Admiral Theater’s future: ‘Ticking clock’ forcing decision soon

(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.

62 Replies to "Admiral Theater's future: 'Ticking clock' forcing decision soon"

  • Marie July 23, 2014 (11:27 pm)

    We love having this theater in our neighborhood and hope it can be updated. We will go much more when that happens.

  • Big G July 24, 2014 (6:08 am)

    I love having a second run theater in the neighborhood. My gut says if it is updated it probably won’t be cheap and second run anymore. That would be a shame. They either need to become a South end version of the guild 45th and show independent and foreign films or stay second run. There’s no way they an afford to upgrade and operate to compete with the Cinerama or Pacific Place.

  • Anne July 24, 2014 (6:31 am)

    Growing up in WS in the 50’s – we went to “The Admiral” often. It was an awesome theater then- it can be awesome again. Please West Seattle let’s help make this happen. Our community is changing – businesses close – buildings torn down – new ones built. It’s the way of things – but losing our theater would really be a heartbreaker.

  • cjboffoli July 24, 2014 (6:50 am)

    The Admiral would have more appeal for me if it were to go more in the direction of something like the Alamo Drafthouse which is a really terrific concept with more independent films, hot meals and beer served right in the theater ( There are already more than enough theaters to see first-run, big studio films in Seattle.

  • WSEA July 24, 2014 (7:18 am)

    Personally, i would rather they spend the money on the projector equipment only and keep the interior as is. I like the look and feel of the theater and it would be nice to keep the ticket prices low. I also think they need to keep cost down since there is a lack of parking to attract customers outside the area.

  • Mr Elliott July 24, 2014 (7:20 am)

    If The Admiral were able to update its theater to show both blockbuster and independent films, I would be hard-pressed to ever want to leave West Seattle (when I’m not in the office).

  • Lox July 24, 2014 (7:40 am)

    I hope with all of my heart they find a way to stay and make the upgrades they need. It’s such a gem for West Seattle.

  • Alicia S. July 24, 2014 (7:44 am)

    Really hope they can fix it up. We patron it now, but would a lot more if newer movies showed. Best of luck to them, keeping my fingers crossed!

  • A July 24, 2014 (7:54 am)

    I bet it looks like it did in the 50s when Anne went. It’s disgusting. The bathrooms?? Yuck.

  • John July 24, 2014 (8:02 am)

    I love this theater! It’s a nice 35 minute walk from my home. I get a little exercise in and a great movie.

  • Lisa July 24, 2014 (8:12 am)

    Everyone else in the world puts up a Kickstarter or Go Fund Me campaign. Why not the Admiral? I know I would chip in to keep it around!

  • Cid July 24, 2014 (8:16 am)

    Wouldn’t it be great if someone like the Alhadeff family would restore it like the Majestic Bay in Ballard?

  • Kayleigh July 24, 2014 (8:20 am)

    Here’s another vote for going the independent/art house route. If I want to see second-run films, I can Netflix them.
    But I do love the old building. Fingers crossed for the Admiral!

  • Gini July 24, 2014 (8:21 am)

    I love the small town feel of the theater. Keep it simple and affordable. West Seattle is becoming something that is not what a lot of us want. The Alaska Junction is a huge disappointment with all the high rises going up. Let’s retain some dignity. Let’s retain the small town feel and not try to become a first run theater.

  • S July 24, 2014 (8:28 am)

    The movie house business is a tough racket these days, with instant videos, Netflix, etc. available anytime, anywhere. That said I think the Admiral Theatre “could” be a neighborhood gem if they followed Columbia City’s Ark Lodge Cinema or Ballard’s Majestic Bay Theatres lead….getting a few first run movies and a mix of good foreign/independent films in there. If they don’t want to massively renovate (which needs to be done because the seats/film quality are horrible) they need to start showing better films like the Crest does. Why should I pay $6 for a crappy second run movie that is going to be in Redbox in a week?

  • Mr.B July 24, 2014 (8:46 am)

    I don’t see how pouring millions into restoring the theater will save it if there is no parking for customers. When the east side of California was developed years ago, the business district lost a decent sized parking lot. There’s barely enough parking for the restaurants, much less a large capacity movie theater. Too bad a parking lot was not developed like we have at the Alaska Junction. I see the theater being torn down and replaced with a condo/ground level business building like we’re seeing all over town.

  • CMT July 24, 2014 (8:55 am)

    Cid – I was thinking the same thing. I love what they did with the Majestic Bay in Ballard – and there is no parking there either but it doesn’t seem to be a problem. It would be awesome to be able to walk or bike to a first run theatre right in our neighborhood.

    We do go to Admiral sometimes and like the ability to see movies on the big screen at a discounted price but I heartily agree with A – the bathrooms are disgusting and a real turn off.

