Behind the scenes: A brief history of the Edmonds Theater

The Princess Theater after it moved to its current location. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

(This story has been updated to correctly identify the location of the first photo.)

Though silent movies had been shown previously at the Odd Fellows Temple, Edmonds’ first movie theater created for that purpose was the Union Theater.  Built by Fred Fourtner (who also served as Edmonds’ mayor from 1927-1933 and from 1937-1949), the Union Theater opened its doors in 1916. It was located at 418 Main St. in the Lemley Building, which now houses the Edmonds Bakery.

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

The new Princess Theater location under construction on Oct. 5, 1923. (Photo from the Edmonds Tribune-Review, courtesy Betty Lou Gaeng)

The Berrys, however, had grander plans than running the theater built by Fred Fourtner. With the “Roaring Twenties” raging, they announced in May 1923 that they were going to build a much larger theater, one that would have a stage as well as a movie screen, and that would be situated across the street from the original location. The construction was completed in November 1923, and the Princess Theater’s operations were moved into the new building. Today we know that same building as “The Edmonds Theater.”

According to Edmonds historian Betty Lou Gaeng, many of the young women who grew up in Edmonds (including her younger sister) had their first jobs working as ushers for the splendid new theater. Ms. Gaeng noted also that the theater played a significant role in keeping the citizens of Edmonds informed of events during World War II. The newsreels shown there were one of the primary sources of war news, which often came straight from the front lines. On several occasions, it served as a venue for the sales of war bonds to help finance the American war effort.

The Berrys, assisted by Mr. and Mrs. Lionel Brown (Mrs. Brown was the daughter of the Berrys), ran their new theater successfully and, in 1938, even upgraded the seating and sound systems. When Berry and his wife passed away in 1940 and 1941, respectively, the Browns took over the ownership and continued running the theater until 1952. In that year, J.B (Buck) Giezentanner purchased the theater from the Browns.

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

Over the next 26 years, the ownership of the theater changed hands four additional times. Jim Selvidge, who owned the Ridgemont Theater in Seattle, purchased it from Geizentanner in 1965, and showed mostly foreign films. In 1969, local community activists Jim and Sally Kneist bought 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 James and Earl Prebezac families, 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 once again. It was purchased by Jacques Mayo, a local dentist, who decided he would call it “The Edmonds Theater,” in remembrance of the theater’s early roots.

When Jacques Mayo first purchased the building, he did not participate in operating the theater, but rather leased this business to other parties. From 1979 until 1984, the theater showed primarily art films, while its stage was occasionally used for concerts by punk rock bands and other entertainers of the day.  But with the art film business struggling, Jacques Mayo decided to take charge of the theater himself, and in 1984 began to show second-run movies with tickets costing only $1. Footloose was the first movie shown after Jacques Mayo took the helm. The theater was also made available as a venue where local business owners (for example, Rick Steves) could hold meetings and public events .

Eventually, Jacques Mayo came to realize that the Edmonds Theater had value not only as a venue for movies, 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 until 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 theater experience. In 2013, the Edmonds Theater acquired yet another layer of cultural relevance when local artist Andy Eccleshall created a mural in the theater lobby. This splendid, two-part mural, conceived by Eccleshall himself, adorns the wall to the right as you first enter the lobby. The panel nearest the door depicts a historical view of the theater in the mid-1920s, shortly after the new building had been constructed. 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 that the theater continued bringing first-class entertainment to the Edmonds community.

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Thank you Sam and contributing authors. Fun to learn a little bit more about our local theater. What a gem the theater is for Edmonds. We have enjoyed many movies and free events held here. A favorite memory is a Christmas Eve showing of Christmas Story- Cookies and candy canes included.
    Thank you Edmonds Theater for being a terrific part of our downtown, providing first run movies, yummy popcorn, and wonderful times.

