The 7th Street Theatre in Hoquiam is a historic gem, and preserving it takes constant work. “Restoration work never ends in a 95-year-old building,” stresses 7th Street Theatre Manager Jamie Brand. President Ray Kahler, Vice President Mickey Thurman, and Jamie Brand of the 7th Street Theatre Association advise the board in planning, funding, and executing the daunting process of preserving the beauty and functionality of Hoquiam’s beloved historical theater.
The Establishment of Hoquiam’s 7th Street Theatre
The 7th Street Theatre was established in 1928 by businessmen Ed Dolan and Olaf T. Taylor. Local architect Edwin St. John Griffith was commissioned to create a plan for the look of the new theater. He collaborated with the architectural firm Huntington and Torbit in Seattle to create the first and last atmospheric theater in the Pacific Northwest, emulating designs by Austrian-born John Eberson, the most successful architect of the atmospheric theater style on the East Coast. Together, they created a magnificent venue, the first talkie theater in Washington.
Restoration of the Theater in Hoquiam
The atmospheric style was popular in 1920’s movie theater design. The 7th Street Theatre auditorium with its star-sprinkled ceiling and three-dimensional, tiled walls creates the outdoor experience of a Spanish garden. Fortunately, the basic design and structure of the theater have never been changed. “For us restoration truly means restoration,” says Brand. The 7th Street Theatre is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Thurman is glad that it is also the first building listed on the recently established local register formed by the City of Hoquiam. “The local register is stricter, giving us more protection,” Thurman adds.
The 7th Street Theatre Association tackles restoration projects as they become urgent. “We want to make the theater experience more amenable for patrons,” Thurman shares. However, safety is a primary concern. When plaster fell off the façade onto the sidewalk, the restoration of the exterior walls became imperative. The board devised a three-phase exterior restoration plan. Inside, the original 1928 stage rigging, operating with sandbags as counterweights, was still in place in 2008. An update to state-of-the-art technology became a priority. It was completed in 2009.
Grays Harbor Specialists Are Hired Whenever Possible
Whenever possible, the board hires local businesses for maintenance and restoration work. For example, Phoenix Signs has rebuilt the marquee installing neon lights. McHugh’s Furniture has been commissioned to construct a sound-blocking curtain. It will replace an extremely dusty burlap horsehair blanket that was keeping the sound from bouncing off the back wall. When it was removed, a mural was discovered. The new curtain will be hung on a rod which will make it easy to reveal the mural when the show is over.
EverGreene Architectural Arts Restores 7th Street Theatre Auditorium Ceiling
In 2010, when pieces of plaster were falling from the auditorium ceiling, its restoration became a priority. Evergreene Architectural Arts, a New York-based company specializing in historic restoration worldwide, was hired for the project. They took paint samples that were sent in to determine the exact original color of the ceiling. Scaffolding was erected within seven feet of the ceiling, from 20 to 50 feet off the floor, describes Brand.
“As we had them here and they did such a beautiful job, we also had them paint the foyer walls,” Thurman adds.
Restoration of Hoquiam Theater Continued in 2023
2023 has seen the completion of phase two of the exterior restoration plan along with the installation of new auditorium lights. This phase cost $338,000. Funding was provided by the Grays Harbor Community Foundation, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, the Ben B. Cheney Foundation, the Third Places Fund, as well as other foundations and individual donors.
EverGreene Architectural Arts returned for another difficult project in 2023, the replacement of the Assyrian panels on the façade. The original panels could not be saved. EverGreene took measurements, copied the design, and created a negative to construct a mold for the new panels. They hired a Texas artist for the job. The new panels are made of resin and will last much longer than the plaster originals. The company also sealed and painted the J-Street wall. These two projects completed phase two of the Exterior Restoration Plan.
Also in 2023, Hollywood Lights from Portland, Oregon came in to replace the original 1928 auditorium light fixtures with modern LED lighting. Now, the stars twinkle more brightly in the theater sky. Thurman and Brand proudly demonstrate how the new color settings simulate the time of day or weather changes in this truly atmospheric theater auditorium.
Come and enjoy a movie or a show under this magnificent new sky. For more information, including current events, visit the 7th Street Theatre website.