Seattle Now & Then: a house move, the Magnolia Theatre, 1963, & new book!

(click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN: A house sits mid-move on 34th Avenue West just north of the Magnolia Theatre between June 11 and June 17, 1963, when “It Happened at the World’s Fair” and the Connie Francis vehicle “Follow the Boys” played the second-run house. The theater hit a peak in 1969 as the only place in Seattle to see “Oliver!” in first run, but it closed in 1974 and was razed in 1977. (Ken Baxter / Courtesy Magnolia Historical Society)
NOW: Socially distanced and most with masks down, (from left) Jeff Graham, Tab Melton, Brian Hogan, Gene Willard, Dan Kerlee, Kathy Cunningham, Sherrie Quinton, Mike Musslewhite and editor Monica Wooton from the nearly 70-member team that produced “Magnolia: Midcentury Memories” look southwest in front of Chase Bank, whose previous incarnation, Washington Mutual Savings Bank, opened a branch on the Magnolia Theatre site in 1978. For info on the book’s launch, visit magnoliahistoricalsociety.org. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Aug. 20, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Aug. 23, 2020)

For Magnolia baby boomers, it happened at the midcentury
By Clay Eals

Grab a giant popcorn. This week’s “Then” premieres a triple feature.

The photo comes from a project that enlisted 60 writers to document baby boomers’ youthful years in the Magnolia neighborhood. Just-released Magnolia: Midcentury Memories is the third coffee-table book assembled this century by volunteers and represented by the Magnolia Historical Society.

With 448 pages and 450-plus photos, the volume dives into everything from military family life at Fort Lawton (now Discovery Park) to peninsula-wide immigrant roots and racist redlining, from mudslides along the Perkins Lane cliffs to the demise of the Interbay garbage dump.

In our “Then,” the marquee points to the photo’s date (mid-June 1963) and our first feature, the Seattle World’s Fair. The book notes that Fort Lawton was considered for the 1962 exposition site and that from the Magnolia Bridge locals could see the eventual fairgrounds take shape.

Among memories of the fair from then-upper-grade students – most who attended Queen Anne High School, which peered over what is now Seattle Center – is that of Cheryl Peterson Bower. In the book, she tells of securing two autographs, for her and her sister, from Elvis Presley, who was at the fair to star in the marquee movie. But the crooner “signed both sides of the paper dead in the middle, making it impossible to share.”

Parked near the marquee is our second feature, a midcentury house mid-move. This symbolizes a time 14 years prior when Magnolians vigorously debated whether 20 homes to the north should be condemned to make way for a combined junior high school and fieldhouse. What The Seattle Times labeled “Seattle’s most explosive community controversy in many years” ended with a go-ahead. Some houses made dramatic treks in 1950-1951 to vacant lots nearby.

“It was quite a sight for a 5-year-old to see her house being driven down the street,” Karin Barter Fielding says in the book. “It was such a big event for the family. I still talk about it.”

Our third feature is the Magnolia Theatre itself. Opening Nov. 25, 1948, with Cary Grant in “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House,” it was the largest commercial building in the shopping district, dubbed “the Village.” Seating 985 people, it became a true community center.

Michael Musselwhite, who worked there 1959-1963 as a teen, writes that a tavern was barred from buying on-screen advertising “because children were usually in attendance” and that changing the marquee each Monday evening took two students, a tall ladder and 2-1/2 hours.

A Magnolia blockbuster, the book uses only the right half of our “Then.” So consider this photo the widescreen version!

WEB EXTRAS

To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

You can view the Aug. 23, 2020, online Zoom launch of Magnolia: Midcentury Memories by visiting the website of the Magnolia Historical Society. Also, by clicking on their names, you also can view portions of the launch devoted to chapters by authors Brian Hogan (part 1), Brian Hogan (part 2), Skip Kotkins, Whitney Mason, Michael Musselwhite, Greg Shaw (part 1) and Greg Shaw (part 2).

Below are three additional photos, as well as nine clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that were helpful in the preparation of this column. As a bonus, right at the top you will find a nearly five-minute video featuring Monica Wooton, editor of “Magnolia: Midcentury Memories.” Enjoy!

VIDEO: Click photo to see video of Monica Wooton, editor of “Magnolia: Midcentury Memories,” describing the book’s process and product. (Clay Eals)
Cover of “Magnolia: Midcentury Memories”
The Magnolia Theatre marquee shines in 1949. (Courtesy Magnolia Historical Society)
June 11, 1963, Seattle Times, page 17, listing for movies on the marquee in our “Then.”
June 11-17, 1963, an alternate to our “Then” photo, showing the same house being moved. (Courtesy Magnolia Historical Society)
Jan. 12, 1969, Seattle Times, locator graphic from Magnolia Theatre ad.
Jan. 28, 1969, Seattle Times, page 10, ad for exclusive Seattle engagement of “Oliver!”
Jan. 30, 1969, Seattle Times, page 10.
July 20, 1969, Seattle Times, Magnolia Theatre ad after “Oliver!” had won Best Picture at the Oscars.
Nov. 7, 1974, Seattle Times, page 545, announcement of closure.
Dec. 3, 1974, Seattle Times, page 38, closing night for the Magnolia.
July 17, 1977, Seattle Times, page 51, building demolition.
Sept. 8, 1979, Seattle Times, page 17.

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