Journal staff report
The Palace Theatre has been a fixture in Friday Harbor for the past 100 years. A centennial celebration is planned during the Fourth of July.
In tribute to the movie house, the theme of the 2015 Fourth of July parade is “Hooray for Hollywood.”
Jerry Alhadeff has owned the Palace for 14 years, and will be the grand marshal for this year’s parade. Alhadeff credits contributions of others for helping the theater weather the ups and downs of the entertainment industry, like their transition from film reels to digital four years ago.
Aaron King is another well-known face at the theater who has worked there for 23 years. He is currently the operations manager.
Alfred Middleton built the theater in 1915 and named it “Fribor,” a merging of Friday and Harbor. His wife Vivian played piano to accompany the movies. The Middleton’s owned it for many years before eventually moving on to own a grocery store in Friday Harbor.
Milt and Lee Bave purchased it in 1961 and renamed it The MADD Playhouse as an acronym for music, art, dance and drama. The Baves featured live drama productions and concerts, and added an orchestra pit in addition to showing films. Islanders of a certain age might recall Lee Bave, the theater’s projectionist, who would put a hand in front of the projector to block out people kissing on screen or other scenes she deemed inappropriate for viewers.
Featuring first-run films 365 days a year on either of two screens, Alhadeff credits the current-day version of the movie house to the magnetism and tenacity of one person in particular, the late Ray Kinnaman.
“Without his vision it wouldn’t be what it is today and it never would have,” Alhadeff said.
After several years in which the movie house went dark for lack of business, in 1974 Carol and Ray Kinnaman began managing the theater. They assigned tasks to their four children as part of the family business and a year later they bought it from Lee Bave.
Under the Kinnamans, the movie house got a new name, the Royal Theater.
At the urging of local banker Brian Brown six years later, Alhadeff, a part-time island resident at the time, bought the building from Kinnaman. Profits have always proved hard to come by for the Friday Harbor movie house, and Alhadeff recalled Brown wanted to ensure the island’s sole movie house would have sturdy financial backing and stay afloat.
Kinnaman and Alhadeff struck a deal in which Kinnaman would operate the movie business as a tenant of the building. The two oversaw the remodel that is the movie house today.
Following Kinnaman’s death in 2001, Alhadeff took over the enterprise and renamed it the Palace Theater. He handed over management to King, who joined Kinnaman and the movie house crew after moving to the island in 1992.
Owning and operating the Palace Theater has proven to be more labor of love rather than a strategic investment for Alhadeff.
“There’s a pride to being part of the town,” Alhadeff said. “I think Aaron feels that way too. In my opinion the theater is an asset to the town, a good asset.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the original owner and builder of the theater. It was Alfred Middleton and his wife Vivian Middleton, not Peter Kirk.