Think you know The Blue Mouse Theater?

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

Blue Mouse Theater when it was the Bijou Photo courtesy of TPL Northwest Room

Blue Mouse Theater when it was the Bijou
Photo courtesy of TPL Northwest Room

Think you know The Blue Mouse Theater on Proctor? I thought I did.

It’s astounding what you can find in the Northwest Room in the Tacoma Public Library.

You might think The Blue Mouse is just a typical tiny, independent, neighborhood movie house. Behind that friendly neighborhood façade, a much more complicated history emerges.

The Blue Mouse, under a variety of names, and like the movie industry itself, was the focus of dreams, visions, heartbreaks and frustrations of many people since it was first built in 1923.

Its original name was The Blue Mouse Jr. in deference to Tacoma’s primary Blue Mouse downtown at 1131-33 Broadway (demolished in 1960).

The Blue Mouse downtown was the venue for Tacoma’s first “Talkie” (movie with sound), “The Jazz Singer,” in January 1928.

There were other Blue Mouse theaters – one in Portland, Oregon (at 1032 SW Washington), one in Corvallis, Oregon (it only ran for two years, but as of 2017, the building is still standing and even now looks like a theater (106 NW 2nd Street). There was also a Blue Mouse in Seattle, but it was demolished in 1972 to make room for a bank.

The chain was originally developed by John Hamrick who got the name from a theater he saw in Paris.

The Blue Mouse (Jr) is the longest continually running movie theater in Washington State – and its just a few blocks from the longest continually operating bowling alley in the state.

In 1932, a change of ownership brought a change in the name. The little neighborhood theater became The Proctor Theater. It kept that name (in spite of changing ownership a few times) until 1978 when it became The Bijou.

The Blue Mouse (then known as The Bijou) Note the exterior paneling and for sale sign. Photo courtesy Tacoma News Tribune

The Blue Mouse (then known as The Bijou) Note the exterior paneling and for sale sign. Photo courtesy Tacoma News Tribune

It kept that name until 1993, when, after several years of weak business (and the introduction of home video and a proliferation of movie screens in Tacoma – 55 at one point), The Blue Mouse name returned to the building.

You’d never know it now, but the beloved neighborhood theater almost became just another converted office block. The 1970s and early ‘80s were the darkest years for The Blue Mouse – it went through several owners and featured discount – and even R and X-rated movies – for a few years. It sat for sale, with its tattered paneled exterior, for months.

In the late 1960s it was an art house and featured films by Truffaut, Ingmar Bergman and a young Roman Polanski on the weekends.

In 1981 it was sold to Steve McCoy who also operated the Lakewood Theater and the Village Cinema in South Tacoma.

The original 1923 construction has seats for 420 and boasted elaborate bathrooms with a “nursery for women, smoking room for men” – both designed with windows facing the screen so baby (or cigar) time did not interfere with viewing the movie.

In 2017, it is popular, presumably profitable and on City, State and National Historic Registers.

Our little Blue Mouse Jr. survived multiplexes, VCRs, recessions, depressions, TiVo and online streaming, may it continue to live long and prosper.

And yes, the scampering mice were designed by Dale Chihuly.