Behind the Scenes: A Brief History of the Edmonds Theater

The Princess Theater in 1921 in its original location in the Lemley Building. (Photo courtesy of Edmonds Historical Museum)

Although silent films had previously been shown at the Odd Fellows Temple, Edmonds’ first purpose-built cinema was the Union Theatre. Built by Fred Fourtner (who also served as mayor of Edmonds from 1927 to 1933 and 1937 to 1949), the Union Theater opened in 1916. It was located at 418 Main Street in the Lemley Building, which now houses the Edmonds. Pastry shop.

Between 1916 and 1921 the theater was sold several times and the new owners often changed names (including the Union Theatre, Acme Theatre, Edmonds Theatre). Then, in 1921, Mr. Thomas C. Berry and his wife Helen bought the theater and decided to call it “The Princess”, a name that stuck for many years.

The new location of the Princess Theater under construction on October 5, 1923. (Photo by Edmonds Tribune-Reviewcourtesy of Betty Lou Gang)

The Berrys, however, had bigger plans than running the theater built by Fred Fourtner. As the “Roaring Twenties” raged on, they announced in May 1923 that they were going to build a much larger theatre, which would have a stage as well as a movie screen, and which would be located across from the site of origin. Construction was completed in November 1923, and the operations of the Princess Theater were transferred to the new building. Today we know this same building as “The Edmonds Theatre”.

According to Edmonds historian Betty Lou Gaeng, many of the young women who grew up in Edmonds (including his younger sister) had their first jobs as ushers for the splendid new theatre. Ms Gaeng also noted that the theater played an important role in informing the citizens of Edmonds about the events of World War II. Newsreels there were one of the main sources of information about the war, which often came directly from the front lines. On several occasions, it served as a venue for the sale of war bonds to help fund the American war effort.

The Berrys, assisted by Mr. and Mrs. Lionel Brown (Mrs. Brown was the Berry’s daughter), successfully ran their new theater and, in 1938, even upgraded the seating and sound systems. When Berry and his wife died in 1940 and 1941, respectively, the Browns took over ownership and continued to run the theater until 1952. That year, JB (Buck) Giezentanner purchased the theater from the Browns.

The Princess Theater in 1937. (Photo courtesy of Edmonds Historical Museum)

Over the next 26 years, ownership of the theater changed hands four more times. Jim Selvidge, who owned the Ridgemont Theater in Seattle, bought it from Geizentanner in 1965 and showed mostly foreign films. In 1969 local community activists Jim and Sally Kneist purchased the theater from Selvidge, changed its name to “The Edgemont” and operated it until 1974 or 1975. They then sold the theater to the Wade families James and Earl Prebezac, who were heavily involved in the Edmonds performing arts community. They in turn sold the theater in 1978 to Jim O’Steen, who also owned the Harvard Exit Theater in Seattle. Unfortunately, Jim O’Steen’s health was failing and a year later he had to sell it. It was bought by Jacques Mayo, a local dentist, who decided to call it ‘The Edmonds Theatre’, in remembrance of the theater’s early roots.

When Jacques Mayo first purchased the building, he did not participate in the operation of the theater, but rather leased this business to other parties. From 1979 to 1984, the theater showed mainly art films, while its stage was occasionally used for concerts by punk rock bands and other artists of the time. But with the struggling art film industry, Jacques Mayo decided to take over the theater himself, and in 1984 began showing second-run films with tickets costing just one dollar. Free from all ties was the first film shown after Jacques Mayo took the helm. The theater was also made available as a place where local business owners (e.g. Rick Steves) could hold meetings and public events.

Eventually, Jacques Mayo realized that the Edmonds Theater had value not just as a movie theater, but as a facet of Edmonds history. This understanding and vision led him in 1999 to invest over $175,000 to renovate and restore the theater to its original grand Art Deco style. Sadly, Jacques passed away in 2009, but his family members have continued to own and maintain the Edmonds Theater to the present day. In 2012 it was upgraded to a digital projector.

A mural in the theater lobby was created in 2013 by Edmonds artist Andy Eccleshall. (Photo by Larry Vogel)

With the help of its great managers, including Robert Rine (1989-2009) and J. Sherman (2009-2014), this venue continues to provide Edmonds with a quality theatrical experience. In 2013, Edmonds Theater gained another layer of cultural relevance when local artist Andy Eccleshall created a mural in the theater lobby. This splendid two-part mural, designed by Eccleshall himself, adorns the wall to the right as you first enter the lobby. The panel closest to the door depicts a historic view of the theater in the mid-1920s, shortly after the construction of the new building. The other section depicts a glorious montage of several classic movie stars, including Clark Gabel, Clint Eastwood, Betty Davis, and James Dean. And tucked into the lower corner of the mural, Eccleshall inserted a portrait of the late Jacques Mayo, the man who had done so much to ensure the theater continued to provide first class entertainment to the Edmonds community. .

The exterior of the theater in 2022. (Photo by Sam Spencer)
Tiling work in the men’s bathroom. (Photo by Sam Spencer)
The interior of the theatre. (Photo by Sam Spencer)

In 2014, the Mayo family leased the Edmonds Theater to Chris Mayes. He was its manager until 2022, when Gary Hoskins took over.

Gary Hoskins became a theater manager in 2022. (Photo by Sam Spencer)

In December 2022, the Edmonds Theater will enter its 100th year at its current location. The hope is that this venue will continue to entertain the people of Edmonds for another hundred years.

— By Sam Spencer, with contributions from Diana Sheiness, Byron Wilkes, Stephanie Mayo, Larry Vogel and Betty Lou Gaeng


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