Modern Snohomish

Featured Image: “Why Not?” Photo illustration by the author.

A lingering notion I’ve had, probably since Early Snohomish was published a dozen years ago — if I were to write a sequel I’d call it Modern Snohomish.

In June 1926, Snohomish residents approved, by only three votes, the construction of a new fire station on the corner of Avenue A and 2nd Street to replace the 19th-century wooden building referred to as a shack in the news accounts.

Included in the vote was the construction of our first City Hall with offices for the police and a jail in the basement.

By then the new Lon Brown Theatre, a 40×100-foot structure of concrete, built on a lot purchased from the city for $2,500, and snuggled up close to the ten-year-old First National Bank (our first “fireproof” building) had been screening movies for two years. The Iron Horse, John Ford’s “blazing trail of love and civilization” played an extended run that past September.

Mac Bates, native son and retired middle school teacher, begins his remembrance of the Brown Theatre, as found on RootsWeb (posted in 2002), like this:

Every day as I cross the bridge into Snohomish, I turn onto First Street, pulled ineluctably by memory. I don’t really expect to see Schott’s Meat Market, Snohomish Drug, Mel’s Delicatessen, or J.C. Penney instead of the antique stores and boutiques, which have breathed life into downtown Snohomish, but, invariably, as I turn onto Avenue B, I look to see what’s playing at the old Snohomish Theater. Of course, nothing is playing. There have been no coming attractions for almost three years when the last movie ended, the credits rolled, and the screen went black forever.

Jackhammers three years ago leveled the lobby and exposed the darkened theater. Rows of sticky, soda-stained seats were ripped from the floor. For a few days, the patched movie screen was exposed to the last warm light of fall before workmen dismantled it, leaving a gaping black hole on First Street and in my heart.

I had never been backstage and had had little desire to see what lay behind the curtains. The screen was my window to the world of romance, adventure, terror, and fantasy. Movies enchanted me. The images came not from the projector but from behind the screen if one dared look (and I could not), an ethereal vapor spiraling out over the Snohomish River, wisping above cornfields and grazing cattle, and soaring over the forested foothills to Hollywood where almost anything seemed possible.

Download the entire story as a pdf file.

The late Carroll Clark, who posted Mac’s story on Rootsweb, I met in connection with the Annual Mother’s Day Vaudille Show produced by Eleanor Leight to benefit the Snohomish Historical Society for many years. His granddaughter was a featured dancer in the show along with other key dancers nicknamed the “Dawn Patrol.” In 2004, I followed the creation of the 26th Annual show with the documentary: To Dance with Eleanor.

Indulge me with a fantasy that could have been: The renovation of the Lon Brown Theatre in the 1970s for the Annual Mother’s Day Vaudville Show! Instead of screening the Northwest Premiere of Deep Throat, as told in Mac’s story.

Eleanor’s show was presented in the PAC — the high school’s Performance Art Center until a new center was built with many tax-dollars — its use was too expensive for Eleanor’s annual show to continue.

. . .

A heartfelt thanks to Mac Bates, and your memories of the Brown Theatre are encouraged, please comment below.

Calling All Memories:

Formally Titled: “DRB Meeting, Wednesday, August 12, 6p.” Nothing is certain in this Age of Zoom Meetings except the recordings.

First, one auditorium becomes two — the main floor and a balcony; then the lobby, balcony theater, and the auditorium were destroyed for a retail operation — a tourist trap; then the marque from the 1920s was replaced with a new, yet vintage looking sign with the name Pegasus; and, during a week in May 2020, the last straw — the fly-loft was destroyed and replaced with a “penthouse!”

The Lon Brown Theater is Dead to Snohomish Residents.
Long Live the Lon Brown Theater in Their Memories!

Please contact me with your memories of watching movies, dancing on the stage, and especially if you have pictures (i can scan them while you wait — make an appointment: 206.914.4075 Voice & Text; hello@snohomishstories.org.

Easiest of all, leave a comment below.

Please check your scrapbooks, your shoeboxes of photos and tell your stories — the library is closed to research we need to crowd-source this mission!

Coming in September will be the rich remembrances of Mac Bates, son of the late Bill Bates, once the editor of the Tribune.

Let me add yours.

And in October, the first movie screened on October 9th, 1924, “Hold Your Breath,” will be posted in celebration of the theater building’s 96th anniversary.

You provide the popcorn.


The red circle indicates the location of the unfinished “penthouse” overlooking our River Front Trail, with its oversized windows, like a watchtower. (Click to Enlarge)

. . .

Fly Loft

Featured image: The red circle locates the black room where the fly loft of the former theater building once stood.

Well, I thought they were talking about the structural parts of the building — its Bones. “This old building still got good Bones,” the crew chief would say, way too many times, accompanied by an obvious round of eye contact between the other three crew members who called him “Boss.”

