Among Seattle Central College’s many quirks is the little-known fact that the college owns a mov-
ie theater. Built in 1915 by the Freemason Society, the Egyptian Theatre on E. Pine and Broadway had passed through many hands before it was purchased by Seattle Central College in 1992. The 16,000 sq ft brick lodge is divided into two halves: one side contains multiple maze-like floors with offices and classrooms—now known as the Fine Arts Building—and the other houses a 600-seat auditorium.
Traces of the building’s Masonic roots are visible in the theater’s tiled lobby floor, embossed bronze doorknobs and a striking mural on the fourth floor of the Fine Arts Building.
Seattle Central College’s Director of Auxiliary Services Jeff Keever, who oversees the theater’s management, explained: “The theater was meant to be its own meeting place… whenever [the masons] did their public meetings, that’s where they had them. Then their private, mason-only meetings were up on the fourth floor.”
Since the 1980s the theater has also hosted the annual Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) which is one of the oldest and most highly attended film festivals in the United States.
“SIFF as an organization brings people from all over the world to Seattle and in the same sense gives great exposure to Seattle filmmakers,” said local filmmaker Andre Sanabria.
Keever was especially excited to carry on this tradition, noting, “In my opinion, it’s a bragging right. What other college has a major film festival on their campus?”
For the rest of the year, when the film festival wasn’t in session, the masons had been renting the
auditorium to Landmark Theatres as a single-screen cinema. Sanabria described what made the Egyptian so popular: “It’s like you’re in an ancient place but you’re not quite in ruins.”
When Seattle Central bought the property they decided to continue the leasing agreement with Landmark. However as multiplexes gained in popularity, Landmark’s crowds dwindled and the company could no longer turn a profit. In 2014 they officially closed their doors.
Capitol Hill residents were shocked and deeply concerned at the prospect of their beloved theater shutting down. “Everybody, especially on the Hill, was like, ‘What is going to happen to the Egyp-
tian? Is it going to become another fucking condo?’” remembered Sanabria.
Speculation ran rampant regarding who could take over the theater and Keever received many inquiries from local businesses, including one company that wanted to turn it into a nightclub.
Despite the range of ideas, only one bid was formally submitted—a proposal by SIFF to show movies year-round. Considered by many to be the ideal choice because of their historical ties to the Egyptian and their success running other movie theaters in Seattle, SIFF’s bid was quickly ap-
proved in June of 2014.
Sanabria noted: “From their humble beginnings they’ve become a huge enterprise and they certainly do give back to the community in a way that multiplexes don’t, and never could.”
One way SIFF works with the community is through their educational outreach program. But Keever worries SCC faculty aren’t taking full advantage of this opportunity. “I wish faculty would reach out, ask their deans, and use the building!”
By Alexandra Sachnoff