  • West Seattle since 1979 July 24, 2014 (9:21 am)

    I agree with Lisa–why not a Kickstarter or one of the other crowdfunding campaigns? I bet a lot of people would chip in, some probably with large amounts.

  • trickycoolj July 24, 2014 (9:24 am)

    Central Cinema had a very successful Kickstarter to upgrade their equipment and they even made their stretch goal to upgrade the awful sound system they used to have. I don’t understand why Admiral isn’t doing this. It would get the equipment upgrades which would bring in movie goers for first run who don’t want to go downtown/Southcenter (me for one!) and that would in theory bring the revenue to do the bigger renovations. The avoidance of using modern fundraising tools like Kickstarter suggests they’re avoiding digital for the same reasons.

  • Stef July 24, 2014 (9:28 am)

    They should do a kickstarter to raise funds to update to digital. I know I would donate to keep that cheap theatre in our neighborhood.

  • Tomas July 24, 2014 (9:35 am)

    I think it’s time for a kickstarter campaign. I’ve seen other theaters raise funds for successful renovations in similar manners. I’d be happy to donate for a brick with my name on it, or a chair or whatever.

    I think the West Seattle neighborhood is behind the theater, the owners just need to give them an opportunity to help out in a coordinated way.

  • onion July 24, 2014 (9:46 am)

    My priorities are comfortable seats and decent audio. As for movie selection, I don’t care how inexpensive tickets are for movies that I’m not interested in seeing, such as cartoonish action movies. I also vote for more quality indy and foreign movies. Also, they might consider a co-op deal with neighboring restaurants, such as a free or discounted appetizer if you show a stub from that evening’s movie. More live events also.

  • WSFoodie July 24, 2014 (9:48 am)

    I hope they find a way to modernize and stay in business, no matter what format or niche they decide on. It seems like lack of parking will an issue. There is street parking but no nearby paid lots.

  • DTK July 24, 2014 (10:02 am)

    If a developer backs the Brinks truck up to the owners front door guess what’s gonna happen. He’s probably fielding offers already.

  • Jen July 24, 2014 (10:02 am)

    I hope the Admiral doesn’t go away. Besides the small town feel, they hands down make the best movie popcorn ever!!

  • CEA July 24, 2014 (10:02 am)

    Lots of great suggestions here from theater-lovers and West Seattlites. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a creative and financially feasible solution. I agree, it’s a gem with potential – and risks becoming extinct. Once it goes, you can’t get it back.

  • WS gal July 24, 2014 (10:18 am)

    I’ve gone 3 times in the past 6 months, and every time I was there- there was no more than 8 people tops. I don’t want to see it go either, but with that much patronage, they will ALWAYS be in financial trouble….sad :(

  • SunshinieThots July 24, 2014 (10:19 am)

    Guess how many times we’ve been out to Southcenter for movies in the last year? I think maybe once. I think updating to show new movies will kill the Admiral. What they’ve needed to do is be smart about what times their movies are. For example kids movies… DONT HAVE THEM DURING SCHOOL HOURS!!! 330 would be PERFECT. My kids not missing school for a movie but, after school?? Heck yes!! And on the same idea have all the rated R or movies not directed for kids during the day so we can go while the kids are away :) Just a thought. We’ve had to miss a lot of kids movies there because they were not timed right then not played again later in the day at all.

  • DrRob July 24, 2014 (10:28 am)

    I love this theater, but it needs more love. If someone can raise tens of thousands of dollars to make potato salad, I think we can fix-up the theater.

    Also, there is a parking lot essentially across the street! It’s under the Bartell parking lot, and there’s even a pedestrian “shortcut” from the lot-side to California Ave. Heck, it takes longer to park and get to a movie in Pacific Place than it does at the Admiral.

    • WSB July 24, 2014 (10:51 am)

      DrRob, thanks for mentioning the lot. After reading through the comments so far (thank you all for joining the discussion!), I was going to point that out – the lot seems “out of sight, out of mind” for many. The spaces outside Anytime Fitness (formerly Blockbuster) also, I believe, are still being managed as a parking lot, rather than being reserved only for members of that club. Meantime, please remember that according to the Breins, it’s not an issue of finding the money right now – they have to have a commitment from the landlord that they can keep running (and therefore can fix up) the theater – TR

  • hopey July 24, 2014 (10:56 am)

    Please read the article – funding is not the issue here. The month-to-month lease, which can be yanked at any time, is the ENTIRE problem. Why should they spend tens of thousands of dollars on upgrades when the landlord could kick them out as soon as it’s done? Instead of advocating Kickstarter, why isn’t anyone suggesting a write-in campaign to the landlord? It might affect his willingness to commit to a longer lease (5, 10 years or more) which would make all the upgrades a worthwhile investment for the Breins.