The knowing looks between them seem obvious in hindsight but my mind at the time was on the 30-foot drop to the floor below, the old stage floor. The unfinished floor above ended at a large opening with a quickly built staircase along the west wall. The absence of a handrail gently pushed me toward the wall and I hugged it close, one step at a time, all the way up.

But the view!

High above the stage floor of the old theater, built where the fly loft once held scenic flats, painted drops, even a thunder machine, and a snowfall sling of black velour, the view took in the Cascade Mountain Range to the left, the Snohomish River Valley straight-ahead and the watery planet of Puget Sound to the west.

Plus it was a super bright, super clear day with a spectacular stack of clouds hovering just above the bright, thin line of the horizon. A burning bowl of sweet bud was passed to me and I welcomed the opportunity to experience this indigenous culture where I found myself.

The small crew was “stoked.” It took less than two weeks for the “dudes” to dismantle the old stage house tower piece-by-piece, then build an 800 square foot room with huge windows.

If the windows opened it would be tempting to fly, I thought, taking in the view, wondering where are the dreams d’anten?

The only bummer note was a visit from Sharon, the city’s building inspector. She informed them that once they got the building weathertight they would need to apply for a permit that specifies external changes — their current permit was for inside work only. The new permit would require application with the Design Review Board, she told them.

“What the fuck?” Was the crew’s unanimous, boisterous reaction egged-on by the Boss. The glass pipe came around again. “It’s Blue Dream from Hanger 420 — the three-gram bag is a nice price!” said the “dude” who passed me the pipe.

Started to explain “ordinances”… but I was intimidated by this group of blond young men with zero body flat and full heads of long hair held in place with their hats on backward. Only the Boss had a dark, bushy beard; and they were loaded, as high as this place in the sky, built by their labor.

Besides, I wanted to know more about what it was like in the old fly loft before they took it apart. Discover anything interesting, like old scenery, I wondered?

Stoned silence. All eyes were downcast suddenly studying their work boots. They looked brand new.

“Did you find any bones?” I joked, thinking of something to break the ice.

TO BE CONTINUED : SUBSCRIBE!

. . .

What’s Going On with the Old Lon Brown Theater Building?

Featured Image: Note in the upper right-hand corner that the stage house tower has been replaced by a wall with a window — still under construction!

The former theater building on First Street in Snohomish, January 2012, showing the red stage house tower backing up to the river.

The historic Lon Brown Theater building, at 1003 First Street, opened on October 9, 1924, with live theater acts and two sold-out screenings of the silent movie, Hold Your Breath, at 7 and 9 pm. Fans spilled out into First Street, blocking traffic … eventually dispersing over the years, it finally closed in 1999.

The theater building, fully equipped with a fly loft for raising and lowering scenery, plus dressing rooms for 60 persons, opened with the new millennium as the Pegasus Theatre Shops. A tourist trap kind of place that erased any trace of its previous life holding live theater. The business moved to Las Vegas a couple of years ago leaving behind a run-down building littered with unsold stuff too large to move.

New owners arrived with the new year, 2020, moving the abandoned stuff to the sidewalk to give away, then discovering a dangerously water damaged stage house tower. It was quietly taken down by a small crew that is now building out an 800 square foot perch featuring oversized windows high above the Snohomish River Valley.

Captured from the River Front Trail on Thursday morning, May 7th with unidentified figures standing on the new roof alongside all that remains of the stage tower wall still attached to the chimmey.

Snohomish StoriesShort alley view off Avenue A showing the backstage double doors for loading scenery.

Looking east from the Kla Ha Ya Park showing the small crew working on the stage tower in the horizon.

Captured Friday morning, May 8th, showing the oversized windows already in place.

Close up view of what remains of the stage tower wall still attached to the chimmey.

On Friday, May 8th, Sharon Petitt, the city’s Building Inspector, visited the site to met with the contractor when she heard his story of the urgency and reasons for tearing down the stage house tower. Ms. Petitt issued a correction report that a permit is required and Design Review. The owner’s permit was for interior work only.

Owners planning external alterations to their structures located in the Historic District are required to submit their plans to the Design Review Board (DRB), a citizen board charged with maintaining design standards for the district. A copy of the standards is available from city hall or online. The public is invited to all DRB meetings and is encouraged in this case.

Pieces of the stage house walls of red painted sheet metal in the dumpster.

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Undated photo of the Lon Brown Theater found on the internet.

It’s my understanding that early in its history, the stage welcomed community presentations — I’d love to learn more — please comment below with your experience, or contact me. We will feature your stories in our October post: “Remembering the Lon Brown Theater.” Included as well will be an online screening of the theater’s first movie: Hold Your Breath.

This October, the Lon Brown Theater building will be four years short of its 100th Anniversary.

. . .