Patrick Robinson
The Admiral Theater, which opened in 1942, but with a long prior history as a theater on the site, faces an uncertain future. The changing film business and cost of modernization and rehabilitation and upgrade of the building are hanging in the balance. The building owner has asked for proposals from FarAway Entertainment LLC the current occupant and others. A decision could come soon.

UPDATE: Will the Admiral Theater go dark?

The aging building and the end of film might spell the end for the landmark

UPDATE July 23
According to theater Manager Dinah Brein a meeting is set for mid August with building owner Marc Gartin. Previously Gartin had sent out Request for Proposal letters to current tenant Faraway Entertainment and according to Gartin other possible tenants for the space. Upgrades to the aging building would be expensive for any tenant, but according to Gartin it would likely be less expensive for it to remain a theater, which is also his preference. A decision on Admiral Theater's fate is expected sometime following that meeting next month.

Original Post July 9
The holes in the carpet, and creaky seats are only the most visible signs that the Admiral Theater, West Seattle’s only movie theater is way past its prime.

But the building which went up in 1942 also has issues with plumbing, wiring, heating and cooling and even security.

Far worse however is the impending change coming to the movie business. In January Paramount Studios announced they would stop the distribution of “film prints” actual movies on reels of film with more studios expected to do the by the end of this year. The cost of each print can be as much as $2000. In wide distribution to hundreds of theaters it can be very costly. Digital distribution via satellite could drop that cost to close to $100 each. Only 8% of theaters in the U.S. now have only film. The other 92%, or more than 40,000 screens are using digital projection. The Admiral has two theaters (once only one) each with 345 seats and two aging film projectors.

The cost to replace them, refurbish the theater and make it viable is high. Since 2008 the business of the theater has been owned and run by FarAway Entertainment LLC from Bainbridge Island headed by Jeff Brein and managed on site by Dinah Brein. FarAway also owns and operate seven other theaters in Washington State.

Brein, estimates the cost at $500,000 plus. Digital projectors alone can run over $70,000 each and the refurbishing, remodeling of the building and systems in it would not be cheap. However, in a study that was done by the company that books films for the Admiral last year, it was determined that if the building could be converted to fourplex, that is four theaters with essentially the same number of seats, around 700, it could be very successful. The reasoning? It would be the only film theater between downtown and the Tukwila area and obviously would serve the West Seattle peninsula.

This kind of shift has happened all across the nation with smaller communities coming together to help preserve their local movie house.

The Admiral was saved once before. The Southwest Seattle Historical Society mounted a campaign in 1989 when then owner Cineplex Odeon announced its impending closure. The society responded by gathering 14,000 signatures, selling buttons and finally getting the building (at least the exterior walls) designated as a Seattle landmark.

It could happen again if the community were willing to support an effort.

However, that’s easier said than done. The 20 year owner of the building Marc Gartin, who also owns the land under Bartells Drugs, The Benbow Room, and the Chevron gas station on the corner, has talked with the owners of the business. He'd prefer that it stay a theater. He also acknowledges that another tenant would face substantially higher costs to rehab the building and change it to suit another purpose. But an RFP (Request For Proposal) has gone out to the theater business owners and others for the roughly 18,000 square foot space.

The building can’t be torn down, due to it's landmark status, but he could easily lease it to another company who might not operate it as a theater.

So far, the hunt for financing has proven to be be unsuccessful. But Brein is optimistic. "We're crunching the numbers and looking a plan right now," he said and he feels the lending climate is much friendlier lately. The RFP is due by the end of July. Gartin did not indicate he would make a decision immediately but he needs to have the building be a useful investment.

Either way, the decision on the fate of the Admiral will likely happen reasonably soon. Forced either by the need to have a viable tenant or the availability of funding to modernize the current business, the historic building will see some significant changes, likely sometime this year.

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