Thursday of each month, coinciding with Art Walk Edmonds, when a free film is shown at 8 p.m. “They have to be 10 years old or older,” Hoskins said. This Thursday, it’s “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”
Theaters make most of their money on concessions. “With ticket sales, the studios get most of that,” Hoskins explained.
The Art Deco-style lobby evokes bygone days. On Sunday, Jack Eccleshall, 18, was selling refreshments at the counter, where neon illuminates a popcorn machine. Maintenance is a big job in an old building, Hoskins said, but the equipment is up-to-date, with a digital projector and a new screen installed two years ago.
Andy Eccleshall, Jack’s father, created a mural on one wall telling some of the theater’s history. It was originally called the Princess Theatre, the name of a previous movie house across the street. As early as 1916, movies were shown at that location, at the Union Theater, in what was then the Lemley Building.
Thomas Berry and his wife bought the theater in 1921, and two years later had the new Princess Theatre built across the street. A grand place for its time, it still has two balconies.
For many years, Dr. Jacque “Jack” Mayo, a dentist who died in 2009, owned several major buildings in downtown Edmonds, the theater among them. The Mayo family, son Jonathan and daughter Michelle, still own the theater, Hoskins said.
For $350, private parties may rent the theater. The renter supplies a DVD or Blu-ray Disc, and the deal includes free popcorn and a marquee message. “We’ve had weddings here,” Hoskins said.
Dealing with studios can be tough. The big ones sometimes “play hardball,” Hoskins said. There are payoffs, including the chance to show blockbusters. The Edmonds Theater has a three-week contract to show “Captain Marvel” starting March 8, the day of its U.S. release.
Hoskins said the theater has a motto: “New movies at classic prices.” General admission is $9, and lower for seniors, kids and matinees. “Our locals appreciate it,” he said. He thinks people miss out if they only see movies on a TV or other small screen.
“I’m hoping the thrill of movies does not leave,” Hoskins said. “We’re always talking about giving the movie experience back to people.”