Blue Mouse Theatre added to state, national heritage registers

The Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP) announced Monday the Blue Mouse Theatre, located at 2611 N. Proctor St., in Tacoma has been added to the Washington Heritage Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

It is the first theater in the state to be included under a revised Multiple Properties Document (MPD) for Washington state movie theaters built between 1879 and 1960; an earlier MPD covered theaters built as late as 1940. The MPD provides the historical context and background information often needed for individual nominations.

According to Megan Duvall, DAHP’s Certified Local Government Coordinator and Survey Program Manager, the revised MPD was completed by Artifacts Consulting in Tacoma and could be used to facilitate adding more historic theaters to the state and national registers.

“For something like an historic theater, there can be a lot of background documentation,” said Duvall. “An MPD for theaters [documents] all the different kinds of theaters and really covers a wide array of theaters in the state. Any historic theater owner would certainly have an easier time of preparing the nomination.”

The Blue Mouse Theatre was added to the state register in October 2009 and the national register last month.

On Nov. 12, 2008, Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously recommended adding the theatre to the local historic register. On Dec. 16, 2008, Tacoma City Council honored the recommendation and officially designated the theatre a local historic site.

According to the nomination prepared and presented by Brooke Boback of Artifacts Consulting, Inc. with the support of the building’s owners, and submitted to Tacoma’s landmarks commission, the Blue Mouse Theatre was designed by architect Fitzherbert Leather, and built by Albert Miller. The 420-seat, 4,100-square-foot theatre was opened Nov. 13, 1923 by theatre mogul John Hamrick. The first movie shown at the Proctor theatre was a silent film called “Green Goddess” and starring George Arliss and Alice Joyce.

Hamrick opened four other theatres with the Blue Mouse name, including one in Seattle in 1920, Portland in 1921, downtown Tacoma in 1922, and the Proctor District venue (known for a time as “Blue Mouse Junior”). He went on to own the Temple Theatre, the Music Box, and the Roxy Theatre in Tacoma.

The downtown Blue Mouse Theatre, located at 1131 Broadway, was demolished in 1960 to make way for an ill-fated “moving sidewalk.”

But the Proctor location survived.

It also changed ownership many times.

Between 1923 and 1945, it was owned by Hamrick, who died Nov. 30, 1956. In 1945, the theatre was purchased by Glendon O. Spencer, who in turn sold it to Conner Theaters Corporation in 1973.

The new owner struggled to operate the venue as a first-run movie house. Five years later, the theatre was sold to a group of Seattle investors and renamed The Bijou. The new owners also struggled to turn a profit.

In 1981, it was sold to Galaxy Theaters.

Seven years later, the theater was purchased by Shirley Mayo. She operated it until declining health forced her to sell the movie house in 1993. One developer wanted to purchase the building and convert it into office space, but Mayo refused. Instead, she approached long-time Proctor resident and former Tacoma City Councilmember Bill Evans about purchasing and preserving the building. Evans, in turn, approached a group of friends who raised $140,000 to complete the purchase. The group, known as the Blue Mouse Associates, spent five months and $90,000 restoring the building to its original 1923 charm.

Today, the theatre seats 221 people. According to Boback, the Blue Mouse is the oldest continuously run theatre in Washington State.

Last year, Blue Mouse Theatre Associates received the State Historic Preservation Officer’s Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Historic Preservation from DAHP.

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For earlier Tacoma Daily Index coverage of the historic Blue Mouse Theatre, click on the following links:

Blue Mouse Theatre, Historic Tacoma silent movie screening Nov. 13 (11/05/09) —

Blue Mouse Theatre, TV Tacoma win Washington State historic preservation awards (03/25/09) —

Tacoma City Council will vote Dec. 16 on Blue Mouse Theatre landmark nomination (12/12/08) —

Tacoma City Council will decide Blue Mouse Theatre historic nomination (11/13/08) —

Public hearing Nov. 12 for Blue Mouse Theatre historic nomination (10/24/08) —

Landmarks Commission will consider Blue Mouse Theatre historic nomination (10/17/08) —