Petition aims to save Seattle’s beloved Cinerama as movie theater approaches two years since closure

The Cinerama movie theater in Seattle. (GeekWire File Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

It’s like the worst and longest cliffhanger in Seattle movie history: Will the beloved Cinerama theater ever reopen? When? … Stay tuned. And stay frustrated.

As film lovers emerge from the extended pandemic hibernation that sent them to the couch for nearly two years of small-screen film consumption, a new petition is calling for answers as to when the lights might flicker again at the Cinerama.

The historic movie theater in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood has been dark since February 2020 when it was temporarily closed for renovations. In May 2020, the news went from bad to worse when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and the Cinerama closure was extended to the “foreseeable future.”

The theater, which originally opened in 1963, was purchased by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 1998. The billionaire sci-fi geek and philanthropist put the place through a state-of-the-art technology upgrade in 2014 and it’s long been considered the go-to spot for stuff you just need to see on a big screen. The chocolate-covered popcorn served in the lobby didn’t hurt to draw people in either.

Vulcan Inc., the Allen company that manages many of his remaining assets and is now run by his sister, Jody Allen, had nothing new to share about the Cinerama when reached by GeekWire on Monday.

“We will let you know when we have an update,” a spokesperson emailed.

The home page of the Cinerama website. (Cinerama.com screen grab)

The petition on Change.org is titled “Save Seattle Cinerama!” and has attracted almost 2,000 signatures in two weeks. But it should have “a bajillion,” one commenter said.

Calling the theater a Seattle institution, with the city’s “most uniquely great movie theater experience since its inception,” the petition states that it is urgent that the Cinerama be saved.

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“By signing this petition you will be calling on 1) Jody Allen, the current head of the Paul Allen Estate (which owns the theater), to invest in this historic theater’s future and get it back up and running; and 2) the Seattle Neighborhoods Department Historic Preservation Program to designate the theater a Seattle Landmark, thereby protecting it from demolition.”

Visitors to the Cinerama website are still greeted by a large “WE’RE CLOSED” message linking to details that were originally shared on May 27, 2020, about how the “COVID-19 crisis has had a devastating effect on many businesses, especially those that rely on public gatherings and special events.” The Cinerama Twitter account hasn’t been updated since July 17, 2020, with a tweet about what theater gift card holders can do to get refunds.

Looking back at Cinerama’s 570 seats from the curved screen. (GeekWire File Photo / Frank Catalano)

The closure in February 2020 was intended for renovations to address normal wear and tear throughout the building, replacing carpet and so forth. And an overhaul of the kitchen was planned to enable the theater to expand on its food offerings, Vulcan said at the time. But a number of employees lost their jobs and questions swirled even before the pandemic about whether the Cinerama was ever coming back.

With its giant curved screen, reclining red seats and ceiling dotted with star-like lights, the landmark movie house is a technological leader in film projection and sound, thanks to Paul Allen. If Vulcan doesn’t reopen the theater, film fans in the city have wondered for almost two years who will step in.

Amazon, with its worldwide headquarters just a couple blocks away, has been floated as a potential savior. The tech giant already runs its Prime Video streaming service and buys and makes film and TV content through Amazon Studios. And then in May it dropped $8.5 billion to acquire the longtime Hollywood studio MGM — keepers of the James Bond franchise.

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The latest Bond film “No Time to Die” is among the big blockbusters drawing people out of their homes and back to theaters this fall. “Dune,” “Eternals” and “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” are among the other titles leading to a domestic box office resurgence as people get more comfortable gathering in public again.

For those who signed the petition to save the Cinerama, a sampling of comments provided more incentive for Vulcan to reopen, or for any would-be buyer:

  • “The Cinerama is the best place to see a film in the city, and has a coveted place in Seattle’s history and heart.”
  • “I desperately miss Cinerama. I loved going there. The huge screen, the chocolate popcorn, the stars on the ceiling – all perfection. I would go back all the time if it reopened.”
  • “Cinerama is critical to Seattle’s unity as a city as we exit the pandemic. It needs more investment as a cultural landmark, not a looming axe over its head!”
  • “My favorite theater ever. Without question, it needs to be saved.”
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