Admiral Theater: Double feature for New Year’s Eve, high hopes for the New Year

December 31, 2010 at 1:42 pm | In Admiral Theater, West Seattle news | 31 Comments

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

This autumn’s been a tough one for operators of historic local theaters, and their fans.

In Seattle alone, two shutdowns were announced last month – first the Uptown on Queen Anne, then the Neptune in the U-District.

That made us wonder how West Seattle’s historic Admiral Theater is doing, two and a half years after its last management change. So we arranged a chat with the woman who runs it, Dinah Brein. She was on duty last night, helping run the night’s films, and getting ready for a special New Year’s Eve-themed holiday double bill tonight: “Holiday” at 7, “When Harry Met Sally” at 9.

Just as we headed her way, Dinah sent a link to another theater-closure story that had just appeared online, this time the Orchard Theater in Port Orchard. And with a close-to-home twist – it’s part of the Far Away Entertainment theater group run by her brother Jeff Brein, which also includes The Admiral.

No, they’re NOT throwing in the towel here too. But some of what was on that theater’s wish list remains on The Admiral’s wish list too.

A big wish: More, and more-consistent, community support: “You need to have the community show up,” says Dinah.

In Dinah’s first year with The Admiral, her role was mostly to explore other types of events, broaden it beyond a second-run moviehouse. And if you scroll through WSB archives, you’ll see some of those events noted, from the Frances Farmer history retrospective to the Pete Seeger retrospective to a series of live music shows, and more.

But overall, Dinah say, the alternative offerings weren’t embraced by enough people to be ongoing and viable. “A small group of people” really loved the performances, but that just wasn’t enough.

(June 2009, Dinah helps kick off SIFF’s debut at The Admiral; photo by Christopher Boffoli)
She’s proud of The Admiral’s repeat participation in two major local film festivals, the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) and the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (SLGFF). If the people who turned out for those movies would come to The Admiral more often, Dinah says, “we could do a lot of stuff.”

And if you say “well, if the theater was in better shape, I’d come more often” – Dinah understands. Every time she walks upstairs to the offices and the projection area, on stairs with carpet worn to a threadbare hole in some spots, she understands. They have long been trying to get money for renovations. The banks are still keeping a tight rein on money. Grants are ferociously competitive – they applied for a local one and didn’t even get that.

As for upgrading the business to bring in more money, Dinah says they would love to go first-run, but the theater has to be in better shape.

So in the meantime – they move forward. On the bright side, according to Dinah, they get movies faster now – not as much of a lag between the first run and the second run. She’s also working with distributors to get movies that have sparked discussion by taking on issues, in the vein of last winter’s “>Waiting for Superman,” a look inside the education system.

And some special events besides SIFF and SLGFF are a big draw. Last week, she says, the house was packed for the special “free Christmas movie” – which piled up donations for the Seattle Humane Society. She has a soft spot for helping people, and The Admiral has hosted multiple benefits.

Those benefits also are emblematic of something she says you get from The Admiral that you wouldn’t get from some chain theater coming to town: Local management, open to your ideas and feedback. She has a 1,000-member mailing list and a Facebook page, as just two of the ways The Admiral shares information and engages with the community. The regular website has been a little tougher to conquer – she tried to maintain a unique site at thehistoricadmiraltheater.com but has had some difficulties with updating its content, so right now, the main website for The Admiral is through Far Away Entertainment (it’s here).

The theater is also available for rentals. Sub Pop Records celebrated its 22nd anniversary there earlier this year (here’s a video clip). And personal events are welcome: “I would love to have people think of this place for weddings, for example,” she smiles.

So her hopes for The Admiral, for the new year, are simple yet not-so-simple – “That the recession will get better, that loans will get approved,” that those long-desired renovations can finally be made.

And our conversation ends as she tackles some of the jane-of-all-trades tasks that have fallen to her, to keep The Admiral running night after night – dealing with the “platters” that spin the heavy reels of 35-millimeter film feeding into the projectors. Historic theater means almost-historic equipment in some cases. They’re not nearly as old as The Admiral itself (almost 68 years, and its site had held a theater dating back more than 20 years before that), but they’re surprising to see, in this era where so much has gone small and digital.

In the showbiz tradition, the show must go on. As long as somebody shows up … and that’s where you come in. (Tonight, by the way, if you go see both New Year’s Eve movies, there’s a discount – tickets are $5.50 for one movie as usual, but $10 for both.)

