NORTH BEND — Wife and husband Beth and Kevin Burrows are story keepers for the community of North Bend. That’s part of the job description for owning a 1941 art moderne landmark.
“There’s a famous saying in historic theaters that you might be a one-story building, but we’re filled with 1,000 stories,” said Beth Burrows, co-owner of the North Bend Theatre, whose blue and red neon sign at 125 Bendigo Blvd. N. stands as a beacon in the historic downtown district.
Since April 9, 1941, the movie theater — which was initially owned by manager Jay Tew and cost $12,000 to build with 400 seats — has been a centerpiece in North Bend. The 4,000-square-foot, currently 265-seat community space has hosted film festivals, live concerts, free summer kids matinees, video gaming tournaments, birthday parties, live comedy shows, informal theater tours and annual screenings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” complete with a live all-volunteer shadow cast.
It’s been an air-conditioned haven to escape hot summers. It’s where Mount Si High School students and independent filmmakers — like “Hunting Bigfoot’s” writer/director Taylor Guterson — first saw their works on the big screen. It’s where comedian Andrew Rivers, who graduated from Mount Si High School, advanced in the 2019 Seattle International Comedy Competition.
“Twin Peaks” will always be part of the theater’s history and future, said Kevin. The North Bend Theatre was home to the nation’s premiere of David Lynch’s 1992 film, “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.” A replica of the “Welcome to Twin Peaks: Population 51,201” sign still sits backstage along with more than 2,000 movie posters, a collection of film reels, diamond-encrusted fire prevention curtains and the theater’s original film projectors.
“It’s like little touches of fame that this building has been a part of,” said Beth.
Under its seventh family ownership, the North Bend Theatre has survived everything from World War II to a pandemic, acting as an anchor during more than eight decades of change.
“It’s been here decades and decades and there are a very few art house theaters left in small towns in the United States anymore at all and I feel like it’s a piece of history,” said Guterson, a resident of North Bend for the past decade.
Guterson, who described himself as a “nobody in the context of moviemaking,” said he was lucky to have Beth, her theater and the community’s support during the sold-out Aug. 6, 2021, premiere of his mockumentary, which was filmed in North Bend. Mayor Rob McFarland proclaimed that day “Hunting Bigfoot Day.” The theater still has the proclamation framed inside a room with a dry-erase master calendar of running movies and events.
“She was supporting me, not a well known filmmaker by any stretch of your imagination, and my project and giving us a platform for people to come and see a film, over playing a Hollywood film, so really that’s important,” he said.
But as much as the small, independent theater supported countless people in the community over the years, the theater wouldn’t have survived without community support.
“The community of North Bend just loves the arts and I think that’s fundamentally why it’s still there,” said Guterson.
Owners Helen and Harry Trostel, a teacher and a forester who purchased the North Bend Theatre in January 1970, operated it for almost 30 years, keeping it running during the introduction of the VHS tape and the internet.
In 1999, the theater’s next owners, Brian, who worked at Microsoft and passed away in 2003, and Karlene Slover, modernized and restored the theater to its original art moderne designs — spending three months and $250,000 in extensive restoration. They won King County’s Spellman Award for rehabilitation.
When Hollywood made the switch from 35mm film to digital formats in 2012, the theater was in danger of closing. It needed $100,000 to buy a new digital film projector. Then-owners Cindy, who also owned the Emerald City Smoothie North Bend franchise, and Jim Walker surpassed that goal, raising $107,375 through a 2013 GoFundMe campaign. The new projector was installed in September 2013.
Then the Walker family, who’ve owned the theater since 2006, put the building up for sale.
Out of a “labor of love,” the Burrowses — who moved to North Bend in 1989 and raised their family there — bought the theater in 2018 for $800,000.
Kevin, whose current job as a software developer at Microsoft helps keep the theater afloat, wanted future North Bend kids to experience the same things his kids had. Beth wanted to preserve the theater and to prevent it from becoming a bar or a retail store.
“We are the story keeper of our community because we’ve been here so long,” said Beth. “People come in and say, ‘Oh, I remember coming in when I was 8 years old and I saw my first movie. My girlfriend and I loved coming here. My parents would sit in the back holding hands.’ You get so many stories and it’s so fun when elderly people come in and they have a lot of history here.”
In a growing mountain town amid a sea of change, North Bend still has only one movie theater. The Burrows family vowed to keep it from going away so that the theater could remain a concrete community space for generations to come.
Says Beth: “I think that’s important for people to know: That’s my hometown theater. It’s always going to be there for me.”