Admiral Theater plan: ‘We have to … try to make this thing happen’

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The owner of the Admiral Theater has a plan to ensure the historic landmark has a promising future as well as a storied past.

The first phase of that plan is already complete … creation of the plan itself.

“We have spent a lot of time and energy and money – what little that we have – to engage the services of an architect,” explained Jeff Brein, whose Far Away Entertainment owns the Admiral – the business, not the building itself, as well as seven other theaters in six towns around the region.

“We determined that in order to keep the theater going and to at least turn a profit, we need to make some changes in the basic business model. And that … takes the theater from its current two-auditorium, second-run format to a four-auditorium, first-run digital format.”

There’s really no choice, said Brein. The notion of a “second-run, dollar-house” theater is dying: “The studios are not providing us with the types of release schedules they used to. The window from theatrical first-run release to home video or cable TV or RedBox or whatever is becoming much more narrow.”

That’s not the only reason that a first-run moviehouse makes more sense for West Seattle: “It’s a great unserved market. If you want a first-run movie, you have to get in your car and travel well outside (West Seattle) – downtown, the airport, wherever people need to go.”

However, it’s not as easy as deciding to run new movies instead of not-so-new movies. First, Brein says, “you really need a minimum of three to four screens. And you need a facility that everybody is going to feel comfortable in.”

No matter how much you love the Admiral Theater, designated a city landmark 20 years ago – “comfortable” is not a word that comes to mind. “Overhaul” is.

Brein knows that. The Admiral’s devoted on-site general manager – his sister Dinah Brein – knows that.

So, they have a plan. They have an operating budget.

What they don’t have yet (and they stress they’re NOT asking for a handout or donations) is … the money.

“It’s going to cost us somewhere around $600,000 to do the improvements that are required,” explains Jeff Brein. That includes construction work to convert The Admiral into four auditoriums, with new seats, new carpeting, even some restoration of its historic murals, like this one over the concession area:

It’s been a two-auditorium moviehouse for 40 years.

And part of what needs to be done is not an option in any version of a scenario that involves operating The Admiral as a movie theater for the long run: “(The plan includes) new digital projectors – not an option for any theater. Film is going away by the middle of 2014 at the latest. If you don’t have digital projectors, you’re out of this business.”

Dinah Brein (above) can tell you what it’s been like to operate with film instead of digital – “building” each film from the bulky reels that arrive, dealing with problems if something goes wrong. As her brother says, the current projectors “are practically antiques.”

Same goes for much of The Admiral. She has dealt with furnace problems, clogged plumbing, even one problem that her husband had to go up on the moviehouse’s roof to try to troubleshoot. “I care about this place,” she told us, while keeping watch behind the refreshment counter one afternoon as the first moviegoers of the day started to trickle in. “It’s like a child.”

If only its physical components were child-like rather than old and creaky. Other improvements that are part of the plan – mandatory rather than an option, ultimately – include ADA-required work to better serve disabled moviegoers, particularly in The Admiral’s restrooms, which would add capacity.

Last but by no mean least, says Jeff Brein, who spoke with us in an extensive phone conversation fro Bainbridge: “We have an upstairs area that has a sizable heretofore-unused room we could convert into a party facilty or small screening room, or something folks could use for other activities.”

This isn’t a wish list – it’s gone as far as architectural specifications and schematics, as well as budgeting with contingencies. “Phase 1, preplanning, has been complete,” Brein declares. “Now we move to Phase 2 … which is, where are we going to get $500,000 or $600,000 to make this happen?”

If you don’t already know this, The Admiral’s ownership has no affiliation with a major chain or any other kind of deep-pocket company, though it’s gone through multiple types of ownership over its near-century in operation. Far Away Entertainment, founded in 1997, is a small Western Washington-based and owned company, with two theaters on Bainbridge – one of which is a renovated historic theater – and one each in East Bremerton, Oak Harbor, Anacortes, Stanwood, Ocean Shores, plus West Seattle. The company’s offices are on Bainbridge, but each theater has a management team based in its community (Admiral GM Dinah is a West Seattleite).

“We have been looking at a variety of approaches” to get funding, Jeff Brein explains. But “it is difficult and I would go as far as to say it is almost impossible to get any commercial bank to make a loan to a small business that has had a couple of years of less-than-desired profits, although (The Admiral) did turn a small profit last year. Banks are not loaning to small businesses in our business category. It’s disheartening and disappointing.”

At first glance, you might nod your head and think the theater’s “business category” does sound like a risky proposition – technology continues to make it ever more possible to watch a high-definition screening on a huge screen in your own home – but Brein says it’s not just about movies, though they will generate much more under the plan: “The projections for a four-screen first-run digital theater are night and day compared to what we are generating right now. The film income more than triples under this business model. We’re not looking at investing for a speculative venture – we’re confident this would be a profitable theater, would return its investment, and (be in) position for good growth.” Besides movies, they could show live events from sports to opera, which are staples in many theaters now.

But if banks aren’t going to help, who will? They have worked with the City of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development, seeking a share of Small Business Administration money that the National Development Council funnels through cities, “to keep businesses going and keep people employed.” Brein says it even got to the point where an NDC loan officer toured the theater – but then the possibility vanished, apparently because of the aforementioned profile of its past three years of finances – even considering those were recession years – and concern about the fact it’s a movie theater.

Since then, Brein had a meeting recently with City Councilmember (and West Seattle resident) Tom Rasmussen, who he describes as “very supportive.” Again, he stresses, they’re not looking for a handout – but more ideas on potential funding resources, “whether it might be a bank or an individual or some other entity, maybe an existing business … I don’t expect (the city) to hand us this money on a silver platter but they certainly have some influence in the community; they work with movers and shakers and we have got to continue to do everything we can do to shake the trees to see what falls out and try to make this thing happen.”

Other ideas that have been explored include “a couple of out-of-the-box options … perhaps the benefits of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit,” which wouldn’t change the need for the half-million-plus sum to overhaul The Admiral, but might facilitate “some smaller grants and programs.”

