By Gale Hemmann
Walking into the 7th Street Theatre is like stepping back in time. It harkens an era when theaters were ornate and eye-catching, and as much a part of the experience as the show itself. The theater’s motto is “where the stars light the sky and the stage,” and indeed, you will find a constellation of tiny lights overhead, glittering and twinkling from the large domed ceiling as you take in a show. The last remaining theater in the Pacific Northwest built in the “atmospheric style,” this little gem opened in 1928 and remains a vital part of Hoquiam’s cultural heritage. Lovingly restored, it is a beautiful building, but it also serves as a hub for classic movies, live entertainment, and a host of activities for youth.
I stopped by the 7th Street Theatre to take a tour and learn more about its rich history. I was greeted by Jamie Brand, Theater Manager, and Joe Brand, long-time volunteer and board member. Together, we pored over every inch of the theatre, examining both the original details (the front box office, the tile fountain in the lobby) and the new and restored features (the 1920’s-look carpeting, the refurbished front doors). The Brands could tell me every detail about the theater, and are clearly passionate about the work of restoring it.
In fact, in learning about the 7th Street Theatre, passion and dedication seem to be common themes. Literally hundreds of community members have lent a hand in restoring the theater over the past years, from hands-on construction projects to raising funds. The Board is quite literally a “working board,” Jamie notes, taking on renovation projects as well as oversight of the theater. The theater has received support from many local businesses, making it a staple in the local economy.
There have been countless upgrades and improvements over the past several years, all powered by volunteer help. Recent renovations include the interior walls and ceiling, the installation of footlights to make the staircases safer, a new stage floor and the outdoor 7th Street Theatre sign. It retains many original elements – the murals on the auditorium walls (hidden until recently), much of the tilework, and more treasures large and small. The original organ was famously returned “home” in 2012, driven all the way from Texas by determined volunteers.
The 7th Street Theatre also has a long tradition of supporting local youth talent. Each year, they host several community events by and for the area’s teens. They host an annual Young Artists Showcase, Hoquiam Middle School and Hoquiam High School music and theater events, dance recitals, and the popular Miss Grays Harbor Scholarship Pageant and Miss Grays Harbor Outstanding Teen Pageant. (I visited right before the pageants, and Brand and the theater were abuzz with activity and preparations.) The theater is also the home of the 7th Street Kids musical theater group each summer. Founded in 1992, they have involved over 600 Grays Harbor youth since its inception. In addition, Brand notes that they’ve had many teen volunteers, and that teens are especially adept at technical jobs, such as digital film projection.
An interesting historical fact: Hoquiam once boasted four movie theaters. Those were in the days when theaters were owned by the movie studios, and each theater could show movies only from its owner’s company. In later years, bike messengers would literally carry a reel of film from one theater to the next, meaning shows often started about an hour later at the second theater to receive the film. Fortunately, times have changed, but the 7th Street Theatre remains as a local landmark. (In the lobby you can see one of the original projection reels, from 1928.)
So how can you support the 7th Street Theatre, and make sure their legacy lives on? You can, of course, attend upcoming movies and live events – bring your friends and family, a few bucks for popcorn (made with real butter ) and drinks, and settle in for an entertaining time in one of Hoquiam’s most charming historic buildings. Tickets are affordable and proceeds go directly to supporting the theater. Grab dinner at a nearby restaurant and make an evening of it.
Jamie Brand also notes that the theater is currently looking for more volunteers, to join the ranks of about 20 behind-the-scenes volunteers. Share your skill and interest and Brand will link you up with a suitable job. It truly does “take a village” to keep the theater running, and volunteers represent a diverse range of ages and life experiences – from high school students fulfilling community service hours for school to retired senior citizens looking to donate their time.
Brand notes that their next renovation project is upgrading the heating system, ideally before next winter. They also plan to continue restoring the exterior of the building.
Brand says working at the 7th Street Theatre is deeply rewarding and feels like “home.” She loves that it brings a broad cross-section of the community together, featuring everything from the annual high school play to rock concerts. She says the dedication of the volunteers is amazing, and it’s great to be part of preserving Hoquiam’s history. In fact, the 7th Street Theatre was the first building in Grays Harbor County to be inducted into the U.S. Register of Historic Places.
To find out what’s new at the 7th Street Theatre, you can visit their website and “like” their Facebook page, or follow them on Twitter. You can also see many of the restoration projects in progress on their blog. To check out some cool photos from past events and the theater’s early days, visit them on Flickr.
7th Street Theatre
313 7th Street
Hoquiam, WA 98550
Ticket and box office information can be found here.