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