Thursday, February 3, 2011


The Clemmer Theatre, as the Bing Crosby Theater was originally called, opened in 1915. That is also the year many film historians consider the beginning of the modern era of the motion picture. These important events all occurred in 1915: • An attempt by Thomas Edison and other inventers of movie-making equipment to control the production and distribution of movies was finally defeated in the courts. Filmmakers were released to experiment and competition spurred them on. • D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” premiered and set the standard for all future films. Griffith’s movie created the language of modern film, with thematic narrative, naturalistic acting, and “shots” inter-spliced to tell a smooth story. • Charlie Chaplin left his old film company and started making his own, more nuanced kind of film comedy. His “The Tramp” and “The Bank”, both released in 1915, set a new standard for comedies, just as Griffith had set the pattern for drama. • In 1915 theater owner Carl Laemmle traveled from New York to the tiny town of Hollywood, California, where he established the first modern film studio. His Universal Pictures Company was soon followed by Warner, Fox and MGM, and a new industry was underway. The Clemmer Theater played a part in this transformation of the movie industry. As late as 1912, the typical movie theater was a converted storefront with a sheet on the wall for a screen and benches for seats. Then a few New York entrepreneurs realized that it was not just the content of movies but also their settings that was limiting their appeal. These entrepreneurs built the first “movie palaces”, theaters that looked like opera houses and seated thousands. The first two were the magnificent Regent and Mark Strand Theaters in New York City, both built in 1913. The first of the luxurious Roxy Theater chain opened on Broadway in 1915. The idea was to shed the slightly disreputable image of movies and lure all classes to them. Just the fact that a more educated class started attending movies had an effect on their content. Movies moved from the amusement park model to the theatrical model. The Clemmer was in the first wave of this movie palace tradition. It opened before more famous theaters, such as Los Angeles’ the Million Dollar Theater (1918) and Grauman’s Chinese Theater (1922). The Bing Crosby Theater is one of only a handful of these very early movie palaces still in existence. After its first decade, The Clemmer was scooped up in a campaign by movie studios to own the theaters where their films were shown. Paulsen and Clemmer sold their interests to Carl Leammle’s Universal Studios in 1925. The new manager, Roy Boomer, decided to try to generate interest by hiring live acts to perform between movies. One of the performers he hired was a local jazz drummer and sometime singer by the name of Harry Crosby( aka Bing Crosby). In 1929, Universal sold the theater to a new Spokane owner who renamed it the Audian. Two years later the theater changed hands again and became the State Theater. Operating under that name for the next half century, it became a fixture of Spokane’s entertainment scene until it closed as a movie theater in 1985. The building was purchased by the Metropolitan Mortgage Company and completely renovated before reopening in 1988. Its stage was enlarged and it began a new life as a theater for live shows under the name of Metropolitan Theater of Performing Arts, “The Met.” When its sponsor, the Metropolitan Mortgage Company, went out of business in 2004, the theater was purchased by Spokane businessman Mitch Silver and continued its roll as a venue for touring shows and for local organizations that use it as their home stage. In 2006, a citizens group received Silver’s permission to rename the theater and raised money to build a new marquee. It has been The Bing Crosby Theater ever since...

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