Newlyweds Norman and Hazel Clyde came to Langley from Texas about 1925 to be with Norman’s father, William, following the death of William's wife and sister. Norm and Hazel decided to stay on the family farm in the Sandy Point area (on what eventually became Clyde Road) to care for William. They did care for him until his death in 1948. The Clydes loved Whidbey Island and became important town builders, owning Clyde Motors and the Clyde Garage.
During the difficult times of the 1930s Great Depression, Langley residents had little cheap entertainment. The Clydes felt the town needed a good movie house, so Norm hired an architect and builder, purchased the best projection equipment available at the time, and opened the Clyde Theatre on September 16, 1937. You Can’t Have Everything, starring Don Ameche and Alice Faye, was the movie shown that night. The Clyde was the only movie theater on South Whidbey Island.
Changing Hands, New Productions
Vandalism caused closure of the business for a short time in the 1960s but the theater was soon rented by People’s Bank manager Dave Upham, who continued showing films on weekends for a year or two. In February 1972, the Clydes sold the business for $22,500 to Blake Willeford, a Peace Corps volunteer returning from India. He began changes to the theater, adding foreign and art movies and one winter, a Shakespeare festival.
He also built a stage for live performances -- both music and local theater productions by Island Theatre, FOOLS (a theater troupe that staged original mega-musicals) and revues by Martha Murphy’s Whidbey Children’s Theatre. In 1978 Blake married Lynn Murray, his Sunday movie ticket taker, and they also became business partners.
Their son, Brook, took his first steps in the theater. Now an adult, Brook and his wife, Wendi, look forward to running the theater for years to come.
A Community Landmark
The Willefords held a 70th anniversary celebration in 2007 and will celebrate the 75th on Sunday, September 16, 2012. Through the month leading up to the celebration, The Clyde offered a film from each decade, 1930s to 2000s, charging the original admission prices.
To date the Willefords have operated the theater longer than the Clydes. They attribute The Clyde’s success partly to its location, still being the only theater on South Whidbey Island. Prices have stayed low and Blake and Lynn know their local audience well. They remodeled the theater in the late 1970s and seismically retrofitted it in 1992. Upgrades were made for sound and projection in 2002 but the biggest change came in December 2011 when the theater became an all-digital movie house. Over the years, the Clyde has served as an important community landmark in Langley.