In the heart of Tacoma’s Proctor District, the historic Blue Mouse Theatre has brought the magic of the movies to the area for over 95 years. Today, in a world filled with massive multiplex movie theatres, this single-screen neighborhood cinema has remained open almost every night since its velvet curtains were first pulled back in 1923. The Blue Mouse Theatre is one of the oldest continuously operating movie theatres in the country and has seen its fair share of ups and downs over the years, but many aren’t familiar with its rich history dating back to the turn of the century.
Once known as one of the most extravagant suburban movie theatres in the Northwest, the Blue Mouse Theatre opened on November 13, 1923, and showed a screening of the silent film “The Green Goddess” to a packed house of excited moviegoers in its 420-seat theatre. The theatre’s owner, John Hamrick, designed and named The Blue Mouse after a recent visit to a lounge in Paris in 1919 where he experienced the latest sensation – “flicks.” Hamrick returned home to open a number of Blue Mouse Theatres across the Pacific Northwest, including two in Tacoma, one in Seattle, and two others in Oregon. The Proctor location was originally named the Blue Mouse Junior, as the primary Blue Mouse Theatre was located in Downtown Tacoma on Broadway.
Times were good in 1923 and a ticket to the movies only cost a dime. The Blue Mouse Junior was built for $20,000 and was known for showing popular silent Vaudeville-era picture shows. The theatre even featured elaborate restrooms with a smoking lounge for men and nursery for women, which both had windows facing the screen to ensure that moviegoers wouldn’t miss a moment of their film.
But over the years, times would change. The movie industry began to evolve, later introducing “talkies” to moviegoers where they could now hear music and sound effects while watching picture shows, as opposed to completely silent films. Audiences were transfixed. But just six years after opening, the economy took a turn for the worst, leading the country into the Great Depression.
The movie industry became more popular than ever, allowing Americans to escape the grim reality of the Great Depression by spending a few hours watching a film. But while the excitement of talkies continued to grow, for many, paying a nickel to see a movie simply became too expensive to afford, which eventually caused 4,000 movie theatres across the country to close their doors for good. Against all odds, the Blue Mouse Junior survived the hard times following the Depression, while all the other Blue Mouse locations eventually were closed and demolished. Over the years, the Blue Mouse Junior was sold and renamed time and time again, taking on the names the Proctor Theatre and the Bijou, each of which experienced their share of challenges and hardships.
In 1993, the owner at the time decided that her time with the Bijou was coming to an end. When offers had been made to turn the theatre into an office building, the owner reached out to Proctor local and owner of The Pacific Northwest Shop, Bill Evans, to see if he could help. After learning of the theatre’s fate, Bill and a group of locals organized a team of investors and activists to help save the once-idyllic Blue Mouse Theatre. When word of the reintroduction of the original Blue Mouse began to spread, the community was quick to jump on board to support the nostalgic neighborhood theatre.
“We have 17 owners,” Bill Evans tells us. “I went out and found 16 people help save the theatre. That’s when I ended up giving Dale Chihuly a call and he became our final member of 17 to get involved. Each of us put in $10,000 and we bought the Blue Mouse.”
The only time the theatre ever closed its doors was in order to perform renovations to help restore its turn of the century charm. Beneath layers of paint and building materials from over the years, the group was able to unearth the Blue Mouse Junior’s original Craftsman features that made it so special. From mahogany wood doors and marble details, to its original craftsman staircases, chandelier surrounds, and other touches, little by little new life was given to the cinema that had faced challenges for over 70 years.
From surviving the days of the Great Depression to the rise of multiplex theatres and the digital world, the Blue Mouse Theatre was officially registered as a historical place under the Tacoma Landmark Preservation Commission in 2017. To locals, the old brick theater with its blue neon marquee of scampering mice designed by Dale Chihuly is known to locals as one of Tacoma’s great gems.
“This theater just has such a great history. It really is incredible,” Evans says.
Today the Blue Mouse is the oldest continuously operating movie theatre in Washington State, showing movie screenings daily for reasonable ticket prices ranging from $4 – $6, along with concessions that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. As its blue velvet curtains are pulled back at showtime, moviegoers can feel that same magic of the original Blue Mouse Theatre when it opened almost 100 years ago.