  2. This was a very nice and thorough piece on the Edmonds Theater. It is fun to know the history of our city.

  3. Super history lesson. The Edmonds Theater is a true gem. It is wonderful people have cared enough to maintain our fantastic little theater for so many years.

  4. Special thanks to the Mayo Family for their ongoing dedication to the city of Edmonds and keeping the theater operational all these years. It’s a true treasure that makes Edmonds that much more special. Daphnes is fantastic as well! 🙂

    1. I worked at the theater many years ago. The basement storage is shared with Daphne’s, which stored booze there. Oh, the temptation. 😉

      1. Fantastic article put together so well by a passionate team. Thank you for dissecting its history in a gratifying way. I remember bringing home the current flyer of the next several features that would be coming and planning which ones to go see in the early ‘60’s. It has weathered wonderfully over the years. Thanks to all who have contributed in time, in care, and in the legacy of this iconic structure.

  5. Great article. I spent a lot of time going to movies in that theater during the 1950’s and early ’60’s. Even got kicked out once by Mrs. Giezentanner for dropping popcorn on some friends from the balcony.

    1. Getting kicked out by Mrs G was a badge of honor among late 50’s teens. She ran a very, very tight ship!!!!

      1. I recall going to the movie on Friday night at the Princess was a lot more about socializing with friends than actually watching movies. Kids would be laughing and yelling, roaming the aisles, throwing stuff from the balcony etc. and the movie would suddenly stop. An agitated lady would come on stage demanding order, threatening to call the police and/or shut down the joint. Order would be restored and kids went back to watching the movie, more or less. And a good time was had by all.

        1. That’s a delightful tale of both the early days in Edmonds, a great little movie theater and of growing up during an era when kids were allowed too attend movies with friends and no parental supervision was required. It was safe and so much fun! Where I grew up, the local priest would stand in the back surveying the teen couples, and he would occasionally move quickly forward to separate two who were getting a bit too amorous-in his opinion.

    2. I was a UW student who had never been out to Edmonds, but I was popular because I had a car. It was a rainy winter Saturday night in 1961, and I managed to find Edmonds and the Princess Theater, where our group saw “Where the Boys Are” with Jim Hutton and Paula Prentiss. The place was packed, and we ended up sitting waaay down front. I remember being surprised at how nice the theater was and that the screen was large and curved. I couldn’t have known that 50+ years later I would be working there for a couple of years.

      This is my second post on this story, and I promise to shut up now.

  6. Always been interested in movie theaters of old and those that are long gone. A well-researched history, thank you for sharing. I also offer my thanks to past and current owners who keep the lights on at the Edmonds Theater as it’s a gem to have in our community.

  7. Thanks for providing this slice of history. Like many people I imagine, one of my best memories of visiting the Edmonds theater is watching movies and laughing or gasping along with the rest of the crowd. The shared experience in our hometown theater can’t be matched by the giant cinemas. I’m a fan!

  8. What a treasured part of Edmonds history. Thanks so much for sharing. Lots of fun memories inside this Fabulous Theater. Please know this piece of history is so significant!

  9. My wife and I’s first experiences there were when it was the Princess Theatre. Saw our first horror movie there called 13 Ghosts, though mild by today’s standards, it scared us at that time. Remember it today along with the chocolate round candies in a tube called Flicks. The best! Great memories and wonderful times growing up at the theater.

  10. What a thrill it has been to see exterior and interior pictures of “ our hometown“ Community theater that has been part of my life since the mid-1950s. So elegant and eloquent! Far more beautiful than it has ever been. We have been fortunate to have had loving caring caretakers for the last 100 years who refused To Allow our little theater become a past memory. Words cannot thank you enough. She is beautiful once again

  11. I saw my first movie at the Princess Theater, a cowboy Western with Glenn Ford. That was in 1956. It was the only movie theater until one opened in Lynnwood, in the 60s. I remember when rambuncious kids would cause the camera operator to stop the film until they calmed down. The smell of popcorn always filled rthe air.