And he’s talked to possible strategic partners, even Sundance.

What they have NOT contemplated so far is a community fundraising drive, for two reasons, Brein says – for one, they realize there is still some lingering ill will over the short-lived donation drive by former theater ownership/management five years ago, which left “an audience victimized in the past … that had nothing to do with us.” (Brein, in fact, wound up back in charge of The Admiral because of what fell apart in 2008, as explained in our coverage at the time.)

And he has another reason: “The other reality is that we’re a for-profit company – it would be kind of like walking into Macy’s and seeing somebody with a bucket, asking for money so they can get more clothes to sell.”

That said, “nothing’s off the table … it may come to (community fundraising).” The money will have to come from somewhere: “We are hopeful that something will break through at some point.”

And he adds that failure is not an option: “We are really bound and determined to make this work. I have not on any level threatened to close the theater, I have not said if we don’t get X amount of money, we’re going to shut this down, that’s the last thing I’d want to do.”

Again, they don’t own the building. Brein says, “I have to give Marc Gartin, the landlord, credit for working with us. He’s even agreed to use the building as collateral if we were to go out and get some financing – that’s a major contribution on his part.” And he’s been “flexible on (the theater’s) rent.”

Though The Admiral is only one of his properties, Brein says, “I am working on this project every single day. … We’re not sitting back just waiting; we’re out there aggressively looking.”

And if you are a theater patron and have wondered why it’s so rundown, Brein says the overhaul has to be done all at once – piecemeal doesn’t work – because of constraints with the theater itself.

So why stick with it and not just walk away? we asked.

Brein said he realized his reply might sound sappy, but: “Once we got into this theater … we became very engaged and recognized how important the theater is to the community. … We also recognized this was not a candidate for us to go out and sell it to someone … we didn’t ever want to abandon it because we knew if we walked out the door, it was simply going to close. … We were entrusted with this.”

This is a script without an ending yet; rather than comparing The Admiral’s saga to a movie, Jeff Brein says it’s part of the “rollercoaster ride” he’s experienced in his company’s 16 years of operation. But he says a happy ending is very much possible: “I think we’ve done our homework and the numbers look good. I don’t think anybody can question the support and the adoration this theater has in the community.”

Now, there’s just a mystery to be solved – how will the plan get from Phase 1 to Phase 2?

P.S. You can read up on The Admiral’s history in this story by Clay Eals, executive director of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society.

95 Replies to "Admiral Theater plan: 'We have to ... try to make this thing happen'"

  • BeachDriveBoy April 25, 2013 (9:42 pm)

    Wow…a real challenge. Having first-run movies in smaller viewing spaces? Obviously, the idea can’t compete with the downtown or suburban houses that have 70mm, etc, but there are ways it can work:
    1) Create a ’boutique’ experience: there’s a market for it here, I think. Upscale noshes, plus the opportunity to have beer or wine while you watch the movie. The problem is that with smaller screening rooms you start to compete with folks who have invested in fairly large LCD TVs with good sound systems.
    2) Aggressively enforce good moviehouse behavior. I stopped going to the theaters because I was tired of yahoos who talked incessantly through the show, but the last straw was the family who came in who – literally – smelled like musty gym socks!
    I’d hate to see the Admiral go, but they do have a real challenge. With an good video and sound system, I honestly don’t see a need to be the first to see a first-run film, if it means sharing the experience with a bunch of chatty, smelly plebeians. Maybe the day of the large public moviehouse is simply going the way of the 8-track?

  • Xmen April 25, 2013 (10:30 pm)

    Time to flip the script! Beachdriveboy is correct. Why not coctails and good food, as well. And i agree you need to price it so the hillbilly hand fisherman don’t show up. Just say’n. People will pay more for an eventful experience. If the Admiral Theatre used the model below—they will be printing money.

  • trickycoolj April 25, 2013 (10:40 pm)

    I realize community funding isn’t the ideal solution based on the history, but with new avenues like Kickstarter, it seems like there could be more opportunities for outreach and word of mouth (links shared on social media). I’ve only lived here a year, and literally just came back from a special showing of Star Trek at the Pacific Place AMC. I hate going downtown for movies and special shows, I had to leave at 5:00 to make sure I would get there, find/pay for parking, get a snack/dinner, and hope there were any good seats by 7:00. Last weekend I saw a new release in Southcenter. There are so many new people moving to West Seattle such as myself, I honestly didn’t really realize Admiral Theater was there outside of some showings of Rocky Horror my dorm-mates from UW went to in the early 2000s. I’d be onboard with funding a Kickstarter to have a nice place to go to in the neighborhood that had something that wasn’t going to be on Netflix next week! Give me a way to keep my money in the neighborhood.

  • MrB April 25, 2013 (10:46 pm)

    Unfortunately, parking is a major issue for this theater. I don’t see how they overcome this.

  • DM April 25, 2013 (10:47 pm)

    How about they try some crowdfunding sites on the internet for at least some of it.

  • David April 25, 2013 (10:55 pm)

    It is so refreshing to read this story and to know the owners if the theater are actually interested in doing something with the place! A few months ago I emailed the manager – I can’t remember who – and expressed my concerns about the sorry state of the theater and never heard back from anyone. I just assumed they didn’t care. While I don’t have big bucks to contribute, I be the first ine to offer some free labor to fix the place up. I think the Admiral could be a real treasure for West Seattle, just like the Bay is for Ballard. Hang in there!!!

  • Junebug April 25, 2013 (10:59 pm)

    Parking is a big challenge in that area for a 3-screen theater. But my family would love to be able to see new movies without heading off-island! Dealing with downtown or Southcenter at night with our kid or her elderly grandparent is too much work. We’d happily kick in with crowdsourced funding. Kickstarter? I see a project on Kickstarter for the Lyric theater to purchase digital equipment that was fully funded.

  • ttt April 25, 2013 (11:10 pm)

    I hope the admiral can stay alive and Beachdriveboy and xmen have some good suggestions. If the viewing spaces are made smaller, then it would remind me of a historic theatre in Tacoma that is run almost entirely by volunteers and it shows mostly “indie” films. It’s called The Grand. Good luck Admiral!

