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Now & Then Paul Dorpat

Showing Its Stuff

Paul Dorpat

HERE THE GLEAMING symmetry of the Strand Theater rises above the confused queue of a sidewalk crowd jostling for tickets to "Wet Gold." The elegant Strand opened as the Alaska Theatre in 1914. Two years later, that overworked name was dropped for the London sophistication implied in the new name "Strand."

Most likely this is a first-run showing of J. Ernest Williamson's 1921 hit, the story of a sunken ship, its treasure and the passions released in finding it. Resting nicely on the theater's terra-cotta skin, the film's sensational banners are nestled between the Strand's classical stained-glass windows. Williamson became a pioneer of undersea photoplays by attaching an observation chamber to an expandable deep-sea tube invented by his sea-captain father. The younger Williamson called it his "Photosphere."

I've learned from Eric Flom's essay on the Alaska/Strand (www.historylink.org) that Frederick & Nelson Department Store was hired to furnish and decorate the interior and that the elegance begun on the street was continued into the lobby with onyx and marble. Before the 1927 introduction of synchronized sound, the silent films shown at the Strand were generally accompanied by its Skinner Opus No. 217 pipe organ, which later wound up in St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Bellingham.

Flom also notes that this 1114 address on Second Avenue was showing films years before its terra-cotta makeover. The Ideal Theatre opened there in 1909, and in 1911 it, too, was renamed The Black Cat, which was elegantly overhauled three years later into the 1,100-seat Alaska/Strand.

"Washington Then and Now," the new book by Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard, can be purchased through www.washingtonthenandnow.com ($45) or through Tartu Publications at P.O. Box 85208, Seattle, WA 98145.

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