Lynwood Theatre stays timeless

By renovating the old and building anew, Bill Nelson and other business people have embarked on a plan that may eventually turn Lynwood Center into a bustling community village. It’s an ambitious endeavor, especially considering today’s economy. If successful, there will be a huge impact on the island’s south end as it is transformed into the first full-service commercial center outside of Winslow.

How did this happen? Many factors are involved, but none more important than the success of the Lynwood Theatre.

The business has been the hub of the neighborhood since it opened in July 1936, at a time when movie houses were often the cultural centers of a community. Times have changed, as has the south-end attraction. It has been renovated several times over the years by owners Sam Granato and Jeff Brien, and became an art-house theatre in 2000. Through it all, the theatre is still the anchor tenant, the icon that lures locals to Lynwood Center for a night out on the town.

The theatre thrives primarily because the people who run it – the owners, plus manager TJ Faddis – love what they do. Equally as important, the theatre is a beloved institution for islanders who want more than the standard Hollywood fare.

“When it became an art-house theatre was when we really started to shine,” says TJ, who started working with Granato in 1984, took some time off to start a family and returned eight years ago. “I love what we do. People love what we do. People are tolerant, interested and interesting. I try to see every movie that comes here. If it interests me and sweeps me away, usually it will do the same for our clientele.”

The theater is a bit of an albatross these days because multiplexes are now the norm in the movie business.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to have a one-screen theatre,” says Brien, who along with Granato owns Bainbridge Cinema and several other multiplex theaters in Western Washington. “The business is not conducive to that, but the Lynwood is a labor of love for us. It’s profitable, too, though it’s nowhere close to being our most successful property.”

When new owner Steve Romein decided to renovate the Lynwood Center, the initial plan was for a new 90-to-100 seat theatre addition in the old Walt’s Market space. But city code has a direct correlation between the number of theatre seats and the number of parking places provided, which proved to be a deal breaker since parking is a problem. It would have been a welcome addition, but it isn’t feasible at this time.

Still, one screen is enough when the creative juices are flowing for those who operate an art-house experience. For example, the place sold out for the Sound of Music Sing-a-long last month and the Manhattan Shorts (12 short documentaries out of New York City) figures to be popular again when it is screened on Sept. 21. And don’t forget to see the “Man on a Wire” (obssessed Frenchman walks between the World Trade Center Towers), TJ says, when it comes to town.

The theater has reached the status where major directors such as George Gallo come to the Lynwood to test market a film in hopes of attracting distributors and major studios. The theatre is easy to market and audiences are representative of the kind of people who prize independent films.

“We’re real proud of the fact that this theater has generated a wonderful reputation and an awareness that attracts studios and directors.” says Brien. “It’s a great tribute to what our team is doing.”

The team? Oh yeah, don’t forget organist Dennis James, who plays during silent movies and events such as the Sound of Music.

Yes, it’s a full-service experience at the old Lynwood.

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