News Blog for Seattle's University District Neighborhood


Landmark movie house struggling to survive

July 21st, 2010 · 2 Comments

At first glance, you wouldn’t even think it’s a theater.  Tucked next to a cafe/coffee house off The Ave, there’s a place where Bogie and Bacall still have a home.  In the day of stadium seating and 3-D blockbusters, the U-District’s Grand Illusion Cinema has been offering up classic movies and independent releases since 1968.  In fact, it’s Seattle’s longest running independent cinema.  But that long run may soon come to a close.

“It was to the point where we didn’t know if we could last another month,” said manager Brian Alter of a slow time this year when ticket sales and memberships fell off.  “If we had a major cost come up it was going to be hard to figure out.”  

The Grand Illusion at the corner of NE 50th Street and University Way

Things have turned around for the better lately, but these are still desperate times.  The GI, which is an all volunteer non-profit organization, gives film lovers an intimate experience.  Inside the theater that’s decked out in red velvet and gold, you can sit back in one of 70 plush seats.  The staff tries to show movies in 35mm whenever possible mixing everything from the classics, to cult flicks, to the downright bizarre.

“It’s got an old time vibe,” said Alter.  “I’ve heard it described as everything from a funeral parlor to a private screening room.”

Inside the Grand Illusion

Simply buying a ticket to a movie at Grand Illusion can help, but the theater needs film lovers to dig much deeper to keep it alive.  Memberships start at $30 and offer discounts on tickets along with private screenings and parties.  The GI also plans to have a full blown fundraiser in September.  Alter says losing the theater would be not only a personal loss, but a loss to the entire city.

“It’s a landmark of art house cinema in Seattle.  It’s an everything goes, free thinking kind of vibe.”

To learn more about how you can help the Grand Illusion, click here.

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