(June WSB photo: Film-projection room at The Admiral)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
More than a year ago, we told you about the Admiral Theater‘s hopes of renovations to ensure the historic moviehouse’s future.
It hasn’t happened yet. And its management/ownership is acutely aware of a “ticking clock” sped up by the fact that – as they pointed out when we talked to them for the aforementioned story last year – film is going away as a method of delivering movies.
In a conversation with theater manager Dinah Brein, she explained they’ve already felt the effects. “Certain films weren’t even made in (film) like ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ ‘Dallas Buyers Club,’ so we have to wait for it to go to DVD (before we can) show it.” For some movies, that timetable is relatively fast – for some, it’s not. And only one of the Admiral’s theaters is DVD-capable.
The Admiral simply must convert to digital. (It’s not alone, as continuing national coverage has documented.)
And for that, they have to have a commitment from the building’s owner Marc Gartin that they’ll be there for the long haul.
Trying to secure that remains a work in progress, according to Dinah Brein.
If you look at commercial real-estate listings, the Admiral remains listed as “for lease” – a listing that’s been up for more than two years.
Admiral management says they know that showing first-run movies would be a viable business. It would more than make back the cost of renovations, according to a report they commissioned (and keep in mind, Admiral proprietor Jeff Brein – Dinah’s brother – runs a chain of successful community theaters around the region). The report, Dinah Brein told WSB, also “showed the movie business is not all doom and gloom – people still like the shared experience.”
But if you can’t get movies, you can’t show movies, and you have no business. So the Admiral has been “in limbo,” on a month-to-month lease, for a long time. And now, the no-more-film-soon situation is compounding matters – the “ticking clock” mentioned earlier. “There is no wiggle room,” as Dinah Brein put it.
They have been keeping the place going on a shoestring – a theater with inherent beauty, but features that need to be repaired, and, as the Breins told WSB last year, that can’t be repaired piecemeal – it’s a do-it-all-at-once project, projectors and seats and carpet, etc.
One way or another, the Admiral’s fate has to be and will be determined soon. “Our hands are tied until (the landlord) decides,” Dinah told WSB. “Our commitment is still to making it bigger and better than it’s ever been.” The plan first discussed in our report last year involves construction work to convert The Admiral into four auditoriums, with new seats, new carpeting, even some restoration of its historic murals.
If it doesn’t have a future as a movie theater, what might happen? The Admiral’s exterior, and parts of its interior, are under protection as a city landmark, so changes couldn’t be made without the Landmark Preservation Board‘s approval. (Details are in the ordinance designating The Admiral as a landmark more than 20 years ago – see it here.) But overall, the site is zoned for a more-dense use – NC2-40, “neighborhood commercial” with a building up to 40 feet. Around the city – Capitol Hill comes to mind, with multiple examples – conversions continue with historic facades preserved as hints of buildings’ history, as new, taller structures go up within them.
As longtime West Seattleites know, The Admiral has been in jeopardy before – the closure 25 years ago comes to mind (read about that in this SW Seattle Historical Society recap). What will the next chapter of its story be? The answer could be just weeks away, as the Breins have a meeting scheduled with their landlord next month.
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