Only digital movie houses will remain on Peninsula after Port Angeles’ Lincoln Theater closes; well-wishers can sign banner today
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Posters of current movies are displayed in front of the Lincoln Theater in Port Angeles on Wednesday as the marquee advertises the last movies to be shown in the 98-year-old cinema. Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Big-screen digital movies will rule on the North Olympic Peninsula when the Lincoln Theater shuts down for good Sunday night following 98 years of providing celluloid-based escape.

The theater’s passing will be marked beginning at 10 a.m. today when a thank-you banner for well-wishers to sign in the theater’s honor is unfurled at 1st Street Furniture next door to the nearly-century-old, Italian-Renaissance-style building.

The banner-like card, sponsored by the Port Angeles Downtown Association, can be signed during daytime hours through Saturday, said Barb Frederick, executive director of the downtown association.

“It will be like a big banner just saying thank you to the Lincoln for the entertainment and the memories,” she said Wednesday.

The banner will be sent to Wenatchee-based Sun Basin Theatres, which owns and operates the movie house near the corner of First and Lincoln streets and Deer Park Cinemas east of town.

The Lincoln is “a place of wonder and magic and escape,” Frederick said, adding that its demise “leaves a hole in the community and in everybody’s hearts but has great memories of having fun there.”

Sun Basin announced Tuesday that the approximately $200,000 cost to convert from 35 mm film to a digital projection and sound format was too great and will shut down the theater Sunday after showing “RoboCop” at 7 p.m. and “Frozen” at 7:10 p.m.

Movies are not distributed on 35 mm film anymore, Sun Basin General Manager Ryan Cook told the Peninsula Daily News on Tuesday.

The cost to change to digital mode is an expensive conversion.

“We just don’t think it’s justified,” Cook said.

He refused to comment further on the closure Wednesday.

Digital movies are offered at Deer Park Cinemas and, in Port Townsend, at the Rose Theatre and Uptown Theatre, both of which are not owned by Sun Basin.

There are no commercial movie houses in Sequim and Forks.

Sun Basin plans to market the Lincoln for sale or lease.

Frederick said she had not heard of any moves afoot to keep it going as a movie theater, but “I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people out there trying to do something to save it.”

The theater’s closure also leaves a commercial void created by what will be an unused 9,231-square-foot building at arguably the city’s busiest intersection.

The building slid in value from $162,120 in 2012 — almost identical to its 2001 purchase price — to $159,221 in 2013, according to the Clallam County Assessor’s Office.

But the land value dropped 14.6 percent, from $84,000 in 2012 to $71,680 in 2013.

“That’s consistent with other buildings downtown,” county Deputy Assessor Mike Hopf said.

“Property values have declined over the course of the years here.”

Theresa Lassila, manager of the Lincoln Theater and daughter of Sun Basin owner Phil Lassila, said Thursday that the company’s Deer Park Cinemas had already converted to digital projection.

Cook said Tuesday that the company’s Lincoln Theater employees would work at Deer Park Cinemas once the Lincoln shuts down.

Theresa Lassila said she did not have attendance figures for the 450- to 500-seat Lincoln.

Frederick said 193 businesses are operating downtown, with some thriving and some not, which she added is not unusual.

“It’s unfortunate that some of the buildings that are empty right now are some of the largest ones downtown,” Frederick said.

“Those are harder to fill, and they make more of an impact being empty than the smaller ones do.”

The Lincoln Theater opened in 1916 with the silent-film Mary Pickford feature “The Foundling.”

Cook said Tuesday that Sun Basin has operated the theater since 1971.

In 2001, the company almost shut down the theater in a lease dispute with building owner G.M. Lauridsen Trust.

Tim Smith, the former interim Clallam County Economic Development director who was then the city of Port Angeles economic development director, helped initiate discussions between Sun Basin and the trust that led to Sun Basin buying the theater, which was listed at $265,000.

“I got them to come back to the table, and they resumed negotiations,” Smith recalled Wednesday.

Sun Basin wanted to buy the theater, while the trust wanted to lease to Sun Basin or another company, Smith said.

A sign had been posted at the theater notifying patrons it was closing May 13, 2001 — Mother’s Day. Then, reality set in.

“There was a realization that trying to attract another theater operator in this market would have been very difficult because they would have to compete for first-run movies with Deer Park,” Smith said.

The property was purchased for $162,000 in 2001, according to the Assessor’s Office.

Now, big-screen movie houses face a new reality: competition from Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, Amazon and other movie-streaming services along with the multitude of pay-per-view options offered by cable companies.

“I’m sure that had a lot to do with their decision not to invest in the upgrade,” Smith said.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 26. 2014 7:02PM
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