Palace Theatre in Friday Harbor

Tom and I enjoy watching movies but we are pretty selective about what we see, so we don’t go very often.  This last year, however, going to the movies has been so convenient that we have seen a record number.  We had a wonderful movie theater on St. Simons Island.  We also have a wonderful little movie theater on San Juan Island:  The Palace Theatre in Friday Harbor.

The Palace Theatre is an old movie theatre on the main street of Friday Harbor.  It has two screens and shows first run movies.  But because the population of the island is so small, it only shows the movies for a week or two at a time.  If you don’t get there the first week the movie is available, you might miss it completely.

Tom and I went there for the first time to see “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.”  Last week we went to see “Dunkirk.”  You buy your ticket at the old-fashioned ticket window outside, then enter a small lobby that is filled with the smell of popcorn.  Both movies were shown in the downstairs theatre.  I’m not sure where the other theatre is, but the sign points up a ramp.

While I was waiting in the lobby, I looked at the movie posters on the walls.  Some theatres have current or “coming soon” movie posters.  Palace Theatre had posters for old movies and the date that movie showed in the Palace Theatre.  The movie “Girl Crazy” with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney showed at the Palace Theatre in 1944.  “Boots of Destiny” starring Ken Maynard showed in 1938.  “Gaslight” with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman was another film from 1944.

The Palace Theatre opened in 1915 with silent movies accompanied by Mrs. Middleton – the wife of the owner Alfred Middleton – on the piano.  The Middletons owned the theatre until 1959 when Milt and Lee Bave bought the theatre.  Mrs. Bave was the projectionist and often put her hand over the projector when she thought a scene was too racy for the audience.

The island residents feared that the movie theatre would close when movies converted to their current digital format.  The theatre couldn’t afford to buy the new projection system.  But a generous anonymous donor came forward and paid for the conversion to the new system so the movie tradition could continue in Friday Harbor.

The theatre today is old and a little rundown.  A red velvet curtain hangs over the screen and is pulled back when the movie starts.  The seats have seen better days.  But considering there are only 6,000 permanent residents on the island, we are lucky to have a theatre at all.  When we watch a movie on the big screen, the members of the audience are appreciative and supportive.