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P-I: Historic Columbia City Theater reopens

The theater, shuttered for months, reopens amid a slowly improving economy, recent construction projects in the neighborhood, the appeal of the Link Light-Rail; and a Seattle neighborhood overdue for making a presence in the city's crowded music scene.

The staff is crowded with music-scene insiders. Sur, the theater manager and talent buyer, is an organizer of the Doe Bay Fest, and runs the Artist Home booking agency. Jim Anderson, formerly of the Crocodile, will handle the house sound.

It's all an effort to not only open the theater, but also to awaken a music scene — and a city — to a venue that's mostly flown under the radar, despite its illustrious history.

They're all efforts to give 21st-century props to one of Seattle's oldest performing arts venues. The CCT brain trust also recognizes that, for all the modernity they hope to impart to the theater, there's a long, overlooked history of a neighborhood that deserves holding onto just as much.


Theater in Crosscut

Crosscut: Rejuvenating one of Seattle's oldest theaters

The theater's new owners, Robert Hillman and C.B. Shamah, began renovating the venue five months ago and enlisted several players in the music scene to help. The 350-capacity venue is scheduled to reopen its doors this weekend (June 25-26), and to celebrate it will host several free shows featuring some of the city's most buzzed-about bands.

Hillman, who lives in Columbia City, said he knew there was an opportunity to do something special with the vacant theater.

"I always thought this place was underutilized," he said. "When I found out it was for sale we both knew very quickly we wanted to make a run of it."


98118 in Crosscut

Crosscut: Southeast Seattle, 98118: Yes, my diverse zip code is cool

An early symbol of the turnaround in Columbia City was the creation of Beatwalk in 1995. Pioneered by current Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith and Serena Heslop, Beatwalk offers more than a dozen live music venues on the second Friday of each month for a single $7 cover (kids free). The next Beatwalk is July 9.

Another huge plus was the creation in 1998 of the Columbia City Farmers Market which takes place on 3-7 pm. Wednesdays just off Rainier Avenue near the library. The market may be the single best place to catch the colorful diversity of 98118 as residents cruise the stalls of fruit and vegetables, flowers and bread, meat and cheese.

Guest chefs offer cooking classes, with Julie Andres of nearby La Medusa coming over to cook on July 30. Music groups sometimes provide the market a musical background. Shortly after the market got going, the Columbia City Cinema opened in the old Odd Fellows hall, providing a neat neighborhood cinema. Other attractions include galleries, pubs, and even a live burlesque theater.



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