State Theater

204 E. 4th Avenue,
Olympia, WA 98501

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Showing 1 - 25 of 36 comments

KenLayton on March 22, 2018 at 9:27 pm

In “The Olympian” newspaper today is a story about the managing director of the theater suddenly resigning:

JackCoursey on July 19, 2015 at 8:38 am

Thanks! Would really love to see some pictures of the auditorium in its original state. The Box Office link is no longer functional.

KenLayton on June 22, 2015 at 10:40 pm

I can tell you as I worked there (1977 to 1990) how the tri-plexing was done. The theater was originally designed with stadium seating (no balcony). The back half of the auditorium was walled off from the main floor. Then the walled off section was split into two auditoriums of about 100 seats each. The main auditorium held 500 seats after the tri-plexing was done by Tom Moyer Luxury Theatres. From my brief look after it was converted into live theater, ALL of the interior of the auditorium was changed. You would not recognize the interior of the auditorium anymore from the way it originally opened in 1949. The lobby is still somewhat intact though.

JackCoursey on June 22, 2015 at 9:06 pm

I was just by the State the other day and the exterior is quite impressive! How was the theatre configured for the triplex-enclosed, split balcony with the main floor intact? Does any of the original interior ornamentation remain or was the interior gutted for the conversion to live performance? Something tells me the renovations were massive in that the seating went from 1000 to 212.

KenLayton on August 8, 2011 at 3:48 pm

May 6, 1950 issue of Boxoffice magazine profiles the theater’s seating, auditorium, and artwork on the walls.

KenLayton on August 8, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Boxoffice magazine covered the opening in their December 3, 1949 issue:

KenLayton on August 7, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Theater opened on Tuesday November 22, 1949. The theater manager at that time was Archie Zarewski.

Mr. G.K. Porterfield was one of the first projectionists at this theater.

Ron Carlson
Ron Carlson on February 21, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Having never been in the state does anyone have any photo’s of the interior before it was split up into 3 cinemas. And any of the way it is now?

KenLayton on December 13, 2008 at 9:00 pm

I have a blowup of that full ad somewhere in my collection.

kencmcintyre on December 13, 2008 at 6:08 pm

This was part of an ad in the May 1950 issue of Boxoffice magazine:

kencmcintyre on December 24, 2007 at 4:09 pm

It was actually sunny today in Olympia. I managed to take some pictures without getting soaked. The State is a block away from the Capitol.

TrudyL on November 22, 2006 at 8:10 am

Great picture Don. However, why does it say State Theater Tacoma Washington??? The State is in Olympia!

You should post a new picture now that much of the restoration of the marquee is complete. We are still working on the neon but the paint and electrical has made a huge difference.

Harlequin recently received a $20K matching grant from West Coast Bank for the Enhancement Campaign. If you or anyone you know were planning on contributing to the restoration of the State, now is the time!

melders on December 22, 2005 at 8:16 pm

Seems to me that Ken is mad he didn’t get to install the projection equipment here!

TrudyL on December 21, 2005 at 7:21 am

Ken – face it, The State Theater is now a live theater. It is no longer set up to play movies. Not saying that it NEVER will, but at this time it is home to the only small professional live producing theater between Tacoma and Portland…and doing a fine job too.

Constantly saying it should be a movie theater is fine – but it is not one. No one else – your friend in Centralia too – took the money and effort to save this theater. You should be thanking Harlequin Productions rather than complaining.

Move on.

Why not go help the Olympia Film Festival restore the Capitol Theater. It too is a fantastic old movie theater and it is falling apart from lack of interest by the owner to improve it.

ps – good for Opera Pacifica. I’m so glad the community opera company can has the kind of funds and talent it takes to run two separate kinds of entertainment out of one venue. More power to them!

KenLayton on November 23, 2005 at 4:49 am

Movies could be be shown again at the State. The “ban” on movies that many theater companies place in the covenants are for first run product. This applies only to properties that the theater company actually own outright and not lease. Also please remember there are two things working in Harlequin’s favor if they wanted to show movies again:

  1. Act 3 Theaters was only leasing the theater from the then building owner Henry McCleary.

  2. The entity (Act 3 Theaters) that placed the “ban” no longer exists thus the “ban” no longer exists.

Many stage production groups are finding out that only stage plays don’t pay the bills. Some have found that also showing movies have really helped their bottom line. The Opera Pacifica group that’s restoring the Fox Theater in Centralia is going to be running movies and stage plays/operas. I will be installing 35mm projection/sound equipment for them.

kateymac01 on November 22, 2005 at 11:10 pm

The rental prices for the Washington Center were too high for local theater groups. That is why Harlequin and Capital Playhouse found new spaces. That is why Saint Martin’s — which lost its theater in the 1980s — never used the Washington Center. It’s really expensive! (I speak from experience here.)