  • AJP April 25, 2013 (11:11 pm)

    David mentioned the Majestic Bay in Ballard: no parking, small theaters with small screens, and very successful! I think West Seattle would love it!

  • Curtis April 25, 2013 (11:16 pm)

    Ok,first of all, enough with the snobbery. My sincere suggestion is that there are at least 2 21+ theaters out of the 4, but always at least one that is all ages. I would also beg the Admiral to keep one of the projectors. I know that the studios are requiring digital for new films, but if you’re going boutique, you want to cater to film buffs.

    Oh, and good luck!!!! a lot of folks will be rooting for you.

  • B April 25, 2013 (11:31 pm)

    It is sad to see the state but I do have concerns about the parking.. assume they did get 50-80% of their max capacity, 500+ people, where are they all going to park? 100-200 cars?

    My favorite boutique is Big Picture in belltown – while it’s a drive, it has plenty of (unfortunately paid) parking.

  • Ian April 25, 2013 (11:34 pm)

    It would be awesome to see something along the lines of the Neptune in the U-Dist. with the capabilities to do both digital film, concerts, and other productions in a beautiful historic location that the Admiral is.

  • Noelle April 25, 2013 (11:54 pm)

    Since it is a “Landmark” how can they “Over Haul” it? Part of being a landmark is not changing. (Please don’t get me wrong, I would LOVE to see the Admiral get up graded to a first rate theater with awesome movies and comfy seating! Just worried a Historical group may stop that idea before it really has a chance to happen.)

    • WSB April 26, 2013 (8:09 am)

      Ex-WW: One person does not an entire community’s opinion or demeanor make. And who knows what BDB smelled like, to the “musty” family!
      Noelle – Certainly they would have to get approval from the Landmarks Board. I know that our local historical group, the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, is led by someone who has a good relationship with Admiral management already (executive director Clay Eals), and that the Admiral already has worked with him and SWSHS on some programs. So I doubt that would be a problem. Also note that Clay has published an Admiral history background story to the SWSHS blog, to help complement this update (and future history inquiries) … the link is at the end of our story.

  • Ken April 26, 2013 (1:32 am)

    If they could still keep one screen for the 2nd run movies as they become available and still offer them for a reasonable price, it would be much appreciated. Not necessarily everyday, but perhaps on weekdays when patronage is a bit light anyway?
    I’m sure there would still be a market for non-first run movies from those in West Seattle who do not necessarily have the means or discretionary income to travel to the big multiplexes outside the immediate area.
    Curtis makes an EXCELLENT point – keep at least one of those projectors. Or better yet, keep two. One to be used as needed and the other as a display in the lobby.
    So many, potentially great, opportunities here for the future. Looking forward to see what happens.
    P.S. Anyone here still remember going to the Granada with it’s beautiful pipe organ?

  • ted nakahara April 26, 2013 (6:10 am)

    Well, this “hillbilly handfisherman” would certainly love to see some upgrades to the admiral. Regardless of how some would like to price me out of admission.

  • Que April 26, 2013 (6:58 am)

    B- There is a parking garage less than a block away in front of the Bartell’s. That is where I assume people would park if it sold out to capacity.

  • B-squared April 26, 2013 (7:00 am)

    I really hope that they don’t change to four screens. The “going out to the movies” experience for me is always significantly degraded when i shell out the big bucks and end up watching the movie on a screen the size of a garage door. Three screens seems like it could be do-able. And i like the idea of higher end food and drink – perhaps alcohol only allowed at two of the screens. Food could be Tapas or small plate offerings. Maybe some food truck folks could rotate quarterly to supply food – using Admiral facilities… just a thought.

  • Ex-Westwood Resident April 26, 2013 (7:35 am)

    Convert it to a four movie house. Take one, maybe two, and turn it in to a lounge type setting with tables chairs and serve food and drink in those two.
    The other two are regular theaters.
    While I was stationed in Norfolk, VA there was a theater like this called “Cinema and Drafthouse” ran first run films, served wine and beer, bar type food, not full meals. And was available to rent for parties and private screenings.
    With the plethora of small, local breweries and niche cafes, this could be a perfect place for them to get exposure to more people.
    But keep running “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” once a month. I think it’s the ONLY place in Seattle that you can still see it!!!!

  • Ex-Westwood Resident April 26, 2013 (7:43 am)

    honestly don’t see a need to be the first to see a first-run film, if it means sharing the experience with a bunch of chatty, smelly plebeians
    …you need to price it so the hillbilly hand fisherman don’t show up.
    WOW!!! And I thought people who said that West Seattle was full of snobish, yuppie, elitists were full of hot air. Guess I was dead wrong about that, they aren’t too far off the mark!!!!

  • T Rex April 26, 2013 (7:57 am)

    They should stick to one theatre and go check out the Tin Room in Burien. Great little restaurant and bar and a small movie viewing area that is attached.

    You can bring your coctail in and enjoy a good movie after one of their GREAT burgers!

  • Is It Me April 26, 2013 (8:04 am)

    If you want a “model” for this just look at the successful Majestic Theater is Ballard. Parking is a challenge for all in town theaters. But the 3 screen Majestic in Ballard seems to be ok. And there is PLENTY of parking within a block, always has been. There’s and ENTIRE underground parking garage 3/4 of a block away by the Bartels. Parking has NEVER been the reason I’ve avoided the Admiral, the seats and 2nd run movies are…if it had first run and good seats, I’m there!!!! And I agree, if banks are working, CONSIDER Kickstarter. It’s gotten technology, movies, music and all sorts of projects funded when the traditional (stupid/evil) banks said no.

  • WS FTW April 26, 2013 (8:09 am)

    There’s more parking options than majestic bay. They should totally do kickstarter. I’d give them $50.

