My first kiss was in the Vashon Island Theater. When I think about places on the island that have always been there, the Theater rings true for me. We had a chance to take a behind the scenes tour of the theater with Jake, the son of owner Eileen Wolcott and to see what makes our little theater so special. We talked about a ton of great experiences, shared a bunch of stories and overall had a great time.
One impression that I came away with is that the Wolcott family really love the island and love the movie industry. They love serving the island they feel obligated to keep the theater running shows even when there are only just a few people at a showing. Their commitment to quality AND value was very evident in our discussions.
Below are some of the interesting tidbits that I thought were worth sharing.
The theater was built in 1942 and use to be where Saucy Sisters(RIP)/Movie Magic used to be. It burned down in 1945 and rebuilt once again in 1947 where it is today. The Wolcott family purchased the property from the Raab Family in March of 2003. They also purchased the business from Carolyn Youngblood at the same time. Our tour guide this day was Jake, the son of the owner Eileen Wolcott.
The murals. Those murals have been in the front of the theater for as long as I can remember. The Frankenstein always freaked me out as a kid. But did you know that those murals were painted by Jack Tabor who use to work at Disney for a short time? Yep. Jack went to work for Disney and it didn’t work out so he came back to the island. The owners of the theater at the time paid the Jack by buying him a car. The paintings were based on a book. Early 50 Story of Mu. Graduated VHS 1948. The name of the murals are: The Tree of Life (left) and The Specters of Ramaha (right).
The stage. The stage was built by Jake and his father. The designed the stage to be sound resistant. I was surprised to see how quiet it was when jumping up and down on it. The stage was created to host live events and concerts.
The seats. The seats were put in not too long ago, but the family themselves. New seats are hopefully coming in the next few years. There was a theater that the family had found down in California that was selling some great seats. They went down to the theater, removed the seats, but a few days before they got shipped up, there was some snafu that happened with the moving company.. so they lost out of those seats. Sad. According to Jake, they would have been great for the theater. Sad.
The Concession Stand
The family focuses on trying to find local vendors for much of its concession business. “Quality has always been a priority with my mom” says Jake. They carry many local items which are not easy to come by all the time. Many times, they need to travel to purchase items directly from the supplier.
The Popcorn Maker. The popcorn maker is actually a collector’s item. It was made during World War 2 when metal was scarce. Notice the entire outside was made of wood. There are only 3 others like it, one of which is in a museum.
The prices. WOW. The prices for concessions are SO REASONABLE… For instance, over town, A large bucket of popcorn can run you $9 or more. At the Vashon Theater its only $6 for a large bucket. Soda for a large off island it’s over $6, at our Vashon Island Theater, only $3 with free refills. Popcorn and a soda are required for every movie I go to, that savings alone is worth the price of admission. The family really focuses on keeping the prices low. “It’s the way mom want’s it”, says Jake.
Just to show what people off island are paying: https://www.movietheaterprices.com/amc-concession-prices/
Beer and Wine. The Wolcott family carefully select the beer and wine selection at the theater. How cool is that? You can drink a beer while watching Star Wars!! Many of the beers are local island beer as well as local wines. They rotate flavors through and Jake mentioned that they are looking into getting a third tap for even a larger selection.
The Popcorn. The family insists on quality when it comes to their concessions and it shows. Their popcorn, for instance, is of the highest grade, only 100% organic is better. The cost of getting 100% organic popcorn vs this other high-grade popcorn is quite a bit. The Islanders have been eating this same popcorn (from Oregon) for years. The Vashon Theater uses REAL butter for their popcorn. No artificial buttered flavored grease like you get over town.
The screen. With a new high-tech projector, comes the need for a new screen. Behind the new screen are large speakers where most of the sound comes from. We didn’t know there were so many speakers behind the screen. The old stage and screen are still back behind the new screen.
The Physical Movies. Movies now come on hard drives rather than the spindles we all remember. This helps in a number of ways. Mainly it removes the need for someone to be up in the projector room during a movie showing. Everything can be automated with the new projector so that helps with limiting headcount needed to run the theater.
A new satellite system. The Wolcott’s invested in a satellite system where they can beam in worldwide events into the theater. The Opera, the Oscars Sports events, you name it. Whatever can be viewed via satellite can be displayed. It came at a cost but the family thought it was important that folks on the island get
Digital projector. The new projector the theater cost over $100,000. It uses large password protected hard-drives, not spindles of film to display the movies. The digital movies can it can be totally automated. The old projector was only 1200 watts but the new projector displays a crystal-clear image at 4000 watts.
Movie selection. You might have noticed that the theater is getting very recent movies showing on the island. No more waiting for 3 weeks before I movie will show up. That’s because Eileen personally negotiates every movie viewing with the studio. Warner Brothers, Disney, all of them. She goes to bat for the island letting the studios know that they will be able to sell tickets.
Website. Wow. What a huge improvement. Their new website was made by Jess the theater manager who did a great job. You can now view what’s coming and purchase movies right from the website.
Birthday parties and special events. The theater also hosts birthday parties on the island. The entire theater can be rented out for a special fee. Everyone gets a drink and popcorn too. Not too shabby.
Most sought after seats. There is a certain row that is always sought after in the theater. There are many regulars who rush to get these seats first. Can you guess where they are at? On the right side (looking toward the screen) about three-quarters of the way down, there is one row with an extra seat that has a view of the screen and no seat in front of it. This is “the best seat in the house”.
Gaming. The new projector has the capability of showing high definition video games as well. We are thinking a retro game festival. What do you think?
Tickets. Not only can tickets be purchased at the box office, tickets can also be purchased online via the website (I didn’t know that) which will ensure you will get a ticket for a busy show.
The theater has headsets for hard of hearing. I thought this was great.
The Vashon Island Theater is a place that I think many of us take for granted. After going through, learning of all of the hard work that Jake and his family go through to provide us this theater, it makes me love it even more.
What can our readers do to help support the theater? “Just come watch movies.”, says Jake. Ok, I think we will.
[All photos by Vashon Island Photographer, Leanne Winters of Shutter Wonder Photography]
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