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Sadly, nearly a year later, this site still says it’s not accepting photos. I do have a few to post. Cinematours never sent me a password, either. Anybody have any ideas?
Was recently purchased by someone in Cle Elum who wants to restore it – we’ll see, it’s in rough shape. There is no usable equipment left inside, even the seats are wood with no upholstery. Major crack in a roof beam or truss due to heavy snows in 1996-1977. Restrooms are gone, they were converted to small storefronts that are rented out. There is a 800 sq ft apartment upstairs behind the projection room. Originally had 112 seats in the balcony, and about 500 on the main floor. Has a legitimate stage and orchestra pit, but very small, and no dressing room – maybe a dressing closet. Was noted for having an “oval” layout in the auditorium. Will post a photo or two when that feature is back up and running. The latest buyer seems to have more drive to get it done that the last few, but it will be a big challenge.
Will post photos when that feature is back up.
Corrections to above: I worked at the Westgate 1977-1978, and “Animal House” wasn’t yet playing in the small theatre when I arrived, it came later. Being 30 years hence, my memory is only a little foggy! I have some photos, when that feature is back up, I will post. The tales I could tell of this place, what a way to run a theatre business. If anyone’s interested I could write a book.
Why white seat backs? Of course we wondered about that too, the official answer was “so you can see when they need cleaning”. We made cleaner’s wages – about twice our usher wages – to paint seats at night, so we didn’t complain about the seemingly flippant answer. Years later when I was a manager, I asked the division manager if we could get urinal blocks or fragrance sprays. He said, if the restrooms are clean, you won’t need that. Clean the restrooms. Well, turns out that’s true, so maybe that really does apply somehow to the white seat backs. Really though, I suppose Richard A. Smith, the GCC president, saw white seat backs somewhere and thought they looked elegant. Unfortunately, there was the GCC enigma (thanks D. Roben, the perfect phrase) at work – the auditorium floors were a continuous slope back to front, a spilled drink travelled clear to the bottom. Had they fixed that flaw, the seat backs might have stayed clean.
Ah, please let me join your GCC society! For all that I disliked in their later years, I too had the best of times working in them. Mr. Campbell, you bring back some fond memories of the sights and smells.
But, D. Roben, the seating rows in every GCC house I visited (at least those built prior to 1975) were curved, not straight across, and I repainted many many of those stupid white seat backs in my time. When I left GCC to work at a Portland chain, I missed the rigidity of the GCC way of management. It’s too bad that they were so cheap in Washington State, I heard tales of how grand they were in Boston, but maybe that was just in the early days of the company.
I worked at the Westgate 1976-1977. It was originally built by Tom Moyer as a super-luxury twin, as was the sister Eastgate Theatre across town. When I got there, Star Wars was in the 950 seat auditorium and was selling out nearly every night. The smaller (original) auditorium had about 400 seats, and the added third auditorium, which did not match the other two comfort-wise, had about 350 seats. The big auditorium had a huge curved screen, gold-colored curtains all around, and plush rocking seats. The sound system was 6 track Dolby surround (Crown amps, Altec “voice of the theatre” speakers), the projectors were 35/70 mm (I think Century). The smaller two auditoriums had flat screens, mono sound, 35 mm Ballantyne projector with platter. The newest auditorium had very cheap seats, no curtains, and was unpleasant. It was showing “Animal House” on my arrival there. The original decor was nice – heavy wood/leather auditorium doors, gold-flecked wallpaper in the lobby, huge chandeliers, and woodsy-looking wall sconces. The exterior was plain painted concrete block, not exactly eye-appealing considering the effort made inside. There was an apartment upstairs for the janitorial family, and they were expected to work 7 days a week or arrange their own relief, as I remember.
Unfortunately, nearly no money was spent maintaining this beautiful place, so it declined in elegance quickly – especially considering the crowds that were coming through the doors. The rumor was that nearly all monies were spent by the owner to prevent the best films from being played by his rival – his own brother who owned a separate theatre company in Portland.
It’s true that the longest run of Star Wars in the USA happened here, and I remember an occasional tour bus of viewers coming in from Seattle. An oddity during the same period that I’ll try to describe: We were to open “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” exclusive in Portland in the big auditorium – huge double-page ads were placed, and a line of about 1000 people were outside waiting for the first show – but the print had not arrived! The problem: to hold onto Star Wars, it was contracted to play in the big auditorium, and moving it to a smaller theatre (even though it was only drawing small crowds) would violate the contract and end the run – and 20th Century Fox badly wanted our print back and to pull “Star Wars” from exhibition. Besides, we had only the 70mm print, which couldn’t run in the smaller auditoriums, and there was no chance of Fox giving us a 35 mm print. But “Close Encounters” of course was contracted to play in the big house in 70mm with 6 track Dolby sound as well! Moments before opening the doors, the staff had to tell the crowd that the film would actually open across town at the Eastgate – and the crowd trashed the lobby. Strangely, a few days later, we were indeed playing “Close Encounters” in the big house, and “Star Wars” ended it’s run.
I worked at Renton Village Cinema I & II 1972-1975. The sunken screen effect was due to a structure called a “shadow box”, which was white and had to be continully repainted because kids loved to climb on it. Because it eliminated black masking, there were no sharp edges on a picture, which looked bad. It also reflected white light back to the screen which tended to wash out deep black in a scene. It also eliminated curtains and motors, making it another General Cinema Corporation cheap innovation. During intermissions, the screen and shadow box were bright blue from sixty 150 watt lamps with blue filters mounted above the first row – I know because I changed them out on a borrowed scaffold – and calculates out to a ridiculous waste of power. I always heard their theaters in Boston were much nicer.