  • Thomas April 26, 2013 (8:10 am)

    In my home state, we h e a couple of very (modestly) successful pizza + brew house theaters. Tickets are affordable and its family friendly, plus plenty of room in the operations for value-added products (something most big theaters cash in on). Start a nano brewery, make it affordable and comfortable. Add in some marketing and you have a successful Kickstarter campaign. Good luck’

  • Clay Eals April 26, 2013 (8:35 am)

    Thanks, Tracy, for the excellent, in-depth article on the current prospects for the Admiral and for publishing the link for my backgrounder on the Southwest Seattle Historical Society site.

    The answer to the question regarding changes to the city-landmarked 1942 moviehouse is this: The Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board would have to approve changes only if changes were proposed to parts of the the Admiral that are designated a landmark — and not all of the Admiral is landmarked.

    The portions of the Admiral that are landmarked include the front facade on California Avenue, the entire lobby and the two interior auditorium walls with underwater appliques (now covered by curtains) that stand behind the building’s exterior walls.

    Parts that are not landmarked include the restrooms and the interior wall (installed in 1973) that divides the once-single auditorium into two.

    This leaves a lot of flexibility for reconfiguring the auditoriums and doing other upgrading without disturbing the features that are the most important to preserve.

    I hope that makes sense. Happy to try to answer any other questions on this topic, either here or individually (just click my name to find our website and to e-mail us).

    We at the Southwest Seattle Historical Society are thrilled about the work that Dinah, Jeff and Marc have done and are continuing to do to insure a long future for the beloved Admiral.

    Clay Eals, executive director
    Southwest Seattle Historical Society

  • jg April 26, 2013 (8:38 am)

    Good luck to them. They’re incorrect about having to drive far out of West Seattle. The new theater in Columbia City is doing fairly well well and is only a 10 minute drive with easy parking.

    I’m not sure why they need 4 screens, I think plenty of theaters make due with 2 or three. Digital along with some sound proofing is essential. I agree with adding things like beer, better food etc.

    Parking isn’t that big a deal. There is a large, cheap, public lot under Bartells that I’m sure they could exploit or at least advertise.

  • Andrew April 26, 2013 (9:03 am)

    A kickstarter would be a fairly good idea. If they don’t want it to seem like a handout, allow people to buy free passes that are good after the renovation is complete. Maybe $5 for good will, $20 for one pass, $30 for two, $60 for three, and $100 for six. So you could donate money up front, but still get something for your trouble (besides a renovated theater).

  • Pigeon Point April 26, 2013 (9:10 am)

    The Ark Lodge Cinema in Columbia City is so much fun to visit. It’s historic but clean, technologically perfect and smack dab in the center of cool little shops and restaurants. It will take a lot of $$ for the Admiral folks to match that – and maybe it would hurt the Ark Lodge because they might be competing for the same films – but it would be a fantastic addition to the neighborhood.

  • Renee April 26, 2013 (9:15 am)

    @ Andrew – it’s like you were reading my mind. I was thinking something very similar :)

  • Wsrez April 26, 2013 (9:17 am)

    Digital and sound matter less then seats that aren’t broken. If it were my business, I would work on upgrading to BASIC comfort levels first, then, change the format. Parking is an issue but it is downtown as well and plenty of people make their way downtown to see films. Most movies tha play at the Admiral are avalilable on Internet TV these days so comfort, enjoyment and the big screen experience is the main reason people go. I wonder if the owners have thought about finding partners to help with their plan.

    One more suggestion:
    MUSIC VENUE!!!!! We are the only neighborhood in city that does not have a music venue and we are in desperate need of one. Larger bands, higher ticket prices… Columbia city theater has mastered this model!!!

    Best of luck- also willing to chip in, when I see a business plan.

  • LivesInWS April 26, 2013 (9:24 am)

    Well, I think the Admiral in its present state is comfortable. I’m fine with the basics — not looking for a cushy experience.

    Most of the first-run movies out there really aren’t that good. I’m fine with waiting a bit to then go see the few movies I want to in my own neighborhood.

    4 screens does seem too many to put in this mostly residential area. There’s only a small zone for business, along Admiral and California. This Junction is much smaller than the Alaska Junction area.

    Smart of Brein to know — and say out loud — that the for-profit business funding process is different than that for non-profits. I love his Macy’s example!

    Shame on the banks for sitting on their money instead of making loans to small businesses.

    Also would love to read how area residents were effected by similar “make-over”/switches to megaplex format as in the examples mentioned by readers.

  • Todd April 26, 2013 (9:25 am)

    When I was a teenager in the early ’80s, the Admiral was our go-to place. It was always packed and there was a parking lot across the street. There was a line around the block for Friday the 13th II and III (in 3-D!) I saw Eddie Murphy’s “Raw” at the Admiral. It was a first-run theater doing good business. We also went out to the Lewis & Clark by Sea Tac. All of the new multiplexes went in around town and the parking lot got developed, the theater shut down for a while and it seemed doomed. I applaud the owners who stepped up, put a lot of money into a new sound system and re-opened it and have tried to keep it going. I went recently and did enjoy having a beer in the 21+ balcony. I hope a new business model can help – I sure hate to think that a landmark like the Admiral Theater can just fade away.

  • Kathleen April 26, 2013 (9:34 am)

    There is a great little theater in the Central District–Central Cinema. It is much smaller than the Admiral of course, only one screen, etc. They have awesome food, yummy different popcorns, great little pizzas and noshes, service at your seat, etc. It is great. Once a week they have a “Cartoon Happy Hour” with Looney Tunes type stuff. It is always packed. That would work well here with tons of kids. Parents get a beer- kids get some laughs, a win-win. Check out their website. There may some great ideas there. Not about renovations, but about food, types of film, etc. Love the Admiral. Good luck!

  • Alki Beach Guy April 26, 2013 (9:36 am)

    I love this new idea. Digital sound and picture are key to the experience and I would put that near the top of the list. Regarding parking, keep in mind the zillions of new apartments that are being built. We will be much more walking friendly to people that are likely big targets for an upscale experience. I also like the idea of keeping one screen that can show second round movies at lower costs for families and others.