31 Comments

  1. The Admiral has been one of the most wonderful aspects of our community for over 50 years! Let’s all make sure to support this great movie house by seeing more films there in 2011. Happy new year!

    Comment by Michael Stusser — 1:52 pm December 31, 2010 #

  2. Folks, “Holiday” is a true under-appreciated gem. I was so excited to see this unexpected treat on marquee that a little “Woot!” escaped my lips as I drove by.

    If you’re a fan of “The Philadelphia Story,” “My Man Godfrey,” and an appreciate a hoot of a script, come on out. You won’t regret it. And on the big screen to boot! Thanks, Dinah, for this special way to kick off the new year!

    Comment by islewrite — 2:15 pm December 31, 2010 #

  3. Is the Grant/Hepburn movie perhaps “Charade”? We cannot find a movie called “Holiday”.

    Comment by angelescrest — 2:16 pm December 31, 2010 #

  4. Well, I live less than 2 blocks from the Admiral. I love to go see movies, and probably go to at least a dozen or more every year. And yet I won’t go here. Dinah was right on, the place is a dump. Couple that with the fact the the ticket prices are the highest I’ve ever seen for second run movies and you get the result that you see in the Admiral.

    Some of the problem is with the difficult credit situation we are in right now, but a lot of it has to do with simple neglect. That fabric that is falling off the walls? Nobody’s found an hour to get out a ladder and some tacks?

    So much potential. But I won’t shell out $5.50 for a second run in a total dump of a theater, when I can see a first run matinee for only a couple bucks more in a state of the art theater. I’m all about supprting local business, believe me, but not when the place charges about double what the experience is really worth. That’s called charity, and I do my giving elsewhere. Drop the ticket price to $3, and watch how many more people turn up. I’d be one of them.

    Comment by Daniel Woods — 2:24 pm December 31, 2010 #

  5. @angelescrest: It’s with Katharine Hepburn, not Audrey. The movie is from the ’30s.

    Comment by Harpie — 2:25 pm December 31, 2010 #

  6. Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in the 1938 film Holiday.

    Comment by Mookie — 2:28 pm December 31, 2010 #

  7. WSB, also tough times for Columbia City theatre. I’m not sure it’s still open?

    I haven’t been to the Admiral in years… :/

    Comment by ad — 3:01 pm December 31, 2010 #

  8. Thanks for the reminder. Running out right now but will add that one – TR

    Comment by WSB — 3:21 pm December 31, 2010 #

  9. Love the admiral! But it definitely needs more than a little tlc. Not all renovations cost a lot. Please don’t put off the acievable while hoping for perfection. Make progress. People will notice.

    Comment by Yardvark — 4:05 pm December 31, 2010 #

  10. See trivia & historical info about the Admiral at http://www.cinematreasures.org. That website for theater buffs inventories 1000s of past and present theater buildings around the world — including the long-demolished Granada on California south of the Junction.

    Comment by Alvis — 5:25 pm December 31, 2010 #

  11. Free promo suggestion: How about every Friday posting a note to the WSB forum explaining what this week’s movies are with links to the trailer or reviews. I live within walking distance to the Admiral but neither the marquee nor movie listings in the Seattle Times help me remember whether a particular Admiral movie piqued my interest when it first came out. (I’m not sure whether this suggestion is allowed under forum rules.)

    If the first suggestion isn’t allowed, how about setting up an e-mail list and sending out a weekly reminder of what is playing and what is coming up. Again, e-mail would be an almost free way to promote movies. An occasional discount to e-mail list participants wouldn’t hurt either.

    Third possibility: If people are balking at the higher ticket prices needed to sustain the Admiral, how about selling discounted ticket books in blocks of five, ten, or 20. This would give a break to your more frequent customers, and to families, and put a bit of up-front cash in your bank account.

    Comment by rw — 8:11 am January 1, 2011 #

  12. Every time I have been in the last two years, I order a Diet Coke which tastes like Root Beer. When I tell the kids at the counter they always respond with something to the nature of “yeah, that’s the way it is”. The older carpeting I can forgive, but perhaps you should pay some attention to the food and beverages? It makes me wonder what is living in the soda system that it tastes like Root Beer.

    To be successful, perhaps you should offer something unique as far as food and beverage goes? Beer and Wine?