  12. I love this theater! I think it’d be nice to have a reel that runs before shows that has old photos and explains the history of the theater, for those younger folks who have no idea of it’s past. Might be a good way to preserve its history?

    1. Hello Fredrick,
      This is Gary at the theater. Your idea is something we have talked about. Chris Mayes and I, talked often about having a timeline on the wall in the upstairs hallway.
      With photos and articles, through war years and so on.
      Scot (Staff Member) and I have talked about doing a news reel. It’s still on the burner, but at the moment difficult to juggle between theater operation and producing a reel.

      We haven’t given up.

      Take care

  13. Wow. Thank you Sam for writing this article. I know it wasn’t easy gathering all of the information; teasing through so many differing “facts.” Your endeavor lit a fire under me to find out more than I ever knew about this sweet gem our father felt so passionate about. We knew that when he passed we needed to keep the Theater alive as one way to honor him. He hoped the Theater would draw patrons to its movies, but more importantly into the neighboring businesses. But thanks to all of our dedicated managers & lessees ie., Robert Rine, Jonquil Sherman, Chris Mayes and now Gary Hoskins, The Edmond’s Theater has given much more to the community. No matter what challenges came to the industry; they used their creativity and out-of-the-box thinking to keep this gem afloat. We know that we are also fortunate to have had Rick Steves utilize the facility to hold travel seminars for so many years. When times were tough, it kept us going. We appreciated when Mayor Dave Earling held his State of the City addresses at the Theater as well. That solidified the idea that The Edmonds Theater is a place that brings people together for common causes. Not to sound weird, but I know The Theater felt honored. I am grateful to the managers for always being willing to give up their personal time to host a fundraising events to benefit The Edmonds School District and other important causes. Finally, it is the patrons who have continually supported this Theater. Without YOU, we would not exist!! Thank you for keeping this Theater alive!

  14. Thank you Sam,
    This is truly interesting, good stuff – I’m a big fan of history! And I am very proud to be part of it, as Manager of The Edmonds Theater. To give you an idea of how I feel about The Edmonds Theater, I have to give a little backstory.

    My history started with The Edmonds Theater while I was attending Madrona Jr. High back in the mid-70s (where that faithful spark happened, and I became a AV-Boy). Back in those days I bounced between The Edmonds Theater & The Lynn-Twin Theater almost every weekend.

    I’m a bit of an old-hand when it comes to working theaters. In 1977 while in High School I started working for [The Fruit-Vale Drive-In] in Yakima, WA., and joined the lighting & projectionist union. Went on to [The Country Drive-In], and finally worked for [The Mercy theater group] in Yakima, till I went into the military.

    After the military in 1983, I went back into the entertainment industry as a recording & sound engineer, later into radio with ABC, CBS, Fox and many others as a On-Air Personality, Producer and Network Producer. I left the Corporate field in 2012, and started my own production company.
    Though it was a surprise to me when I receive that call, back in 2015 to come join The Edmonds Theater. I am glad I did – I have a lot of pride for this place. And it is kind of like I’ve come full circle 😉
    Thanks Sam

  15. It is So Great reading peoples memories from earlier times at the Edmonds Theater! I worked there in 1979 when It was the Edmonds Rock and Roll Theater. It was so much fun working there and getting to see the cult movies and then listen to the bands play. I met a lot of people that I remained friends with for many years. So Many Great Memories! Now my memories are with my family, we love to go and sit in the front of the balcony. Occasionally even pop in when walking around just to buy a bag of their Delicious Popcorn! Thank You to everyone who has been and continues to be involved with keeping our Edmonds Theater Alive and Thriving! We Love Our Theater!

  16. Stephanie, I’m with the Edmonds-So. Snohomish County Historical Society Board of Directors. Do you know whether the old Princess Theater marquee still exists somewhere? I think it would be awesome if we could work with you to find it and display it as part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the theater. Please contact me through the museum (or via Teresa Wippel) if you’d like to pursue this idea. Thanks!

