Of all the posts I’ve written for the Seattle International Film Festival, this is the one I’m most proud of.
At the end of last year, the Varsity Theatre became the latest Landmark Theatre to close (it reopened earlier this year under the same management as the Admiral Theatre in West Seattle). In January, the Harvard Exit followed suit. Unlike past theaters to close (The Uptown, the Neptune, the Metro, the Egyptian, the Varsity), this one will not reopen as a movie theater under new management nor — like the Neptune — will it be reopened as a live show venue. But, for the 25-day run of the 41st Seattle International Film Festival, it becomes a movie venue once again, using the downstairs screen (the only one that’s handicap accessible — historical building status prevents an elevator from being put in for the top floor). And I am lucky enough to have worked there on Tuesdays.
First, let me tell you what’s not at the Harvard Exit. There’s no employee fridge, microwave, floor mats, espresso machine, alcohol, syrup, Vitamin Water, popcorn seasonings, or cash drawer. Gone is the cool old projector in the lobby and the water pitcher (the water pitcher returned the final week I worked there). Ice is bought from the gas station; other supplies from QFC. Restock comes from the Egyptian.
What is there are two comfy couches that make an L-shape just past concessions and a lot more room, as the table that used to be in the center of the lobby now hugs the wall opposite concessions. There’s still a bathroom downstairs, though locking it is a mystery (in multiple attempts, I managed to lock it once, and then couldn’t repeat the feat), and the bathrooms upstairs are usable, as well. Old pictures on the walls and soft lighting from electric wall brackets in the shape of candles adds a funereal effect to the proceedings, and indeed, for all intents and purposes, we are holding a wake for the place.
My first Tuesday at “the Harvy” was slow. Cleaning and restocking don’t take long when there’s only one movie playing at a time, which left me with lots of downtime. I took advantage of this downtime to explore the Exit and document it before it’s turned into a restaurant or condos or whatever the heck it’s going to become.
First, here is how the lobby looks. The couches had people sitting in them all day, so I couldn’t get a photo of them until nighttime….and then the ballot box became part of the picture. So be it.
Next, I headed up to the third floor, where the second theater sits in the dark.
Across from the entrance to this theater is this empty alcove on the right, probably a second concessions stand (though never used when Landmark ran the building) and a lounge.
Past that door is this weird-looking contraption, a “hidden” women’s restroom, and a rather nice, but rarely seen, lounge.
I then headed back downstairs, pausing to take photos of the second theater and documenting my journey back to the first floor.
After my sojourn upstairs, it was time to take photos of the box office and our tiny office. Upon entering from the outside, the office is the first door on the left, before the stairs.
Then, outside. I also got a good photo of the DAR Hall from here, which is where the Centerpiece Gala is held.
My final photos were of the small area which leads to the main theater and the balcony.
Today, in between shows and cleaning and restocking (we were a little busier this Tuesday than last) and eating crepes from Joe Bar (delicious!), I explored the back staircase and the basement. But first, I got another chance to photograph the couches, this time with only a rubber band on the table.
Both the back staircase and the basement are reachable through a door down a small flight of stairs and to the left of the box office (on the same side as the office and the main stairs). The door to the basement was locked, so I headed upstairs first, where there are apartments and — apparently — one tenant.
There are two doors on the right after you head through the door leading to these stairs. The first one leads to a supply closet, though I didn’t enter it until my final Tuesday. The second one is past a short flight of stairs and leads to the stage. You don’t want to open that one while a movie is being shown, or a beam of light will flash across the screen. Unlike the other doors, that one is painted gray.
Here’s what I saw going up the stairs.
Once I had some more downtime, I got the manager to unlock the basement door. Here is where the soda boxes are kept, as well as some old posters, though I had to make a second trip down there to see them, as I missed them the first time.
My final Tuesday at the Harvy was spent double-checking the location of some of the photos from the previous days’ shoots and taking photos of places I hadn’t shot before. Here’s the front hall:
I then checked out the back stairs again for details on which landings I’d taken the previous photos. Unlike before, each odd landing had trash piled up on it. Maybe the lone tenant was moving. The mattress was still in the hall, and with trash blocking my path, I didn’t feel like finding out which apartments were empty so that I could see what they looked like. I was, however, able to look in the supply closet and take a photo from the stage door, as well as a couple of the main theater.
I had to wait until the projectionist arrived before I could take the last three photos, so in the meantime, I went upstairs. An exhibit called James Dean’s Lost Slideshow, displaying photos the famous actor took, was on the third floor. I remember two people coming by the first Tuesday and measuring for the exhibit (though they measured downstairs). I got there before the man dressed up as an old-time movie usher stopped by (he comes with the exhibit), as it doesn’t officially open until 4 pm each day. It was at this time that I decided to take a photo of the men’s bathroom, so for the curious…
As mentioned on day one, I got another shot at the upstairs theater. Someone turned the lights on and opened the door, giving me better photos of the theater than when all had been dark.
And while I didn’t enter the main women’s restroom for photos (because I’m not a pervert), I did check out the “hidden” women’s restroom on the third floor, past the lounge, which has a unique feature.
I then headed downstairs…
…and took some photos outside (one of them is at the beginning of this post).
My final shots of the night were, appropriately, the view I’ve had the entire time I’ve worked here.
Could I have taken more photos? I suppose. I don’t have any of the inside of the projection booth, and I didn’t get the key to unlock the employees-only area on the second floor, though I do have a photo of what’s behind that door….
Still, there is such a thing as overkill, and for patrons of this theater, these photos will adequately serve as reminders of a time when Capitol Hill was home to two theaters, one of which was haunted.
As for me, I’m glad I got an opportunity to work there, and to see movies on its screen, one last time.
The final movie playing at the Harvard Exit is the appropriately titled All Things Must Pass. The final movie I’ll be seeing there is a silent film version of Sherlock Holmes, which plays in the afternoon. The first film I saw there was Precious, which was only the second movie I saw after moving to Seattle.