    Comment by Rohr — 9:11 am January 1, 2011 #

  13. RW – they actually do have exactly such a mailing list. I’m on it, in fact. The question may be, how to sign up for it …

    Comment by WSB — 10:22 am January 1, 2011 #

  14. I too have recently balked at paying the $5.50 to see a 2nd run movie and actually just waited a few weeks and bought the movie. Maybe there could be a Matinee price of $3 to get more people in? I would gladly bring my kids and their friends!!

    Comment by Christie — 10:54 am January 1, 2011 #

  15. I have added my email address at least twice to the email list that sits on the counter as you pay to get in, but never received any communication from the theater… My husband and I do go to the Admiral Theater because we think the place has character, (because of or in spite of the falling wall fabric I’m not sure) and we want to support local businesses, but we don’t remember to check the website (that isn’t the easiest to find bye the way) to see what’s playing regularly and don’t get up to the Admiral area quite as often anymore due to the Safeway closure. However, I DO check my email several times a day and would love to know what was playing if my sign ups on the email list had ever been used. We actually have driven down to Federal Way to the $2 ($1 Tuesdays) theater down there more often than we go to the Admiral Theater but we usually couple it with a few other errands and shops down there… ($1 or $2 bucks for a movie and some $.39- $.49 cent tacos at Del Taco is quite appealing for a cheap date night! ha!)
    I agree with the above poster about the fabric on the walls. A ladder and some tacks? I have wondered on several occasions if the historic status of the building prevents certain types of repairs? Surely fixing the smaller things is allowed for maintenance? Actually adding the sign ups to any email list would be a good place to start to get me in the door more often.

    Comment by Shannon — 11:32 am January 1, 2011 #

  16. Columbia City is still open — I get their newsletter — they’re trying to find a “Dinah” to set up events there — yeah, I applied. :-)

    Comment by charlabob — 3:52 pm January 1, 2011 #

  17. OK, I vaguely recall a sign-up sheet as well. Too bad they don’t use it.

    But as long as I’m on a roll, I have one more suggestion: follow the lead of Tru-Value and Dukes, to name just two examples that I am familiar with, and offer e-mail list subscribers a free admission during the day, week, or month of one’s birthday. Chances are most people will not celebrate alone, so you’d still get at least one regular-priced admission, plus any concessions sales.

    Comment by rw — 5:40 pm January 1, 2011 #

  18. That is SO true about the Diet Coke tasting like Rootbeer. And the kids who work there are so unprofessional.
    Add to that it’s FREEZING in there (the Admiral obviously doesn’t have $$ for heat), and the place looks like crap, and I wouldn’t go here. If there was a great movie playing (like Waiting for Superman, yes) I might go by myself in the summer, but who would want to take a date here? Honestly the only character it has is neglected.

    If they fixed the broken chairs, updated the carpeting/walls, maybe put some artwork in there, and especially dropped the price from $5.50 to $3-4, I would try the Admiral again. I live 3 blocks away. Do I want it to go out of business, and sit there empty as a sad sign of the economy, of course not! But I can’t support it like this.

    Comment by SaraJ — 8:43 pm January 1, 2011 #

  19. p.s. I think the owner should go to Majestic Bay theaters in Ballard to see how to make an older movie theater work (it was recently renovated).

    Comment by SaraJ — 8:45 pm January 1, 2011 #

  20. Sara -

    The Majestic Bay is actually a young theater. It was intended to be a renovation of an existing movie theater called The Bay, but the building structure was in such disrepair that the owner reluctantly had it demolished and rebuilt with the look and feeling of a classic neighborhood theater. I wish the Admiral, which is the real thing, felt like the Majestic Bay does.

    Comment by Alvis — 11:13 pm January 1, 2011 #

  21. Hmmmm. So much talent in this community, so many great skills. Why not do a “Weekend of Caring” for the Admiral in early Spring and invite people to show up tools in hand. At the end of the weekend, everyone who showed up to work would get a free pass to 3 movies. As for carpet… yes, nice carpet would be wonderful, but why not go with the cheaper (and more practical) carpet squares ($30/case at Home Despot)? Maybe some of our neighbors would donate in exchange for having an annual special screening named for them during SIFF. Or how about a plaque with square contributors listed (like the bricks at Pike Place Market).

