Flashback: Olympia’s Historic Capitol Theater

Home to vaudeville and film from 1924 to the present, The Capitol Theater, located in Olympia, Washington, has been entertaining the community with music, movies and shows for the past 94 years. The original owners, E.A. Zabel and William Wilson, first opened the theater’s doors to a crowd of 1,000, and its popularity is still going strong today. 

The Capitol Theater has been well known for presenting independent and national films since its beginning. “One of the many things the Olympia Film Society is proud of is that the theater has operated nonstop since the day it opened,” says Audrey Henley, executive director of the Olympia Film Society. “We are still showcasing films on screen, and new and repertory, live music and performances on the stage yearround, including vaudeville shows.” 

Partners Zabel and Wilson commissioned local architect Joseph Wohleb to design what they called a “monument to amusement lovers in Olympia.” Featuring glazed terra cotta and circular-leaded art glass insets designed by Northwest glass artist Raymond Nyson, the building exemplifies Mission Revival and Beaux Arts styles. A fire in 1937 damaged some of the interior, but thankfully, most of the original aesthetic was preserved and remains a distinctive feature. 

“Since 1984, the Olympia Film Society has hosted the annual Olympia Film Festival, a 10-day, around-the-clock extravaganza of films, filmmakers and film-related guests, special performances, discussion panels and educational workshops,” says Henley. 

With 10,000 square feet of space, the theater can seat 762. The backstage has 800 square feet of additional space and is available for as many as 120 people or for concerts and events. 

These tours have all the right ingredients for a fulfilling—and filling—post-meeting activity.

 

Melissa Jurcan, president of ILEA Seattle, penned a moving tribute to the hospitality industry for the Emerald City Applause Awards. Here is an abridged version.