It feels funny to even think about going to a movie in a theater right now. Cinemas in Seattle have been closed for months now, and I find myself wondering if they even smell of popcorn anymore. The Seven Gables and the Guild 45th, of course, surely don’t smell of anything but decay these days. After abruptly closing in June 2017, the two former Landmark theaters have sat empty. A broken chain-link fence and a ring of detritus currently surrounds the Gables; graffiti and stains coat the famously pink exterior of the Guild. “It’s going to be OK,” somebody wrote on the door. “No it’s not,” scrawled somebody else.
For decades, Seattleites gathered at these two theaters. The Guild, which opened shortly after World War I, was getting close to the century mark for its main theater (the second screen was opened in the 1980s); the Gables, a former American Legion hall, began showing movies in 1976. Both were run by Landmark Theatres for many years, and I can still hear that posh voice in my head from the Landmark promo, intoning “Landmaaahk Theatres” before the previews.
But Landmark’s glory days in Seattle are long over. The company, sold to Cohen Media Group in 2018, once operated numerous local theaters, but now all but the Crest Cinema Center in Shoreline have left the fold. Some are still operating — or would be, under normal circumstances — with different ownership: SIFF now handles the Egyptian; AMC took over (and renamed) the Metro after its stint as a Sundance Cinema; local chain Far Away Entertainment runs the Varsity. The Neptune had a new life, in the Before Time, as a live-performance venue. The Harvard Exit — well, it still sits there on its now-quiet Capitol Hill corner, looking like it’s waiting for something that’s late in arriving.
The fate of the Guild and the Gables, like so many things these days, remains uncertain. Back in 2017 when the theaters closed, Landmark vaguely referenced renovation plans; those never materialized, and rumors about redevelopment of the properties occasionally crop up. (Any such activity might be complicated by the Gables’ designation as a Seattle landmark by the local Landmarks Preservation Board. The Guild was nominated for landmark status, but not approved.) An email sent to Landmark’s rep this month asking about future plans for the buildings was auto-returned, with a note saying that the company’s offices are shut down and messages will be returned “when we reopen our theaters.”
And so the Guild and Gables sit, quietly decaying, like the mess left after a party when everyone’s gone home. Worse than neglected, they now look forgotten; it’s hard to remember that these were once places of joy and art and transformation. Long ago, we’ll say as we walk by, we once saw movies here. Long ago, these buildings held the world.