    Comment by LolaP — 12:13 pm January 2, 2011 #

  22. Actually, I think a few years ago, under a different owner, they were promising donor plaques on the backs of theater seats for about $40. According to the WS Herald article I just found, the old owner took off with the money and never bought the new seats or plaques…So sad. I wonder how many people were kind enough to donate back then?
    BTW, I love the idea of a community “Weekend of Caring” for the Admiral.

    http://www.westseattleherald.com/2009/02/27/news/admiral-theater-could-see-changes#

    Comment by DMH — 4:08 pm January 2, 2011 #

  23. We covered that situation months earlier, when Jeff Brein took over the theater.
    .
    http://westseattleblog.com/2008/06/big-changes-at-admiral-theater-report-1-message-for-donors
    .
    http://westseattleblog.com/2008/06/big-changes-at-the-admiral-report-2-whats-ahead
    .
    He wasn’t much for the idea of donations at the time. I don’t believe there had been a significant number of people ponying up through the previous campaign – it takes a lot of repeated pitches to get that sort of donation drive to add up to much, especially if what you are talking about is essentially a private business – TR

    Comment by WSB — 4:34 pm January 2, 2011 #

  24. I love the Admiral and hope that it finds a way to be more cost-effective.

    I just found that you can “Like” the Admiral on Facebook to get updates on what’s showing:
    http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Historic-Admiral-Theater/190808693607?v=wall

    Might be better than trying to subscribe to the mailing list (FYI link to subscribe on the difficult-to-find website doesn’t work)

    Comment by berge — 10:12 am January 3, 2011 #

  25. I Love the Admiral. We visit it at least once a month if not more, depending on the movies. I do agree about the pop…..it’s not just the Diet Coke…..it’s all of them. Ever had a Root Beer Orange soda? My 4 year old won’t even drink it. BUT that is the only “complaint”. I think they do a GREAT job with what they have to work with. There Popcorn is hands down the best Theatre Popcorn….in my opinion.

    Comment by bsmomma — 12:28 pm January 3, 2011 #

  26. Went last night to see Red great movie….no paper towels in the bathroom. Told the kid working and he said he would get that taken care of. Went to the bathroom after the movie…no paper towels…he said oh yeah sorry we are out. A dirty place like that out of papwer towels is just plain wrong… we try to love The Admiral but get it gets harder each time.
    Clean the place up a bit or YES you will be gone like the others…….

    Comment by Jerry — 9:31 pm January 3, 2011 #

  27. Alvis: According to the Ballard News Tribune article about the Majestic Bay on its tenth anniversary last October, it’s sold 1.8 MILLION admissions in that time. Just imagine if West Seattle’s classic old theater — which has more seats than the Majestic Bay — were to attract even half that much business!
    WSB: Please inquire with the Majestic Bay operators about the rumors (I’m starting one right now) that they are considering purchase and renovation of the Admiral for first-run shows. I mean, rumor reporting helped to draw Trader Joe’s into West Seattle. Why not try it with the Majestic Bay operation? (:

    Comment by Forest — 2:40 pm January 5, 2011 #

  28. Here’s the Ballard News Tribune article mentioned above:
    http://www.ballardnewstribune.com/2010/10/14/features/ballards-movie-theater-celebrates-majestic-de

    Comment by Forest — 4:25 pm January 5, 2011 #

  29. First up, I’d like to thank Tracey and the Blog for a truly wonderful story. She and Patrick should be commended for their excellent coverage and commitment to the West Seattle community.

    You got almost everything right Tracey except the owner’s name is Jeff Brein, not to be confused with a certain “Steve” who was the previous manager who ran off with thousands of dollars from community members who bought into the seat fund. By the way, the new owners did give hundred’s of free tickets and concessions to over 200 residents who were affected. Legally, they didn’t have to do anything.

    What’s really interesting is to read the comments after the story. I have to admit, it’s kind of like reading what people thought of the“prom dress” we were wearing.

    However, I do want to weigh in on some of the comments and opinions …..and you know what they say about “opinions”.

    First, for over 3 years we have sent out a weekly newsletter/bulletin that has grown to over 1000 people. It’s given me a forum to let the community know about our special events, concerts and weekly and upcoming films. It’s also allowed me to add a bit of my own personality, hopefully to create a “face” for people to relate to.

    In the past few weeks, the Faraway Entertainment umbrella which owns the Admiral and nine other theaters in the Pacific Northwest has come up with a nifty and modern new face which brings a sense of conformity to the company but still allows me that chance to communicate with all of you. You can also go to the new website; http://www.farawayentertainment.com and always keep up to date with the current movies. They do offer brief descriptions and trailers for you to view.

