The shuttered Seven Gables Theater, a building where generations of Seat executives had cinematic memories, was destroyed by fire on Thursday afternoon. Fill the air with a thick haze for hours.
On Friday morning the street still smelled of burnt rubber; A scent so thick it sticks to you. A Northeast 50th Street lane has been closed between Roosevelt Way Northeast and Ninth Avenue Northeast.
Some firefighters surrounding the building were still evaluating the damage. According to Hilton Almond, spokesman for the Seattle Fire Department, the cause of the fire has been classified as indeterminate because crews cannot safely enter the building.
When residents lamented the loss of the University District’s Grade II listed movie house, many said they had raised questions about the building’s safety and maintenance since it closed in 2017. It was only last month that the property was classified as a public safety hazard and the city requested its owners to be properly secured.
On Thursday, just before noon, firefighters reacted on the corner of Northeast 50th Street and Roosevelt Way Northeast and saw heavy smoke and flames coming from the second floor of the vacant building, according to the Seattle Fire Department. One person who told the Seattle Times that they saw the fire early and called 911 said they saw flames in a heap of rubble near an entrance.
By 1 p.m., officials had consumed more resources, with a total of more than 130 firefighters, 14 fire trucks, six carts and additional support responding after an afternoon fire department update. About 20 minutes later the roof began to collapse.
Many passers-by were drawn to the scene when the roof collapsed and the crews took a defensive approach – spraying water from carts and other positions on the outside to avoid the risk of flames spreading to nearby buildings.
Firefighters asked people to avoid the area.
With the theater closed for years, Seattle fire spokesman David Cuerpo said the crews “don’t know what the quality of the structure is like inside. … It’s just not safe for firefighters to go inside. “
The fire department said the fire was under control at 2:10 p.m. on Thursday.
According to the fire department, a fire truck and a ladder truck should stay on site overnight to monitor the scene for flares.
The closed Seven Gables Theater in Seattle, U District, is still smoking after it ignited a few hours ago. An @ SeattleFire spokesperson told me that there are more than 150 firefighters out here fighting the flames. pic.twitter.com/9wUoj8rWtt
– Elise Takahama (@elisetakahama) December 24, 2020
Cal McCune, who grew up in Montlake and lives in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle, watched the scene from a nearby corner.
He said he probably saw 20+ films on Seven Gables in his life, but it had been a while.
“The last movie I saw here was Providence in 1980,” he said. “The most disturbing movie of my life.”
McCune said he remembered the building as a “nice little theater” but it had to catch fire at some point.
“It has been completely given up,” he said. “It was doomed.”
The Gables, a 1925 former American Legion hall that became a cinema in 1976, closed in 2017.
It was owned by art house cinema operator Landmark Theaters until the chain was sold in 2003 to 2929 Productions LLC, a production company founded by Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban.
The building itself was designated a landmark in 2017, one of several in the neighborhood including the University Library on 50th Street and Seattle Fire Station # 17 a block east.
Ruth Hayler, a former Seven Gables employee who worked in the theater for decades, said the space was known as a warm and welcoming institution in the community, showing all kinds of films, from documentaries to foreign languages to independent films. A huge chandelier that retracted into the ceiling at the beginning of a movie was one of the theater’s best features, she recalled.
“The fact that the theater is no longer there doesn’t mean I don’t have those memories,” said Hayler. “It will always be part of what was one of the good things about Seattle.”
It was a two-and-a-half story wooden frame structure with a gable roof structure and gable elements flanking the entrance, and polished and brown carpet veneer brick cladding, according to a report on the landmark’s name.
In the 2017 report, the deteriorating condition of the building was noted.
In March 2019, the builders’ attorney notified the Landmark Preservation Board that the owners were looking for a contractor to buy the theater and continued the search for the remainder of the year according to the board’s minutes.
Then, last month, following a report by a housing inspector finding the conditions – including an apparent lack of security – the city of Seattle issued an emergency warrant to builders that “posed a threat to the safety or health of residents or residents Public or an immediate danger to the extent that people in or around the building are seriously at risk to life or limb. “The inspector expressly stated that the building was not adequately secured against unauthorized entry, was surrounded by overgrown vegetation and littered with debris and rubbish.
The city’s order stipulated that the building had to be closed by noon on November 12th and remain closed for the foreseeable future. If no action was taken, the city threatened to fine the owners of $ 1,000 a day. It is unclear whether the builders took action following the emergency order.
Neither the builders nor their lawyer immediately responded to a request for comment.
Richard Anderson, who was at the scene of the fire and lives around the corner on Ninth Avenue, said he visited Seven Gables often when it was open. While he has fond memories of the funky, independent building, he also expected it to ignite at some point.
“It was sad to see it close by and sad to see the owners abandoning it,” he said. “And then sad to see it broke in and all the graffiti.”
“It is a spectacle to see the number of firefighters who came out,” he added. “And it’s surprising to see how long it takes to get under control.”
Simone Barron, who lives across the street from the theater, watched the flames with some frustration and shared the same feelings as her neighbors who thought the fire was avoidable. She said she had warned the city of the abandoned building for months and emailed them whenever she saw people tearing down the fence and breaking in.
“I told them,” said Barron. “And now this.”
Seattle Times representative Katherine K. Long contributed to this report.