06 Calendar

December 29, 2012 – December 1, 2013

Celluloid Seattle: A City at the Movies

Celluloid Seattle: A City at the Movies was the first exhibit to examine the city’s relationship with film. Curated by celebrated Seattle critic Robert Horton, this unique exhibition explored both the image of Seattle captured in films, and how the idea of going to the movies has changed in the city over the years.

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From a far-flung Western outpost to being hip, grunge-loving and trendy, Seattle’s image in the movie imagination has changed over the years. Likewise, the city’s residents’ movie-going habits have changed with popular culture from the grand single-screen downtown palaces to mega-multiplexes and back to the intimate theaters of nonprofit film societies.

Along with film clips and historic artifacts, the exhibit allowed visitors to truly engage with the historic movie experience through a set of recreated mini-theatres, interactive games, and activity kiosks.

Seattle Through Film

Feature Presentation

In its career as a movie star, Seattle has been the gawky ingénue, the scruffy veteran, even a trendy sex symbol.

MOHAI, PEMCO Webster & Stevens Collection

Film Row

For several decades during the 1900s, 2nd Ave in Belltown, was known as “Film Row,” seen in this 1918 photo. Film Row was the center of film distribution in the Northwest, housing film exchanges from all the major studios. Theatre managers and owners came to Film Row to preview and select movies to show in their theaters. Universal Film Exchange was the last of these exchanges to close in 1980.

Photo: Eric LaCasse

Transporting to a Dream World

The original cinema palaces welcomed visitors in a grand and exotic scale, with vaulted ceilings, lush tapestries, and ornate features, as uniformed ushers stood by. Celluloid Seattle featured a grand movie palace lobby utilizing artifacts from the Fox (later Music Hall) Theatre.

Photo: Eric LaCasse

The Paradox Between a City and Cinema

Up until the 1962 World’s Fair, Seattle’s portrayal on film was a far-flung Western outpost: a rough-hewn place where tugboat captains and lumberjacks roamed. The city’s actual movie-going habits contradicted its frontier image, though. This was the era of the Coliseum, Paramount, Blue Mouse, Orpheum, Fox (Music Hall), and the other grand, elegant movie palaces that showcased Hollywood’s golden age.

MOHAI, Mark Dempsey Collection

The Liberty Theatre

Seattle’s Liberty Theatre opened at First Avenue and Pike Street in 1914, intending to be “a theatre which for perfection of appointment, convenience and luxuriousness has no equal this side of Chicago.” The exterior of the theater featured a forty-foot-high Statue of Liberty, illuminated by 1,200 lamps of eight different colors.

When it was built, the movie theater’s concave screen was the largest in the city, stretching 19 feet 4 inches wide by 14 feet 8 inches high. Like most theaters of its era, it showed movies and live performances. Here, dancers pose below the proscenium arch.

Rainbow in mist at Snoqualmie Falls, near Snoqualmie, 1985, MOHAI, Josef Scaylea Collection, 1993.20.54

The Primetime City

The television show Twin Peaks was largely filmed in North Bend; the town and its surrounds were regulars on the show. The Salish Lodge acted as the show’s Great Northern Hotel.

Give Him the Chair!

MOHAI recreated Dr. Frasier Crane’s living room from the hit NBC series Frasier. Visitors could have a seat on the sofa or in Martin Crane’s chair-with pup Eddie-and watch Hollywood’s reimagining of Seattle on the small screen.

A City at the Movies

Throughout the years, Seattle has been imagined in many different ways. Celluloid Seattle highlighted those films and television shows.

The Far City

Seattle was initially represented as a gritty frontier town, but that all changed with the 1962 World’s Fair.

Edison shorts

Tugboat Annie

The Far Country

North to Alaska

It Happened at the World’s Fair

The Streetwise City

In the 1970s and 80s, depictions of Seattle changed from economically-strapped and scruffy to a stylish film-noir setting.



Harry and the Hendersons

Hand that Rocks the Cradle

Parallax View

Cinderella Liberty


American Heart

Fabulous Baker Boys

House of Games

Trouble in Mind

The Slender Thread

The Sleepless City

At the turn of the 1990s, Seattle suddenly became hip, and movies followed to take advantage of it’s it factor.

Say Anything…


Life or Something Like It

Sleepless in Seattle




The Ring

Mad Love


The Vanishing

10 Things I Hate About You



Love Happens

Austin Powers, the spy who shagged me



The Indie Seattle

Seattle has always had its homegrown filmmakers who have created their own authentic versions of the city.

Black and Decker Hedgetrimmer Murders

Beyond Kabuki

Shredder Orpheus


Money Buys Happiness

Inlaws and Outlaws

The Business of Fancydancing

Buffalo Bill’s Defunct

Police Beat

The Heart of the Game


Great Speeches from a Dying World


The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle

Wheedle’s Groove

About a Son

Pearl Jam Twenty by Cameron Crowe


The Prime Time City

Television has also had its hand in imagining Seattle, although it followed the same path as movies and Hollywood.

Here Come the Brides

The Night Strangler

Twin Peaks


Rose Red

Grey’s Anatomy

Dark Angel

The Killing

The Simpsons


Celluloid Seattle: A City at the Movies was curated by Robert Horton.

Exhibit Supporters

Generous Support Provided By
Norman Archibald Charitable Foundation

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