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.

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

Bones in the Fly Loft

Featured Image: Theater Head Block, collection of the writer.
“Head blocks are overhead multi-line blocks used for the lift lines and operating lines.” [Wikipedia]

“The bones found us! It was a f-u-c-k-i-n-g shower of bones!” Said the Boss, who was a fast speller.

Suddenly his arms went up, palms cupped, head back, eyes wide open — an act of submission to a higher power — as portrayed in the old movies, I thought.

Very slowly, Boss floated his arms down to shoulder height and aimed both index fingers at Jake, who turned around from looking out the huge window, that towered over him, to face Boss, with a sharp setting sunlight to his back.

Boss shuffled left and right looking for a view of Jake’s face, giving up, he began, “Jake, here, on the first day on the job, went up the old rod iron ladder to the rails just below the ceiling, what do you call all that?” he asked, looking at me.

The “Grid-Deck” I told him. “Was it made of metal …?” I tried to ask.

“When Adventure Boy, here, gets to the top of the ladder, the piece of shit comes off the wall, banging against the metal thingamajig….

“Grid-deck. Sounds like it was made of metal,” I said. “Amazing, an iron grid-deck in the 1920s,” I started but was cut short by the Boss who was on a roll (playing a role, for sure).

“Whatever, the ladder jammed against it and Adventure Boy, here, skidded down the ladder, ripping the shit out of his hands, but was almost beaned by an iron pulley thing that went sailing past him landing with a startling, deep thud that shook the goddamn flimsy stage house walls.”

“No one moved,” continued Boss, “we stood there looking up into the darkness of the fly loft.

“I swear I heard footfalls up there,” said a young-looking Eric, kind of whispering — looking at me with a disconcerting stare.

“When the bones began to fall,” said Boss, making sure everyone knew he was reaching the turning point of his story, “it was as if someone, or something … was, I don’t know … was … settling a score?”

“Know what I mean?” he said turning to look at me.

The Boss overused this tag line — as if I knew anything about it — I just nodded in the affirmative.

“Now is not the time, nor the place to be talking about this,” spoke up Jake, turning again in the light to face the Boss as a shadow or silhouette.

I could see he had his shirt off, built like a modern movie star, I could sense he was proud of his look, topped with a fire-engine red head-band corralling his wild blonde locks. He never did take his gloves off, come to think of it.

The bowl of burning Blue Dream was opposite me, across a loose, semi-circle gathering. Jake was on my right, turning towards me, he watched my eyes as he spoke.

“The fly loft walls were dangerously water damaged and I shit you not,” Jake said, sotto voce, “it was ready to collapse, with the iron grid coming down on all of us — instant decapitation! The failure of the ladder was the only warning I needed.”

Our intense eye contact was (thankfully) broken when Jake slowly turned toward the Boss, then on to Eric, and to the fourth crew member, whose name I didn’t get, Jake continues, “fortunately, the fly loft came down by our hands as fast as we could — you can wipe your ass with the permit!”

“Was there really, a shower of bones?” I asked, with air quotes.

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COMMENTS WELCOMED BELOW

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!

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