    I read some of you say that you put your name down but have not received anything. One of the main problems I am facing is that people scribble their emails like Doctors writing medical prescriptions. It’s very hard to decipher people’s handwriting and I can guarantee you if you are not getting your emails, it’s because we couldn’t read them.

    Also, I read with interest many comments about paying $5.50 for a second-run admission ticket.

    If you consider that going to Southcenter or downtown Seattle, you’ll pay for parking and at least $10 or 11 dollars a ticket not to mention their concessions which are also priced higher than the Admiral we are still a good deal.

    You have to also consider our cost for rent, electricity, servicing of equipment and concession area, paying vendors, employees and film rental. Believe me, at $5.50 we are still running in the red. $3 dollar movies would put us out of business altogether. I’m sure no one wants that. We do offer a $4.50 senior ticket all day Tuesdays.

    We are running about a month to six weeks behind the big chains in bringing new releases here, and if you’ll notice in the last 3 years, they are showing up rather quickly.

    We may not have the funds that big theater chains do, but that also allows us the opportunity to step away from following a strict studio schedule and offering you the Seattle International Film Festival & Gay & Lesbian Film Fest each year. We also make every effort to bring you interesting independent movies like, Winters Bone, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, as well as other documentaries ike Sicko, Babies, Running the Sahara as well as supporting the works of local filmmakers.

    Many of you have enjoyed some beer & wine upstairs in our crow’s nest lounge and we’ve loved having large shin-digs here like the Sub Pop Party.

    There aren’t many theaters that can offer a Frances Farmer Film and historical retrospect one weekend, Seattle’s only Pete Seeger 90th birthday celebration or create a show like “Tea With Georgie” showcasing the journalistic and comedic talents of one of the original Rosie the Riveters, 90-year’s – young, Georgie Bright Kunkel.

    As a board member of Women in Film, we also showed a series of 1938 silent movies by North West native, Nell Shipman featuring Dennis James on pipe organ. We’re eclectic and we’re proud of it!

    We do listen to our audiences and are also open to suggestions. As many of you know, I like to make myself available and greet you, whether it’s in the lobby or on stage before a special event.

    This is a theater “with a heart” whether we’re offering free Xmas movies or helping to throw a benefit for a family in need.

    Now, as far as the “beauty” of the Admiral. As you read in Tracey’s article, we are so aware of the theater’s appearance. Because of situations like the last manager collecting money for “bogus” seat funds that never happened, we are hesitant to ask the community to “contribute” in any physical or monetary way.

    We will continue to apply for grants and as Tracey said, the owners have applied for bank loans but as many of you know – the banks accept hand outs from the government but are reluctant to pass that along to businesses. In order to replace the seats, carpets and drapes, we are looking at OVER $100,000. No small chump change.

    Please know that we are definitely continuing in our effort to secure funds to really turn this place around. Whenever possible, we do try to fix this old girl. Whether it’s my husband pulling up carpet upstairs in the bar area and buffing out hardwood floors or actually having to add wood to the bottom of doors that have rotted away. It’s a work in progress that’s for sure.

    The owner has 9 other theaters in the Pacific Northwest, many of which are first run and modern in every way. He has a penchant for the older, historic theaters and tries to support their existence by keeping them “alive” and viable.

    His love for the Admiral Theater is the only thing that has kept it from going under totally in the last several years. Hang in there with us folks we really are doing our very best.

    Sincerely,

    Dinah Brein-McClellan
    Manager

    Comment by Dinah Brein — 9:47 pm January 5, 2011 #

  30. sorry, fixing first name! – Tracy

    Comment by WSB — 10:03 pm January 5, 2011 #

  31. Far Away Entertainment is currently working closely with the landlord of the Admiral Theater to renovate this beautiful and historic community landmark. I am not at liberty to divulge the specific details of this as of yet, but if our efforts pay off, we hope to have these renovations in place sometime this year. It is going to take taking a lot of hard work to get this accomplished, but I can promise you that we and our landlord are doing everything we can to work together to make this possible. Our ultimate goal is to post a notice on this blog, and elsewhere that on a date certain, everyone will be invited to a “Grand Re-Opening of the Historic Admiral Theater.” So please stay tuned, and in the meantime, we appreciate all of your support, comments, and patience.

    Kany Levine
    President & General Counsel
    Far Away Entertainment, LLC

    Comment by Kany Levine — 12:11 pm January 6, 2011 #

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