    1. Hi Dave,
      This is Gary over at the theater. Hope you don’t mind me popping in like this, i know your question was for Stephanie, but its an awesome question.
      And is one I have asked Katie over at the Edmonds Historical Museum, but sadly they don’t know. The staff and I, talk about it all the time, of the original sign and the old Barry’s Princess Thester marquee.
      The museum does have a couple original Princess Theater theatrical posters, and some outstanding outside photos of the theater.

      We are making plans, for the 100th celebration, keep fingers crossed. We might have to soft pedal our ideas a little due to contracts, but we wont let it slip away un- noticed.

      All the best

  17. Nice article. I operated the projectors most nights from 1974-78 under the Kniest family ownership and the James/Prebezac ownership. It was not pretty, gradually I learned to operate & maintain the equipment more professionally. The rectifiers for the lamps used vacuum tubes and put out a lot of heat. Great for drying wet hiking, running and ski clothing from activities earlier in the day. Could sneak in an hour or two of studying in a shift. In 1978 it was time to move on.

    1. I may only be the manager, but always love hearing stories about the theater, especially behind the scenes.
      I started working drive-in theaters in ’78, later joining the union.

      Who knows, you may have been operating the projector, when I used to visit the theater during my Jr High days in the mid-70s.

      Today, even though the technology has changed, it still gets very hot in the booth. Thanks for sharing your story.

      1. Gary,

        We upgraded the tube rectifiers to semiconductors in 1977. In 1978 the carbon arc rods were upgraded to Xenon bulbs. Kent Kildow was the technical consultant for both upgrades, he was a mentor to me. I could go on at length about lessons learned in operation and maintenance of equipment.

        We were still running 20 minute film reels at that time. There were no curtains on the screen all the years I was there. The three channel sound system was complete, in good working condition and sounded great, only a few films that I showed utilized it. I cleaned the theater off and on over the years and would play my favorite music while performing that chore using that wonderful sound system.

        One tradition was established during those years, Dr Zhivago would be shown during Thanksgiving week.

        My last day was in August 1978. If I recall correctly, A young Chris Prebezak took over projectionist duties at that time.

        1. I agree, I love hearing about all the backstories.
          When I joined on in 2015, I started getting into the history of the Edmonds Theater, via people who popped in and would share. And through Katie over at the museum, I started collecting photos of the theater.

          Though I wish, photos from inside the theater were around. That would really be interesting.

          I have been through one projector upgrade since I joined on in 2015, a new screen, new popper, new soda & Ice machine (that alone is huge, not having to haul ice from the basement).
          For a short while, we tried using the main curtain and the side curtains, but the system is just abit too old.

          You left in 1978, I was starting roughly late April early May of 1977 at the Fruitvale Drive-In Yakima, WA.
          Still using the old carbon arc systems. We had 3 outdoor screens and 1 indoor.
          I still remember opening night of Smokey And The Bandit, May of ’77. But it would be the summer of ’78 that went down in history with “Grease”.

          I did love working for theaters, and the Edmonds Theater is my 6th or 7th theater that I have worked.
          I am glad I had that opportunity and experience back when movie going was truly a Movie Experience.
          It’s different now, the epic films are becoming a way of the past.

          I worked, and trained people (pioneered) the crossover from the anolog to the digital age. And then got pushed aside, once the digital age had a foot hold. So with all the streaming services, digital formats, and digital devices we can see thousands of movies and show anytime, anywhere – it’s just not the same.
          So it’s a great pleasure to chat with people (like yourself) and share these memories. Take care

  18. These are the sort of stories I was hoping people would add. You can’t find them in any source, but they make up an kinteresting part of the history. Thank you for the additions.

    And if anyone else has more personal stories, please throw them in. (Like you, David Felthous!)

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