In many ways, the Egyptian Theater and the changes it has experienced over the years tells the story of Seattle, itself. Opened in 1915 as a Masonic temple, the symbols set in stained glass and beautifully maintained Egyptian-style painted ceilings are a testament to the care with which its various owners throughout the years have preserved its unique qualities. Over the years, the theater had been a hub for independent and foreign films, in addition to reviving obscure gems and cult classics in their Midnight Movie showing every weekend. In its hay-day, it was the home of the Seattle International Film Festival, and many films were even test screened at the Egyptian for months before national release to gauge whether or not they would be successful with an audience as unconventional as Seattle’s. The Egyptian was truly connected with the heartbeat of the city. For the people who worked there, it created an eclectic family of artists, burlesque dancers, musicians, and even one magician- “the Egyptians”; for its neighborhood in the Pike/Pine area of Capitol Hill, it was one of the classic staples of the city’s authentic character; and for its patrons, it was a connection to that part of Seattle which is so essential to its identity, and yet unfortunately being lost at every turn.
When Steve C. began working for the Egyptian, in 1990, the independently owned theater had only recently been acquired by Landmark Theaters. Back then, the atmosphere was more relaxed and free, a constant party for the whole gang with beer and cocaine stocked in the managersoffice. When Landmark was acquired by Mark Cuban, there was a shift in that atmosphere- there were definitely still parties, but the new management didn’t exactly know about them. Still, the district manager knew better than to make things too corporate- which would cause the majority of the employees, who loved these small theaters precisely for their unique and free styles, to simply quit. However, as many things continued to change during the new millennium at the Egyptian, as with the rest of the city, much of the family disbanded, leaving one by one onto something new. Then, finally, when Landmark gave up the Egyptian, the theater closed its doors indefinitely and the last of “the Egyptians” were scattered. Many of them are still in the neighborhood, though, working at some of the other characteristically Seattle establishments on Capitol Hill, or just reuniting at grunge shows in the area now and again.
When SIFF began fundraising only months later to take over the lease, decades of memories and a continued appreciation for the Egyptian’s contribution to the city brought forth the support needed from the community and SIFF made a record for both the largest amount raised and in the shortest period of time, withtens of thousands being donated over the original goal of $300,000 in just three months. In the eyes of “the Egyptians,” SIFF’s involvement may be yet another sign of things becoming just that much more corporate, as is the way many things have evolved in Capitol Hill over the years, but some feel that at least their involvement has allowed the Egyptian to live on.