It's raining when I arrive at the Beacon, a still-under-construction single-screen movie theater nestled between a bar-bershop and a catering company on Rainier Avenue South in Columbia City. Outside, the air is filled with the sounds of a bustling metropolis, but once the doors close behind you, the noise mostly fades away.
The 50-seat theater—which opens on Friday, July 19—is a new addition to Seattle's cinema scene, cofounded by Tommy Swenson and Casey Moore. They plan to screen an eclectic, curated selection of both new and old, avant-garde and mainstream films. This ethos is summed up in the opening-night double feature: pre-Code-era musical Gold Diggers of 1933 and iconic male-stripper-focused dramedy Magic Mike XXL.
"They're two movies made 80 years apart that both have a lot to say about pleasure and sex and economy, and are just so much about the spirit of getting together and putting on a show," says Swenson with a smile.
Both Swenson and Moore are from the Seattle area and cite the once robust art-house cinema scene in the U-District as crucial to their love of cinema. Despite running around the same circles at the same time, the 34-year-olds didn't actually meet until a couple of years ago, at a crayfish boil in Austin.
By then, Moore had graduated from UW, clocked some time at the Criterion Collection in NYC, and started a design and marketing company for independent film, called High Council. Swenson, whose video-store background included a stint at Scarecrow Video, landed in Austin, where he edited videos and programmed films for Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. Their meeting felt like fate.
As film nerds, both had always dreamed about owning a single-screen movie house. Last year while Moore was in search of new office space for High Council, he came across a Craigslist ad for a space near his house. Once he realized the place was both cheap and huge, that dream felt tangible. "The gears started moving, and I began to think maybe this could really happen," Moore said. He called Swenson "and we started talking about what we could do."
Neither Moore nor Swenson seem too concerned about the economics of opening a single-screen theater during the age of Big Streaming, even in the face of several Seattle cinema strongholds shutting down in the past few years. They believe it's about finding your niche. And slowly their vision has coalesced.
The space is still coming together during my visit. Only two of the 50 seats—salvaged from a high school in Centralia—are bolted down to the tiered seating area that faces the 14-foot screen, and they're still in the process of soundproofing the theater area. The lobby will feature a wall-size mural of Chris Marker's 1962 experimental film La Jetée, as well as an archival photo from UW featuring a historic movie theater on Beacon Hill, also called the Beacon, and a surreal Italian poster for Jacques Tourneur's 1942 film Cat People.
To start, the Beacon will present afternoon matinees and a few evening showings during the week, and three or four showings on weekends. Some of Swenson's selections will be informed by his anti-capitalist convictions and experience as a labor organizer in Portland. He and Moore hope to bring radical perspectives into an entertaining context—films that don't feel like "eating your vegetables and doing homework."
During the Beacon's first week (July 19–25), admission will be free, in order to introduce the theater to as many people as possible.
And, most importantly: What about the popcorn? They're still in the research stage, but agree that they'd ultimately like to serve something "flavorful but light." Sounds good to me.