  • Skatelip April 26, 2013 (9:49 am)

    I’m with the other folks that have mentioned Majestic Bay! I love that theater experience so much I drive there for all the movies I want to catch on opening.

    They don’t have 3-D Digital capability which is actually a big draw for me. So much better to see those Pixar films in full, glorious color, instead of being muted by gimmickry.

  • Cid April 26, 2013 (9:51 am)

    LOVE the Majestic Bay, and have always found parking within a short walk. I certainly hope the Admiral has a $$ supporter who is willing to help bring a 1st run great theatre back to West Seattle and give this Landmark new life.

  • outside the box April 26, 2013 (9:58 am)

    We would love to see this theatre succeed. Love the model of downtown!

  • Jenna April 26, 2013 (9:58 am)

    The Blue Mouse in Tacoma successfully used kickstarter to convert to digital.

    I think a lot of people would be on board to donate. The Admiral is cherished in WS.

  • tk April 26, 2013 (10:22 am)

    YES YES YES!!! I’ll never have to go to the mall again!

  • MikeRussellFoto April 26, 2013 (10:28 am)

    Yep, the first thing I thought of the Majestic Bay, as well. I love that theater (though it’s been years since I’ve been there.)
    I’ve lived walking distance from The Admiral for nearly 7 years, and I think we’ve gone to a movie there once, maybe twice, in that time. And our biggest complaint was the seats (second biggest was the movie choices). So, I for one, would welcome a renovation and conversion to a 1st-run house.
    I also agree with all the kickstarter suggestions. In this socially-connected city I bet you’d get a lot of donations. And I like the movie passes as rewards for donations, but you could take it even further. Something like at $50,000 you pick the name of one of the theaters (Instead of Theater 1, it’s “The Smith Theater”, or whatever). At $10,000 you and 100 friends get an exclusive screening.
    For a ton more examples, look at the Veronica Mars kickstarter. Pure genius. (
    Whatever route you go, good luck! I promise that if it turns into something more like the Majestic, you’d turn this local into a regular! And I wouldn’t even take up a parking spot!

  • Curtis April 26, 2013 (10:40 am)

    Sentimentally, I’d like to see the one screen model. Sentiment doesn’t usually make money. It should be pointed out that when the Admiral was purchased from SRO/Cineplex, it came with stipulations at that time, that it could not be a first run house. That has certainly expired. I am also aware that, to limit competition, studios have been offering digital upgrade assistance on the condition that FILM projectors are no longer installed in a theater.

    Some combination of The Big Picture/Ark Lodge Cinemas/the Bay Theater (owned, I believe, by folks who live on Beach Drive – maybe there’s a partnership possible>) would be wonderful. If I win the mega millions, I’ll stop by to help :-)

  • Anne April 26, 2013 (10:42 am)

    As a teenager in the 60’s I too spent many grand Friday/Saturday nights at the Admiral – for those who never had the chance to see how wonderful the interior was — especially the ceiling- it was truly something special.
    LiveinWS– you may have had a comfortable seat- but they are not consistently comfortable — it’s really hit & miss . But I love The Admiral & would be on board with any kind of fundraising effort. There just aren’t that many neighborhood theaters around anymore. Bartells parking garage is a definite plus. Maybe the old Blokbusters could be torn down & the whole area turned into a pay lot. I wouldn’t mind that– I have to pay downtown & in Ballard . Good luck– I ‘m excited at the prospect!

  • Wakeflood April 26, 2013 (10:49 am)

    Another analog for folks to think about – the Living Room Theater in Portland. Fun little restaurant/bar in the front and theater where you can eat & drink and see either first run or classics depending.

  • S. April 26, 2013 (10:49 am)

    I say knock it down and build more apartments because that’s what West Seattle needs more of!

    Really, do something because its in poor shape. May as well make it first run movies. Their prices are already too high for second run. And those bathrooms are in horrible shape. Lots of work to be done.

  • SunriseHeights April 26, 2013 (10:53 am)

    I think there are a lot of good ideas and suggestions here. I too would question the need for 4 screens – but also agree that Majestic Bay is a great example. I like going to Ballard to see movies there, far more than going downtown or out to Southcenter. In fact, whenever we see movies it’s at the Ark Lodge in Columbia City, Majestic Bay, Big Picture, Central Cinema or Tin Room. Smaller theaters with a neighborhood feel, each with their own approach and level of comfort, and each fairly successful it seems.
    There are a lot of models that would work, and I know if they were able to follow any of them, get better film,s and have a cleaner/less funky space, they would do great!

  • Alex April 26, 2013 (11:04 am)

    Whatever happens, please don’t change the popcorn machines. Somehow, the Admiral has amazing popcorn, despite the obvious fact that they are not putting any special effort or expense into making it. Don’t screw with that aspect of your good luck.

  • trickycoolj April 26, 2013 (11:17 am)

    Not sure how many in the WSB community are familiar with Penny-Arcade, but they also recently had a very successful Kickstarter last year. They started about 15 years ago as a webcomic about video games and have grown a very large fanbase and media (dare I say) empire. You may have heard of PAX (Penny Arcade eXpo) downtown over Labor Day weekend that has sold out 5 years in a row. Last year they decided to do a Kickstarter to help them be able to focus on side projects and expand their media outlet. They now provide a whole YouTube channel focused on gaming news and even started a reality series to find the next best webcomic called Strip Search and have a dedicated gaming/technology news site. They had a lot of great contribution rewards, some silly (your name read while one of the founders chases a duck and yes he did it for an hour reading all the names), and some very cool special edition prints and books. A theater could really use the Kickstarter format to engage the community electronically, quickly spread word-of-mouth (WSB, twitter, FB, etc) and provide some tangible rewards such as a number of passes for movies after renovation.

    Someone above mentioned Central Cinema, the one thing I love about going there is that they pick fun kitchy or cult classic movies. I watched Back to the Future late one night at Central Cinema, and it was so much fun! The food was hit and miss (french fries were soggy and baked since they have no fryer) but the popcorn flavors and beers were top notch! I’d love to have a closer fun cult movie night like that closer to home!

