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Talking pictures arrive at the Issaquah Theatre on February 5, 1930.
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On February 5, 1930, "all-talking pictures" arrive at the Issaquah Theatre, located at 120 Front Street N in Issaquah (located in east King County). The arrival of synchronous sound with motion pictures represents a quantum leap in movie technology, which previously had been silent. The cost to renovate the theater to accommodate talkies is $6,000 in 1930 dollars; owner John Brunsburg compensates by raising ticket prices effective the same day the talkies begin. The two-story Issaquah Theatre building, built in 1913, is still in use today (2008). The downstairs is presently a coffeehouse; the upstairs is a theater used as part of the Village Theatre productions.
Movies in Issaquah
Motion pictures first flickered into society in the 1890s, and their popularity soared in the first years of the 1900s. Theaters opened in towns big and small, and Issaquah was no exception. In 1912, Rufus H. Glenn came to Issaquah and opened a theater, though it wasn’t Issaquah’s first theater. Issaquah historian Harriet Fish writes that movies were shown as far back as the early 1900s in Issaquah’s Masonic Hall and Odd Fellows Hall, and this is confirmed by other accounts of Issaquah’s early history.
In 1913 Glenn built the Issaquah Theatre building at 120 Front Street N in Issaquah. The theater is a two-story wood frame building with a flat floor, with a maximum capacity of 200 seats. In its early decades the theater had removable seats, which made room for other activities such as basketball games, school dances, and graduations. For at least some part of the theater’s history, movies were shown on its lower floor and the theater owners lived upstairs.
In the early twentieth century movies were silent, meaning they did not have simultaneous sound. But most theaters usually showed movies with an organ or, more typically, a piano accompaniment. Issaquah was no exception, and featured a piano accompaniment with its silent films. Fish tells us that at least three local women -- two she identifies are Minnie Schomber and Myrtle McQuade -- played piano during the Issaquah Theatre’s silent movies, reading the songs from sheet music.
Movies with sound, or "talkies," arrived in 1927. Seattle’s Green Lake Theater had talkies by the end of 1928, but smaller theaters trailed behind the curve. Converting a theater from silent to sound movies was neither cheap nor easy. Thus it was big news indeed late in January 1930 when John Brunsburg, owner of the Issaquah Theatre, announced the arrival of “all-talking pictures” at the theater effective on Wednesday, February 5.
Because sound was being added, it was necessary to soundproof the building, and the entire interior, including the stage, was lined with inch-thick felt. A specially built and larger screen replaced the silver screen (a type of screen used in the early twentieth century that had silver embedded in the material, making the screen’s surface highly reflective). Every inch of the new screen was perforated with tiny holes so the sound would properly come through. The screen itself cost $600, and the entire cost to convert the theater and install the new system was $6,000.
Brunsburg covered part of his expenses by raising admission prices effective the day talkies arrived -- the cost went up from a dime for children and a quarter for adults to 15 cents for children and 35 cents for adults. The first talkie shown at the theater was Wise Girls, described as a comedy. An Our Gang movie, Moan and Groan, and Traveling Alone, described as an “All-Talking Act,” accompanied the feature.
A Long Run
The theater changed hands over the years but remained a popular venue in Issaquah into the middle of the twentieth century. In 1967 Robert Catterall bought the theater and turned its management over to the Pine Lake Presbyterian Church, which formed a board of directors to direct the theater as a non-profit organization known as the Issaquah Theater Group. Church volunteers remodeled the theater, sold tickets, and ran concession stands during features.
By the late 1970s the theater was closed, and an “unsafe” sign was posted on the building. But in 1979 it reopened as the Village Theatre, which operated there until 1994. In 1994 the Village Theatre moved to considerably larger digs (the Francis J. Gaudette Theatre) at 303 Front Street N, and the original theater building became known as Village Theatre First Stage. Today it hosts performances of the Village Theatre’s “Village Originals” series of plays as well as KIDSTAGE, a youth theater program. Currently the Coolbeans Espresso coffeehouse operates out of the first floor of the original building, while the theater itself is upstairs.
Harriet U. Fish, This Was Issaquah (Issaquah: Harriet U. Fish, 1987), 57; “Issaquah Theatre Installing Talking Pictures, First Show on Wednesday,” The Issaquah Press, January 30, 1930, pp. 1, 4; Don Carter, “Village Theater Is Cornerstone of Growing Cultural Scene,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 30, 1999 (http://www.seattlepi.nwsource.com); Connie McDougall, “Where New Meets Old in Downtown Issaquah,” The Seattle Times, December 21, 2006 (http://www.seattletimes.nwsource.com); “Issaquah Theater (Village Theatre First Stage),” “First Stage/Issaquah Theatre (1913),” Issaquah History On-Line, website accessed January 15, 2008 (http://www.issaquahhistory.org); “Village Theatre First Stage,” Cinema Treasures website accessed January 29, 2008 (http://cinematreasures.org); Julie Hunter (Issaquah History Museums) e-mail to Phil Dougherty, January 24, 2008, in possession of Phil Dougherty, Sammamish, Washington.
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