Intertwined history of a San Juan Island family and the Palace Theatre

A photo of Fribor when it first opened. The photo was featured with an article in the Journal dated September 30

The Journal would like to make a correction to the July 1 story “Royal Treatment for Palace Theatre,” which detailed the history of the Palace Theatre since it was built in 1915. Town of Friday Harbor Preservation Coordinator Sandy Strehlou requested we look further into the building and ownership of the theater when it was first built, which we originally attributed to Peter Kirk. We got that information from documents written by Ray Kinnaman in 1975 nominating  the Palace Theatre for the National Register of Historic Places.

We wrote that Kirk built, owned and then bequeathed the theater, then called Fribor, to his granddaughter Vivian Middleton.

We found that it was in fact Alfred Middleton who built and first owned the theater after Strehlou relayed an article about the opening of Fribor from the Journal written Sept. 30, 1915.   The Journal then reached out to Sandy Middleton, Alfred Middleton’s granddaughter who now resides in Alaska, to better understand the relationship between Peter Kirk and the Middletons.

Sandy Middleton wrote:

“Alfred married Peter’s granddaughter, Vivian Bell in September 1914. At that time, Alfred Middleton owned the Star Theater before meeting Vivian.  It was a small theater, believed to be down closer to the water from the Fribor. Family legend says Alfred and Vivian met when Alfred needed a piano player to play for the silent movies he showed. I think they already knew each other  – Friday Harbor was a small town and both families were very active in local events. A side note at this time, Vivian had placed an ad in the local paper to give piano lessons.

After marrying in 1914, Alfred and Vivian started plans for the Fribor. It was completed in 1915, as you know. My Dad thinks they (his parents) lived upstairs for a while. He wouldn’t have remembered it since he was born in the 1930s but perhaps it’s a remnant memory of a family story he heard when he was a boy. Alfred and Vivian didn’t move to the Harrison Street house until after a couple years into their marriage.

I have not heard or seen any documentation that Peter Kirk owned the theater. However, a sizable loan to Alfred and Vivian (Bell) Middleton was listed in Peter Kirk’s inventory to his will when he died in May 1916. The loan was dated May 29, 1915.  Peter’s inventory listed loans to most of his children.  Vivian’s own mother had died in 1904 and Peter, his wife Mary Ann, and their children kept Vivian and her siblings very close even as much as raising them after Marie’s death.

I believe Vivian shared a close bond with Peter, particularly being the oldest grandchild.

Alfred and Vivian Middleton ran the Fribor for many years. Alfred ran the projector while Vivian played the piano. Later, they went into the grocery business, at first with Vivian’s brother, Clarence Bell, and later on their own with Middleton’s Market.”

Thanks to Kevin Loftus at San Juan Historical Museum, Sandy Strehlou and Sandy Middleton for assisting in this correction.