  • Curtis April 26, 2013 (11:28 am)

    oh – and Call Dianne Cannon – with the money she’s gonna save on Laker Playoff tickets, she can fix up her old place of employment.

  • Carla April 26, 2013 (11:30 am)

    Many residents of West Seattle would kick in some $$$ to avoid having to go over the bridge to go see a movie. Be it kickstarter or another way… the interest is there.

  • Sarah April 26, 2013 (11:36 am)

    I love the idea of a small first run theater in West Seattle, then I don’t have to go all the way downtown or to the mall! If Admiral had a fundraiser I would go and donate!

  • Eric April 26, 2013 (11:36 am)

    I’ve grew up in West Seattle and was a movie obsessed little kid who spent more time at the Admiral than I can even remember (although a highlight is seeing ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ there when i was seven). It was the best game in town when it came to seeing anything. The years may have worn on the place a bit but it never cheapened the experience.

    Since then I’ve gone to film school and spent twelve years working in the film business both in Seattle and all over the world. I’ve made cinema my entire life and that all started at the Admiral.

    I can’t tell you how much theaters like this are important, not just for my own early cinematic experiences, but for the neighborhood as a whole. More and more neighborhood theaters are closing as the cinematic experience evolves for better and worse. We can’t and shouldn’t fight change but there are ways to turn the old into something brilliant and new.

    It does a disservice to the community to lose such gems as the Admiral. I truly hope that this plan will help people recognize this theater for the artistic and entertaining resource that it is. If for no other reason than to give a whole new generation of little kids the opportunity to be captivated by the movies.

  • Jason Miller April 26, 2013 (11:37 am)

    I am a HUGE fan of The Admiral. I once saw THE BEAVER there and it was totally out of focus, but it added to the awfulness of the movie. I try to see as many movies there as possible. I love second run, cuz it give me a good excuse to see Major releases that I should be seeing the weekend it comes out or seeing things over and over. ROCK OF AGES 4 times!

    Do be warned. If you are going to a long movie, like Lincoln, bring a jacket or something to sit on.

    PLEASE fix the Icee machine! And sometimes the workers question my movie choices, but Much love to you Admiral! I bring all my friends there and they love it.

  • mb April 26, 2013 (11:40 am)

    I say DO IT!! Theres a huge amount of people in west seattle who are on foot and bus, meaning they probably don’t get down to south center very often for a movie. Yea, admirals prices right now are cheap, but who wants to sit in their creeky old chairs and cold creepy theatre. Not me. Its not a good experience going there. Not like when I was little. I like the idea of a community fundraiser, among other ways to get money. Passing out incentive like tickets for the new theatre is a great idea. Ideally those people will come once its open, enjoy the experience, spend some money in concessions and tell their friends about it.

  • NFiorentini April 26, 2013 (12:05 pm)

    Just sell to the Alamo Drafthouse and be done with it.

  • drummr April 26, 2013 (1:03 pm)

    Love the idea of a first run movie theatre in West Seattle. It’s about time! However, when I shell out $ to go to the movies, I want to be enveloped by the experience. That means awesome surround sound and crystal clear picture on a LARGE screen. I am never motivated to go to small screen theaters, if I want a smaller screen experience I have that at home. I believe in quality not quantity and think that perhaps four screens might be too many. The Majestic Bay in Ballard I believe has one large theatre and two smaller ones and that seems to be a good compromise. Now on a separate note, how cool would it be if they could restore the original facade of the original 1930 Portola Theater? Sorry, but after looking at the photos on the historical site it seems a shame that they felt compelled to completely redesign the facade in 1942.

  • Hilari April 26, 2013 (1:04 pm)

    I heard a story on NPR last year about a small California town that saved its little theater through a subscription program. It’s worth thinking about. (If it was mentioned already, I apologize — too many comments to read!)

    I love Central Cinema, too, which serves food, beer, and wine.

  • John H April 26, 2013 (1:15 pm)

    Would love to see some positive changes. We really would prefer most times to stay in West Seattle instead of going downtown to the Pacific Place or Meridian theaters.

    For us, the impediments for going more often to the Admiral have been:
    – Lack of first run films. By the time the Admiral gets them now they are already out on Netflix, Comcast On-Demand, etc.
    – Parking, parking, parking. Sometimes it’s fine, other times it’s a nightmare. I wish the old Blockbuster site would be fully converted to just parking. A new structure that had businesses on the street front and covered under/above ground parking in the back would be great.
    – Nicer concessions/food/etc. and an updated/renovated interior. Better seats would be nice too.

    I see no problem converting the 2 theaters to 4 as I’ve never seen any of the 2 theaters even close to half full. This along with conversion to digital would make a huge difference (I’ve been to a couple of movies there where the image quality was, let’s just say, lacking terribly.

    – John H.

  • Samantha April 26, 2013 (2:23 pm)

    Have you thought about selling memberships? Like PCC does? It would require some more serious budget forecasting and maybe some customer surveying pre-implementation to figure out pricing and interest, but it could be a good option different from the Kickstarter idea (which I also like). Not sure if it would be an option given that the theater ownership has other cinemas, but thought I’d at least put the idea out there! I’m a WS resident, temporarily located in London, and there are a couple cinemas here that sell memberships and then offer discounted tickets to shows for members (funny enough, the one I go to here is also abbreviated PCC – in case it helps: I would definitely support the Kickstarter or buy a membership!

  • me April 26, 2013 (3:10 pm)

    music venue please!!!!!!!! no one wants to go to move theaters any more, you can’t pause and take a break whenever you feel like it.

  • Jason April 26, 2013 (4:03 pm)

    “music venue please!!!!!!!! no one wants to go to move theaters any more, you can’t pause and take a break whenever you feel like”

    Speak for yourself.

