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Grand Theatre
Bellingham, Washington
1224 Commercial St.
Organ installation timeframes:

  • 1st organ, 2/7 Kimball: - 1912
  • 2nd organ, 3/ Kimball: 1916 -
  • 3rd organ, 2/3 Robert Morton: 1927 -
     
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    Ed Ahern at the three-manual Kimball, date unknown
     
    The Grand Theatre was owned by William Southern. Mr. Southern was born in Lancashire, England and was employed in coal mines for most of his younger years. He worked in several U.S. cities doing vaudeville before coming to Washington in 1904.
     
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    Grand Opening following remodel, c.1916
    The first Grand Theater opened on March 27, 1905 at 127 West Holly Street. It was one of Bellingham's most popular vaudeville houses.
     
    In 1912, the theater was torn down to make way for the new J.J. Donovan Building that was built on the site. A new Grand Theater was erected at the same time, behind the Donovan Building, at 1224 Commercial Street. An entrance to the theater was maintained on Holly Street at roughly the location of the original Grand. The new Grand Theater featured motion pictures.
     
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    Grand Theatre auditorium, c.1916
     
    Records show three different theatre organs associated with the Grand Theatres:
     

  • 2/7 Kimball tubular pneumatic instrument, install date unknown, but most likely installed at the original 1905 location.
  • 3/ Kimball instrument, installed 1916 at a cost of $18,000
  • 2/3 Robert Morton, installed 1927.
     
    Chambers for the 1912 building were located above the proscenium in the ceiling of the theatre. According to those that heard it, when Ed Ahern would let go with full organ, the ceiling would actually shake and the light fixtures would have a bit of movement.
     
    In the late 1920's, the Commercial St. entrance was converted to an exit and the long hallway exit on Holly St. became the new entrance. It is unknown if the original Grand Theatre vertical sign was moved to Holly Street or if a second, similar sign was added.
     
    In 1931 the theatre's name was changed to OUR Theatre when Howard Hughes had it for a short time. The Wahl family (owners of Wahl's Department Store in the same building) took back the operation after Hughes pulled out. When Wahls enlarged their store in 1957, the long hallway entrance on Holly Street was incorporated into the store and the Commercial Street entrance was again used.
     
    The last operator of the Grand was SRO and this lease lasted through December 31, 1973 with the showing of Last Tango in Paris.
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    Commercial Street, c.1928
     
    According to Jeff Fox of Bellingham, his great aunt Sylvia Brown played for some of the movies on the piano.
     
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    Street scene showing Holly Street entrance, c.1940's
     
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    Grand Theatre on left, c.1940s
     

    Grand Theatre "Special Courtesy Pass," 1945. Courtesy Jeff Fox.
     

    Holly Street May 1953, most likely during the annual Blossom Time Parade. Photo by Jack Carver, courtesy Whatcom Museum
     

    Grand Theatre interior, 1973. Photo by Galen Biery. Courtesy Jeff Fox.
     
    According to Jeff Fox, the color inside the theatre just prior to demolition was a two-tone brown. "Compare this shot to the one taken in 1916. All back of the screen was bare concrete. I believe the original color of the theatre was cream, green, and gold but can not be certain. The chandeliers here are not that old but looked very nice. They were made of red plastic. All other plaster work in the theatre wss original, just painted over a few times."
     

    Grand Theatre, March 1974. Courtesy Jeff Fox.
     

    The Grand Theatre met with the wrecking ball in July, 1974.
     
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    When the wide screen was installed, all plaster & second proscenium arch was stripped to bare cement and the stage was extended. According to Jeff Fox, the Echo division grill work could still be seen in the attic before demolition. July 1974.
     
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    Photos and historical facts, courtesy Jeffrey Fox 2000.


    July 1974. The crane operator had just traded "The Ball" for "The Jaws" in the next episode of demolition. Photo courtesy Jeff Fox, 2014
     

    July 1974. Photo courtesy Jeff Fox, 2014


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