I also had heard along the way that when the State was for sale, there was a contract provision that movies could not be shown there for a specific amount of time. It’s not unusual; many theater chains have that provison when selling a property.

Sadly, the State was in terrible shape when it was sold in the mid-1990s. I would much rather have Harlequin using that space than to have seen it demolished or become a retail space or apartments.

Yes, there are further improvements that must be done. But it’s not like Harlequin is a cash cow, and those improvements will come with time. And I think Harlequin and its supporters will do those things with love and care. It’s a slow process, especially for a group that relies on donations for facility improvements.

Let me add that I am not affiliated with Harlequin in any way, other than having seen the company’s shows. And I loved going to movies at the State in its $1 days, and I was saddened when it closed its doors. However, the State is one of the finest venues for theater in the South Puget Sound area. We should be glad the space is being used for entertainment, and we should be thankful some developer didn’t buy the place and bulldoze it.

We should also be thankful that some of the original architectural flairs were preserved as much as they were. (Someone could’ve ripped out that gorgeous ticket booth. Wouldn’t that have been nice?!) And we should support/praise efforts to keep the place open and restored. I can tell you, when I was in college and going to $1 showings, the place wasn’t clean or preserved; it was rotting out, and it was sad.

But the biggest thing people don’t seem to understand is that local theater groups couldn’t afford to use the Washington Center anymore. The Washington Center now plays home to touring shows, concerts and one-time events. It’s Olympia’s answer to Tacoma’s Pantages (also a former glorious movie house). Local theater groups couldn’t use the Washington Center for storage or rehearsals, and then the rental fees to use it for the run of a show were ridiculous and pocket-emptying. Alternatives had to be found, and the State fit the bill for Harlequin (and Saint Martin’s, which occasionally uses the State for its productions).

That’s my 2 cents.

KenLayton on November 17, 2005 at 5:48 am

There were two people that I know of who were also looking at purchasing the State theater for use as a movie theater at that time. One of them is a good friend of mine who owns & operates the restored single screen Chehalis Theater in Chehalis.

zeet on November 16, 2005 at 8:34 pm

Just to correct something: the roof was not replaced when the State was reopened, simply repaired.

I am certain that movies can come back to the state as soon as an entrepreneur comes up with the capital to make it happen. It didn’t happen in ‘97, and I suspect it would be even less likely to happen now.

KenLayton on November 16, 2005 at 8:17 pm

IMO, they should have stayed in the Washington Center since that was where all the stage groups were supposed to be.

The marquee at the State was already supposed to be restored when they reopened it, but soon the pidgeon problem returned. So now they need to ‘restore’ it again? The roof was replaced when they reopened the State. So now they need to ‘repair’ that too? Go back to the Washington Center where all the stage productions belong. Put movies back at the State.

kateymac01 on November 16, 2005 at 2:20 pm

The Olympian just ran an article about the renovation efforts at the State. You can link to it here:

View link

The story details the campaign to raise money to repair the leaking roof, restore the deteriorating marquee and expand the tiny dressing room. It also addresses the overall state of the theater, and there are some great photos.

rodeojack on October 2, 2005 at 3:16 pm

I worked as a projectionist at the “State”, before it was purchased by Moyer’s Luxury (Ore-Wash Corp). Back then, it had a huge screen, waterfall curtains, first-class projection system with magnetic stereo sound capabilities. The only time I ever had a magnetic stereo movie in a theatre that had the equipment to run it was at the State. It was in 1978, and the movie was “Capricorn One”.

Dolby stereo had not yet arrived in Olympia, so getting a mag-stereo film was quite an experience. Even though it hadn’t been used in years, with a little TLC, the sound system performed wonderfully!

As is noted here, the theatre was triplexed, and it was a horrible job. The original sloped loge section was closed off to allow for two small screens. The booth was made by framing a floor across the back two rows. It was so cramped that our union business agent had to crawl under the lamphouses to get to the projectors… there was almost no clearance from the lamp to the back wall. The auditorium seats were not realigned, and the screens were located in the corners of the auditoriums. In the right auditorium, you sat facing left and had to look right to see the screen. It was the other way in the Left auditorium. There were plenty of other flaws, but that probably doesn’t matter now… thankfully, that part is history.

Working at the State during that time was an excellent education in how very different theatre owners could be. The Mann company was an excellent operator and employer. They took good care of their buildings and staffs, and budgeted maintenance activities as a normal part of their operations. Their successor was almost 180 degrees from that, though it didn’t seem to harm their business any. They became the only operators in that part of town, and could pretty much set the standard as they wished.