When I was a little kid, Enumclaw had two motion picture theaters: The Liberty was located where the police station is today and the Avalon was sandwiched in a space that’s currently empty between Harding Dentistry and Allen’s Furniture. The Liberty showed little more than “grade D,” black and white westerns, often starring singing cowboys like Roy Rodgers and Gene Autry. The Avalon offered superior “grade A and B” films a couple of months after they’d first appeared at Seattle theaters. This more mature fare featured movie stars like Clark Gable and John Wayne. The singing cowboy movies rarely played on Seattle screens; apparently, such films were produced for, and appealed mostly to, small-town, country folks.
Then a chain of theaters in Seattle purchased the old American Legion building in Enumclaw. I don’t remember this building, but Howie Larson once told me he used to carry his bicycle up the fire escape and ride around on the roof. The building was remodeled and opened as the Roxy theater (currently the Chalet) in 1949. It was a more modern and elegant “palace” than the Liberty or Avalon. Furthermore, the Roxy promised to show first-run, grade A films immediately after they opened in Seattle, which excited myself and my cronies. The first flick shown there was “Sands of Iwo Jima” starring John Wayne. Within a few years after the Roxy arrived, both the Liberty and the Avalon closed.
Today, whenever I walk into the Chalet, I’m swept by a wave of warm nostalgia because the design of the place hasn’t changed one iota. Such sentimental emotions spark memories that go all the way back to my junior high days. The first time I kissed a girl — and I don’t use “girl” in a condescending manner because she was, in fact, only 11 or 12 years old — we were nestled in the rear seats on the left side of the theater, away from the more unsettled crowd who always gathered on the right side. A few years later, during a showing of “The Naked Spur” (do you remember that one?) starring James Stewart and Janet Leigh (remember them?) I was seated in the same area with a young lady and I mustered the courage for a more intimate move. She gently brushed my hand aside and whispered hotly in my ear, “Not now!” which thrilled me immensely because her subtle rejection suggested my behavior wouldn’t be inappropriate at a different time and place.
Then there was “Niagara,” Marilyn Monroe’s first movie. In her opening scene, she was lying on a bed in a very suggestive pose, obviously naked but covered with a sheet. Of course, in today’s flicks, the sheet wouldn’t be there, but back in this day Hollywood still censored things and this was the sexiest scene Enumclaw had seen since Tarzan swam with a naked Jane in the early 1930s. There wasn’t a sound in the place as the audience momentarily held its collective breath. You could have heard a pin drop. Then, abruptly, from those rear seats on the right side of the theater, a high school fellow — whom I’ll not identify — who was as shocked and awed as everyone else, suddenly and unexpectantly, without normal restraint or hesitation, shouted a loud, unholy expletive that echoed and re-echoed off the theater walls. That broke the hushed suspense and everyone in the place roared with laughter.
With the death of the Chalet’s owner, Ken Kerr, the theater passed to his brother and a nephew, who’ve been operating it for the last month. Both are interested in continuing to run the place as a motion picture theater but, nevertheless, they’ve put the building up for sale. A few out-of-town parties have shown some interest in the place but, as this column goes to press, it hasn’t yet been sold.
Meanwhile, a group of local citizens, including Jeff Coats, have been raising money to buy the place. They’d like to preserve it as both a movie theater and a stage for the performing arts. With this in mind, the group has christened it the Chalet Arts Showcase Theater and they’re trying to get it designated as a historical landmark through the county.
Whether it’s sold to outside interests or is taken over by local citizenry, Jeff assures me it will remain, first and foremost, a movie theater. As Martha Stewart is fond of saying, that’s a good thing.