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Published in the Seattle Times online on Jan. 20, 2022
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on Jan. 23, 2022
Wallingford’s main-street movie theater is ‘ever in our hearts’
By Clay Eals
Along Wallingford’s main street has stood a theater known since 1957 as the Guild 45th. It’s been shuttered since 2017. Early this month, its sign and prow marquee, deemed a safety hazard after a delivery truck hit them, were torn down.
The marquee recently had injected pandemic-era whimsy and inspiration. Starting Dec. 18, 2020, its east face displayed just one word: “Scarfface.” It switched last July 18 to another movie pun: “Vax to the Future.”
The pointed humor masked a dour trend. Virus-related restrictions have sent revenue plummeting at movie theaters nationwide. Insiders note that some demographic groups (such as older women) have stopped going to movies altogether, which in turn affects the types of films in production.
’Twas not always thus. Before video rentals, DVDs and the internet, not to mention TV, neighborhood movie theaters were ubiquitous magnets. For Wallingford, the love affair started a century ago.
What became the Guild 45th at 2115 N. 45th St. was opened in 1921 by W.C. Code as the Paramount Theatre. The 40-by-90-foot building seated 475 and hosted movies and live productions, with occasional political or business gatherings.
It was rechristened the 45th Street Theatre on Sept. 1, 1933, by its new owner, theater veteran H.W. Bruen. With a neon marquee, the art-deco mini-palace became what The Seattle Times called “symbolic in architecture and design of the Century of Progress.”
Two-plus decades later, in December 1956, the fledgling, non-mainstream Seattle Cinema Guild began bookings of classic U.S. and foreign films at the 45th.
The next year, the remodeled theater acquired its present name and became a so-called art house, screening “the world’s greatest” foreign films, banning anyone under 18 and supplying free coffee and cigarettes between shows. The first offering was a French sexploitation flick, “Companions of the Night.”
The fare had broadened considerably by February 1983 when, four years after joining the Seven Gables chain, the Guild 45th appended an auditorium with 200 steeply raked seats two storefronts to its west. In 1989, it became part of Landmark Theatres.
Citing too many alterations, the city landmarks board voted 6-2 in May 2016 not to protect the Guild 45th, and it closed abruptly 13 months later. Early in 2021, its deteriorating structures, including an ex-restaurant between them, were painted with a colorful mural by Urban ArtWorks to deter random graffiti.
What will become of the Guild 45th site? One clue is that last November, LA-based owner 2929 Entertainment applied for a demolition permit.
The 1933 films on the marquee in our “Then” photo provide us with additional insight: While the theater certainly is “Ever in My Heart,” no one would be surprised if it were to give way to yet another faceless, modern monolith — like the disaster befalling the characters in “Deluge.”
Special thanks to Feliks Banel for his help on this installment.
To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photos, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column as soon as it’s posted mid-day.
Below are two added photos taken Dec. 18, 2020, by Seattle architect and guerrilla artist Todd Lawson of his clever and uncannily realistic marquee posts, 6 additional current photos by Jean Sherrard of the bedraggled Guild 45th (4 from Jan. 5 and 2 from Jan. 20), a late 1937 photo from the Puget Sound Regional Archives, 2 sets of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board minutes, and 22 historical clippings from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that were helpful in the preparation of this column.
And the best “web extra” of all may be this innovative, time-lapse account of the changing Guild 45th prow marquee in 2008, created by none other than Paul Dorpat.