One of Seattle’s most beloved movie screens is going dark, temporarily — and leaving much of its staff behind.
Cinerama, which opened in 1963 on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Lenora Street downtown, is closing for renovations starting this week. A representative for Vulcan, which has owned the theater since the 1990s, said the updates would include new carpet, general wear-and-tear refurbishment, and an overhaul to the kitchen, which will allow the theater to expand its food offerings.
Declining to give a specific date for the theater’s reopening, the Vulcan rep said only that Cinerama would be back in business “later this year ahead of the year’s biggest films.”
Cinerama also laid off many members of its staff.
Vulcan’s representative gave the following statement Tuesday: “We retained the necessary staff to complete the renovation. We were unable to retain concession staff, since we will be closed and unable to give staff hours over the next several months. While we don’t discuss employment terms publicly, we are working with impacted individuals to ease their transition.”
The Vulcan rep declined to say how much notice laid-off staff members were given or give details about severance pay.
One of the laid-off employees, speaking anonymously due to a nondisclosure agreement, said that the staff was called in to work Tuesday for an all-hands meeting, but not told of its purpose. “We got there, and they read a statement,” she said. Staffers were given exit paperwork, told that they could reapply for their jobs when the theater reopened, and instructed to gather their things.
After working for the theater for several years, she said she was given a final check equivalent to “one busy week.” Asked if she and her colleagues planned to reapply for their jobs, she said, “No one’s really interested.” The theater, she said, had employed approximately 20-25 employees; all but two lost their jobs Tuesday.
Known for its giant screen and night-sky sparkling ceiling, Cinerama is among Seattle’s oldest moviehouses. Its history is a dramatic one: Popular initially as a showcase for big-screen-format films, Cinerama fell into disrepair in the ’80s and ’90s as moviegoers fled to the suburbs.
Paul Allen, buying it in 1998, saved its future as a moviehouse (a Seattle Times story from that year said that its previous owners spoke of turning the building into a dinner theater or a rock-climbing club) and financed a major renovation, reopening it in 1999. More recently, Cinerama closed for renovations in 2010 (primarily an upgrade of the theater’s technical equipment) and in 2014 (new seats, screen, and sound system, as well as a splashy new mural outside the theater).