  • dsa July 24, 2014 (11:07 am)

    It is an issue with money in that if they bought the theater from the owner, they could update without fear of having to close due to someone else buying it.

  • Rick July 24, 2014 (11:07 am)

    I think it should be developed into 110 square foot apodments to facilitate the influx of tech workers. Even though 50-75% of those residents will have cars it won’t really impact the infrastructure or the parking in your neighborhood, according to developers. As stated “people need a place to live” these places are 2 to 3 times the average rent for apartments in Seattle will help a lot of folks out. Used to love this town, need to go out to the alley to vomit.

  • Nic July 24, 2014 (11:09 am)

    We moved here after living in Phinney. The Admiral needs to be updated like they did with Majestic Bay in Ballard. The seats are really uncomfortable. I’m all about supporting my local business but if I go again, I’m bringing a pillow for my butt. Hopefully they can renovate. I don’t care if they’re 2nd run. That’s even better if it will keep the movies cheaper.

  • Vanessa July 24, 2014 (11:17 am)

    Kickstarter, Kickstarter, Kickstarter….Yes.

  • Wendi July 24, 2014 (11:22 am)

    A message to the landlord: Please renew the Admiral lease. This theater has so much character and history and provides wonderful entertainment to the West Seattle community that people can walk to. I love this theater. Dinah is a talented and dedicated person and we are fortunate to have individuals like her and her brother be a part of this wonderful venue. With so much development taking place that has altered the charm of West Seattle, let’s retain, improve and support something that everyone can enjoy for years to come.

  • ws guy July 24, 2014 (11:33 am)

    Ok so what needs to happen to keep it open? What’s the owner saying.

  • trickycoolj July 24, 2014 (11:37 am)

    The way I’m understanding this is the landlord is holding them hostage on month-to-month because the digital conversion is a hindrance to long term operation. Get the digital equipment and the landlord will be happy to go long term on the lease? So yes I still advocate Kickstarter and get that upgrade to signal to the landlord/building owner yes we’re here for the long haul and so is the neighborhood!

  • cjboffoli July 24, 2014 (11:53 am)

    There are hundreds of houses – with thousands of potential moviegoers – within an easy 5-10 minute walk of the Admiral Theater. And for people farther-afield there is street parking available on the surrounding blocks. The problem is not a lack of parking so much as it is people who are averse to walking and who expect to always find a space with 20 feet of where they’re going.

  • heather July 24, 2014 (12:02 pm)

    I’d certainly go more often. I love the theater but would welcome better seats and carpet…and the drapes being cleaned. I love Eltteas Bay in Ballard.

  • ws guy July 24, 2014 (12:30 pm)

    So a kick starter I think is a fund raiser? Whers and when? ……….

  • Fantastic Modern Times July 24, 2014 (12:30 pm)

    I hope they keep the facade (to keep all of the sentimental types happy), but gut what they can legally and build another gorgeous boxy shaped condo/retail building in its place. The theater had a good run, but it is now time to move on and make it look like what the rest of what West Seattle is becoming. Square sexy box designs everywhere, I say. They’re fabulous!!!

  • Anne July 24, 2014 (1:36 pm)

    hopey- I think both are needed- first -they need a commitment from the landlord to move forward- then the updating – equipment & building. That will cost plenty & funds will need to be raised.

  • JD July 24, 2014 (2:40 pm)

    Marc Gartin is the problem here w/ the Month to Month lease. Trying to work with him is like pulling teeth from a scared unsedated dog assuming you can even get an answer from him or even acknowledge that he’s read your e-mail or snail mail letter. I wish the owners of The Admiral luck, our group knows what you’re likely dealing with.

  • Jonel July 24, 2014 (3:37 pm)

    I love going to the theatre in West Seattle and know if they can remodel that others will go too. Whether it is an indie format or a bar/movie format or whatever people want to go to the movies in their own neighborhood.

    Kickstarter is a great idea – but sounds like landlord is first hurdle – so perhaps if West Seattle can show enough support he might come around….

  • Gina July 24, 2014 (3:58 pm)

    The interior was much nicer before the twinning.

    and some after photos.

  • ws guy July 24, 2014 (4:01 pm)

    Jd, who’s in your group. may I ask.

  • Forest July 24, 2014 (5:35 pm)

    JD –

    Yes, who or what exactly is your “group” that wishes luck to the owner of the Admiral Theater only after dumping all over him?
    Perhaps your group could step up and buy the building with its own money as did Marc Gartin some twenty years ago when the building was shut down and would almost certainly have been demolished or gutted by another new owner. I’d be thrilled if somebody would do Marc Gartin the favor of buying the Admiral building with a promise to keep it as a theater and refurbish it as a labor of love into a first-run theater comparable to the Majestic Bay in Ballard, but that doesn’t appear to be an option right now.