    • WSB April 26, 2013 (4:09 pm)

      Also please note in the music regard:
      West Seattle DOES have tons of live music – we have listings in our calendar every day (and those are only for SOME of the venues – there are even more that we can’t list because they don’t have online calendars and/or don’t e-mail us their listings) – yes, some are just cozy bars/lounges, but there are also coffeehouses and even Skylark, where there’s live music almost every night.
      The Admiral DID try live music events. Not to say they wouldn’t, with an upgraded facility, but they did make a really huge effort in terms of non-movie events for quite some time.

  • DML April 26, 2013 (5:18 pm)

    Didn’t Vashon’s movie theater just do a community sponsored upgrade to digital? They might have some words of encouragement. We need this. Here’s hoping they can implement the major changes.

  • newnative April 26, 2013 (5:33 pm)

    Some older theatres have gone nonprofit and in doing so, have memberships and often serve as community auditorium. The Admiral has done the latter.

  • Karen April 26, 2013 (5:35 pm)

    How about selling some “golden tickets”… Say a few thousand dollars for unlimited movie viewing?..numbers would have to be crunched for viability but might be an idea?

  • Hello April 26, 2013 (7:25 pm)

    There are Three Reasons this will never fly;

  • L.A. April 26, 2013 (8:36 pm)

    Hello. There is plenty of parking if you aren’t too lazy to walk a block of two! Don’t add more screens, do add real food (how about group tables in the back). 21 plus movies late night with beer and wine in the theater. Saturday kid movies. Keep the fun quirky oddball and rocky couple times a month. Subscribers and kickstarter!

  • Jaime April 26, 2013 (8:37 pm)

    Love the Admiral and would welcome the changes for sure. Great ideas everyone has. I hope it works out and would support any of these ideas over closing it completely. It’s kind of sad actually that all these other neighborhoods (even Columbia City and Central!) have done something cool with their old neighborhood theater. We should have something great – it would benefit everyone, even the ones who stay home because they are afraid of searching for parking (really? where are these people from? you want acres of convenient parking, move to the burbs!)

  • W April 26, 2013 (10:02 pm)

    If the banks won’t loan, I bet private investors would – if the project looks promising. I was there last week…not sure 600K would be sufficient for the degree of renovation needed plus upgrades. Truly, with the exception of the murals & exterior, the place needs to be gutted if it is to live up to modern expectations in the way of acoustics, finishes, experience…

  • Kelly April 27, 2013 (12:10 am)

    I love the ideas of good food/wine with my movie, but comfy (rocking or reclining!) seats are a MUST. The ones at the Egyptian were the best–not sure if they still have them. I’d love to see more first-run films, support an awesome local theater, and watch films with a community of people who LOVE movies (ie small rooms are A-OK). I was so glad when the Admiral started doing SIFF. I have never ever had trouble parking.

  • Christine April 27, 2013 (12:46 am)

    I am waiting for this for so long. Nice to hear Far Away is aware. West Seattle is pretty loyal to local businesses and the peninsula unless the options are too bad. Once or twice a months I check the Admiral listing but find no movies I want to watch and I am not super picky. Every 3 to 4 months I go but don’t have a pleasant customer experience and the seats are challenging (I know they know) which wouldn’t be so bad if everything else would be great. I end up going to the Central Cinema and Big Picture instead. Their concepts are just awesome. Their love to detail pays off. I agree, parking isn’t ideal, but still doable. My advice, start out with updating your small room upstairs into a boutique theater and offer more fun showings (check out Central), double features, events related to showings and find out what the community wants. Get creative.
    I am sure with a strong concept that fits the community this could all turn around even without big money. Crowdfunding could help getting some issues fixed ($75-100K) but I doubt this would bring in $600K, even with great perks. But maybe some great investor hears about Admiral and goes for the big remodel and that might work as well. It just hurts to see this West Seattle gem fade away.

  • STEVE April 27, 2013 (12:56 am)

    The length of the theater is quite long… Maybe they intend to divide the space in half… Then the screens would be nearly as big? this is a no brainier I hope they can make it happen!

  • STEVE April 27, 2013 (1:21 am)

    Can we find out how they intend to divide the space? A central hallway with theater access on the left and right could work, bigger screens no need to worry about the slope of the floor. I love movies and will be there for first run movies regular!

  • WSSupporter April 27, 2013 (7:21 am)

    As a community member who frequents the Admiral, I see lots of great ideas here and many wishes I’ve thought about a time or two. The article alludes to management wanting community help and input…so, what can we do in the immediate future other than keep attending movies?

  • sc April 27, 2013 (7:41 am)

    How about older classic movies that people have never seen on a large screen? Maybe Oscar Best Pictures or themes like baseball “Pride of the Yankee’s” or western’s “Shane”?
    Even the largest home movie screens can’t match a film seen in full screen.

  • Jason April 27, 2013 (8:58 am)

    I’d give $1000.. For a five year, one-person pass to the theater :) In a heartbeat! Now, just offer 500 of those…

  • JoanE April 27, 2013 (9:18 am)

    SO glad to hear the Admiral is in the hands of folks who not only love the space and film but have some business savvy. My small request – when you redux the bathrooms, if the doors MUST open toward the toilets, could there please be enough clearance so that one doesn’t have to be a cirque du soleil troupe member to climb in the tiny triangle of space and then try and close the door?

    I agree there’s lots of support available, for profit or not, from West Seattleites tired of driving 20 minutes and then spending another 20 looking for parking or spending as much as the price of a ticket on a spot for their cars. And finally – please do keep one of the film projectors. I think it’s a great idea to reserve one screen for indies, film buff titles, and partnerships with SIFF when that time rolls around. end of rant. But again – BRAVO Admiral ownership for caring.

  • Ed April 27, 2013 (9:28 am)

    With all these responses it’s obvious the locals want this theater to stay open. It is Refreshing to hear the management team having such a progressive view and not asking for money from the community. I’ve never been there but it seems like it’s worth the cost to fix up and make it into a hybrid boutique theater.

  • Kristined April 27, 2013 (10:17 am)

    I’ve never had trouble parking in the neighborhood. For those of you who are concerned, there is a conveniently located bus stop right there with buses coming straight from the Junction.

