Searching for people who attended the 7th Street when it opened and in the 1930s and 40s. Do you know someone who would be willing to be interviewed about their experiences at the 7th Street? We’d love to get some of these great stories and photos! Email Lane Youmans.
THE HISTORY OF THE THEATRE
The 7th Street Theatre in Hoquiam was built in 1928 at a cost of $175,000. The 1,022 seat 7th St. Theatre was designed to not only host vaudeville acts, but was also the first theatre in Washington to be able to show the new “talkies”. It was the first theatre in the Northwest, and the last example of an atmospheric theatre, which gives patrons the feeling they are sitting in an outdoor Spanish garden. The curved ceiling is painted to simulate the evening sky, complete with twinkling lights. The auditorium, designed to be acoustically perfect, shimmers with balconies, iron grilled windows, spiral columns, arched doorways, plaster urns, red tiles atop courtyard walls, with ivy and cypress trees. The style was copied from the designs of John Eberson, modeled after similar theatres back East. The magnificent 7th Street — dubbed “Hoquiam’s Theatre Beautiful” — was arguably the most impressive public facility erected in the city since the grand Hoquiam Hotel was finished in 1889.
The 7th Street was the brainchild of Ed Dolan and Olaf T. Taylor of the newly-formed Hoquiam Amusement Company. As president of the corporation, Dolan was publicly regarded as the financial genius who managed to secure the $175,000 it took to construct the new theatre. Taylor, who was Dolan’s principal associate, was considered by theatre critcs a “wizard of artistic visualization” and was responsible for directing the building’s overall aesthetic design. The two teamed up with Hoquiam architect Edwin St. John Griffith, who in turned worked with the Seattle architectural firm Huntington & Torbit to develop plans for the project.
The theatre opened its doors on Tuesday, July 10th, 1928, and in the early years hosted Will Rogers rope tricks, Leontyne Price singing, Paul Robeson acting, the first talking pictures, concerts, plays, prizefights and wrestling matches. The 7th Street Theatre has entertained generations of Harborites.
The 7th Street Theatre was an entertainment landmark for many years after 1928, but the advent of television finally killed it off. In 1957, the theatre was closed, except for special events like Grays Harbor Community Concerts. An attempted revival of movies took place in the 1960s, when Ed Dolan’s daughter leased it to Grays Harbor Theatre, Inc, but it was not successful.
In 1975, the Hoquiam City Council took an option to buy the theatre for $51,600, with the idea of creating a community center. A few months later, some changed their minds and the deal was rejected. A majority of council members cited inadequate heating, falling plaster, and general deterioration as reasons for believing the theatre would be a gigantic white elephant.
In 1976 local residents Robert and Cheryl Serredell, 1969 graduates of Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, purchased the 50-year-old theatre from Ed Dolan’s daughter, Grace Dolan Cain of Seattle. Their first restoration project was repairing and remodeling the dressing rooms so that they could live at the theatre, since they had sold their home to finance the purchase. The Serredells lived at the theatre and began the daunting task of restoration and repairs. While holding down their day jobs, they continued to operate the theatre, including live performances and movies, until the early 1980s.
In 1986, local businessman Ed Bowers donated $103,000 to the Grays Harbor Community Concert Association, allowing them to purchase the theatre. The nonprofit group, Friends of the 7th Street Theatre, was formed and this group of hardworking volunteers (in conjunction with the Community Concert Association) was dedicated to bringing the theatre back to the way it looked in 1928. In 1987 they were successful in getting the 7th Street Theatre listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Massive fundraising efforts were underway, and during the 1990s several major remodeling and restoration projects were completed including tenant space remodeling, handicap restroom and access, HVAC upgrades, a second access stairway to the dressing rooms, electrical upgrades and the back parking lot was paved. Carpeting and dressing room improvements were completed in 2000. In 2002 a movie projector was purchased, and the current classic movie series followed in 2003.
In 2002 the Grays Harbor Community Concert Association and Friends of the 7th Street groups combined, forming the present 7th Street Theatre Association.
The entire roof was replaced in 2003, and three of the exterior walls were sealed and repainted. The dressing rooms were entirely replastered and repainted in 2005 and the windows were replaced. In 2006 the theatre installed a state-of-the-art sound system.
In March 2008 the theatre’s original organ was returned to the theatre from Clute, Texas, where it had been since 1960. See blog entry.
The Theatre was the first building placed on the City of Hoquiam’s Historic Register in 2008. The lighted neon marquee sign in the entry was rebuilt in June 2008, Also in the winter of 2008-09 all 997 original seats were restored and the stage rigging and curtains were replaced. See October 2008, November 2008, and January 2009 blog entries. While the 2008 construction was underway, original murals were discovered on the back walls of the auditorium. In September 2008 a digital projection system was installed. In 2009 the entire ceiling and auditorium were restored to their original splendor. The entire carpet was replaced in 2010 and the center stage floor was replaced with maple. A neon candlestick sign, replicating the original, was installed in 2012. A new heating system and exterior restoration projects are in the works.
The 7th Street Theatre Association produces several concerts showcasing local artists and a classic movie series. The 7th Street Kids have produced an annual musical theatre at the theatre since 1992. The 7th Street Kids program involves approximately 50 children each year. Additionally, the Kids have added week-long theatre mini-camps, involving an additional 50-55 children. The Hoquiam School District band and choirs, with over 400 school children participating, perform their concerts at the theatre, including an annual Veterans’ Day performance. The Miss Grays Harbor Scholarship Pageants boast sold-out performances. The theatre also hosts a variety of musical performances and dance recitals and is regularly rented by outside groups.
See also: History article (pdf) with photos and images from our Feb. 2008 newsletter (written by local historian John Larson.)