  • Wsrez July 24, 2014 (7:34 pm)

    I love admiral and though their music series was awesome, albeit a bit mellow for my taste buds. I have to agree in the selection of movies that come through- by the time they get to admiral, I already have most in my roku Internet TV and while I love supporting the theater, my couch is far more comfortable and safe then the seating there. Having more super indie films (b- low budget), international and documentaries would get me out to support more often.

    What needs to happen here? It all sounds confusing like, “we need help but not yet.” Should people be contacting the owner of the facility to beg them to keep the theater and if so, do you have their info? Otherwise, Im not sure what the solution is at the moment. I do know that west seattle seriously lacks a music venue that isn’t a bar and admiral could cash in in that market. Jazz shoes, dining (catered), one price wine tastings with screenings of locally screened movies. I know LOTS of local actors working in film if I can provide any assistance with some new ideas, I would love to see admiral thrive.

  • School Booster July 24, 2014 (7:46 pm)

    If the Admiral Theater were upgraded to show new movies in a nice setting, I think it would be very popular. Right now, the Admiral is showing relatively old movies in a, quite frankly, dumpy setting. This doesn’t work for many folks.

    Yes. It does add a scary flavor to Rock Horror. And perhaps, Eraserhead. But that is about it.

  • ttt July 24, 2014 (11:35 pm)

    I want the Admiral to stay!!!!
    An independent house that can occasionally show blockbusters, like The Grand in Tacoma would be fantastic!

  • White Knight July 25, 2014 (12:58 am)

    I think the kickstarter idea is a good one, but should not be limited to restoring the theater. Instead an official neighborhood group, if one does not already exist, should be formed, and the money should be raised by that group, first for the purchase of the theater, and then fix it up. In this way the theater would forever be owned by the community, and never be at risk from developers, until such a sad day may come as no one in the community cares any more. (May it never happen!) A bonus to this idea would be being able to use the theater for next to nothing for community events. (Why would the community pay for using a facility they own, out side of electricity and janitorial?)

    Sadly, I am not the one to start this, but it is a thought that ties the rest of what I have read together.

  • jeff July 25, 2014 (6:26 am)

    Wife and I are new to the neighborhood. Went to see a flick but will never be back until they update that heap. It was disgusting.

    Come on Elttaes buy it up and do what you did in Ballard at the Majestic Bay.

  • 22blades July 25, 2014 (6:53 am)

    While I’m not entirley familiar with the Kickstarter process, it sounds like a good idea. Once again, the real obstacle is in the lease. If I were a restaurant owner, I would love the lobby area space. Sub-Lease the lobby area on contract to an operator for food, beer & wine & strike deal for a parking (along w/ the city) / screen pass. I hope the owner and tenant can find a way to make this pencil out for him, the theater & the community.

    Who is Marc Gartin?

  • gina July 25, 2014 (9:06 am)

    The Gartin family owns the land and building. A business leases/rents the building. When a property is on a month to month lease it means there is more to the story that landlord or business may not wish to make public.

  • Kara July 26, 2014 (4:54 pm)

    I mentioned the Kickstarter idea to the business owner and the response was: Kickstarter takes a substantial cut, plus you need to raise the money in a specific time or it ends.

    If someone else wanted to start one in their honor I say do it!

  • onceachef July 28, 2014 (10:22 pm)

    Is there any dialogue with SIFF (Seattle International Film Festival)? They saved the Uptown and are now at work on the Egyptian. Might the Admiral be worth consideration as well?

  • sam-c July 29, 2014 (9:42 am)

    onceachef: that would be a dream come true! SIFF came to Admiral one year (that I remember) and it was great. whatever happens, I hope the chairs get fixed – they’re so unstable.

  • Ray West July 31, 2014 (8:32 am)


  • matt p July 31, 2014 (4:05 pm)

    Look at the Majestic Bay Theater in Ballard. Neighborhood theaters certainly can compete with the mega chains. Maybe not 3 or 5 of them like decades ago but at least one in a populated place like W Seattle could be successful. EDIT: I went back through the posts and saw after the fact the many had the same thought.

  • Thomas M. August 1, 2014 (6:51 pm)

    Something’s got to be done. The place is just plain beat up. It won’t lease out if the new tenant can’t make changes.

  • AlkiBeach August 2, 2014 (7:28 pm)

    Please replace it with a boutique hotel. Movie theaters just don’t and will NOT have the same appeal tomorrow as they do today. It’s kind of like the records sold at Easy Street. It’s the next generation ‘trying’ to embrace the previous generations’ iconic fan-fare items. Soon, Easy Street will realize selling a few records to a dwindling market just doesn’t make sense… and then they’ll simply expand the restaurant upstairs. West Seattle needs the embrace change; get off your rocking chairs!

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