  • justme April 27, 2013 (1:46 pm)

    I hate to be a downer but I won’t pay full price unless this place has brand new seats AND there’s a parking garage or a lot next door somehow. The parking is ridiculous down there already and this is going to be even worse. I feel bad for the home owners in the block. They will suffer from this.

  • nicholas April 27, 2013 (4:48 pm)

    i agree with ken…it would be great i at least 1 of the 4 could be kept 2nd run, and therefore affordable.
    the main reason i frequent admiral over others (not counting distance) is the fact that my partner and i can see a movie as part of an evening out and it doesn’t suddenly become a $100 tuesday night.
    but otherwise (and even if that isn’t possible) i am in complete support of the project!

  • slulrich April 27, 2013 (6:56 pm)

    This is why I moved to WS. Great input from so many folks on a topic I also share passion about, among other things. Not going to repeat any of the previous ideas, there are many good ones regarding format, parking, business models etc…

    Bottom line from my POV is that it should be very apparent to the owners that there is an obvious demand for a 1st and 2nd run product, to include updated facilities, food and additional offerings like music etc… Several local models and several financial channels exist with modern day methods. All it takes is some creative thinking outside the box. Simplicity, quality and focus (meaning don’t be everything for everyone) is all it will take to make a new theater a huge success – I envy the opportunity!

    Ironically, the Blockbuster 2 or 3 blocks north closed as predicted and don’t think for a second that some smart developer is not looking at that space for something that could possibly augment the parking issue in general – apart from its pathetic surface parking solution. Is it a far walk to the junction – dunno? Anyway, that could be a hair-brained thought. But one thing for, WS is designed to be a walking community for the most part. So lets keep on with it and don’t let speed bumps deter what is sure to be a welcomed change if done right.

    You have my support as I write to you all from Quito, Ecuador! Don’t ask. :) Back in July.

    Seriously, you want help in crafting a plan, weight the options etc… – let me know.


  • Kari April 27, 2013 (9:15 pm)

    Couldn’t Lafayette’s playground & WSH’s parking lots be used at night?
    I hope they open up the balcony- born & raised here & have never been up there. Heard tons of stories…

  • deepdenimbluedog April 28, 2013 (6:29 am)

    Jeff and Dinah why not pursue various forms of grant funding? Any grant search on-line produces thousands of grant source funding. Hire a grant writer to do the paper work and they know how to do a focused search saving you time and money. Once grant money is obtained it is never to be paid back.
    Our friends restored the Belton Chalet Hotel just outside Glacier Park, MT with historic preservation funds. It is now and has been an operating entity for years. GO FOR THE GRANT MONEY!

  • Jennie April 28, 2013 (11:53 am)

    Have you looked into partnering with Mcmenamins somehow?

  • sophista-tiki April 28, 2013 (3:42 pm)

    Crowd funding ! If those 2 ladies could get 75,000 bucks for middle aged tomboy clothes out of west seattle, the theater could certainly get what it needs to make the place cool. I’m always amazed by what people will chose to support with their money.

  • Amanda April 28, 2013 (5:55 pm)

    I want to add that Classic movies on the BIG Screen are wonderful. Several historic theaters in cities I have lived in (Tampa, Fl, Atlanta, GA and San Luis Obispo, CA) continued to show first run shows, but had “classic film series” that they would show once a week. Mostly on whatever evening was their “slow night” The classic showings would be SOLD OUT. The opportunity to see Gone with the Wind, Rear Window, Some Like it Hot, etc is definitely worth it to me. I also want to say that there is plenty of parking in the area —the garage at Bartells and street parking within the surrounding blocks seems fine. The detractors must all want to park in the two spots in front of the entrance to the theater :-)

  • KenK April 28, 2013 (6:54 pm)

    I echo what sc & Amanda have mentioned – Classic movies on the big screen. Several years ago when the Admiral reopened, they showed the Maltese Falcon as one of the movies. Wonderful to see it on a cinema sized screen.
    Wonder if they could offer “film noir” or just wonderful classic night(s) once a month? Rotate the genres – dramas, westerns, comedies, mysteries, etc.
    Others have also mentioned the Blockbuster location as potential future parking. Great idea. An above or below ground parking structure that could be used not only for the Admiral, but perhaps the water taxi, and those looking to just park and take the bus to various places?.

  • WMF April 28, 2013 (7:04 pm)

    I’d rather see this place shut down and boarded up than remodeled. Unless a new structure is built, or one is destroyed, parking is an impossibility.

    I really only see about two movies a year, max. If the admiral followed the Egyptian’s lead, and showed cult films on Fridays and Saturdays I’d be out almost every weekend. I’d rather see them change film formats than gut a landmark to turn a profit.

  • Claudia April 28, 2013 (9:56 pm)

    One acronym: SIFF
    Lower Queen Anne has the SIFF theatre and it is the only place I go now. I wish it were here in West Seattle.

  • slut on alki April 29, 2013 (11:09 am)

    I think it’s great!!!!!!!! People from all over and come to West Seattle and spend their hard earned money at our local shops :)

  • resident April 30, 2013 (9:34 am)

    yea! new seats & carpet!

  • Curtis April 30, 2013 (4:59 pm)

    love to see an update on this story. Did any of the comments seem helpful? Any good news? Also – is there a requirement to ditch the projectors involved in this theater, I know that some theaters have been required to “film proof” their screens in order to receive digital upgrade help. Evil, I know.

    • WSB April 30, 2013 (5:07 pm)

      I told them I’d be following up. Going to give a little more time for things to percolate.

  • Citizen April 30, 2013 (9:59 pm)

    Even though I’m the 95th commenter, I want to vote that this sounds like a great idea. I love the idea of a classic film night and a children’s matinee. I would frequent this as I love to support WS business and wish to stay around here most of time and not just because they took the 55 and 54 away. People could also ride their bikes here.

  • Cassandra Conyers May 7, 2013 (3:55 pm)

    Funding ideas: Kickstarter!!!

Sorry, comment time is over.