The Harvard Exit, which screened its final film in mid-January, didn’t start out as an art house movie theater. The Woman’s Century Club (WCC), a group of progressive Seattle women founded in 1891, had the building constructed as a clubhouse for its burgeoning membership (which included Seattle Mayor Bertha Landes).
A WCC history book explains that the social club “had its inception in the minds of a half dozen women who felt its need in the sordid atmosphere of a rapidly developing western city.” With the 1960s, however, the club’s membership began to flag (perhaps as women became less interested in convening in a parlor to discuss intellectual matters and more drawn to burning bras in city parks).
The WCC sold the building in 1968, when it became the decidedly funky Harvard Exit, ever since beloved for running independent and foreign films rarely shown elsewhere. Fast-forward and cultural relevancy has caused another shift in the building’s use. While there is less interest in going out to movies than in streaming them at home on a small screen, our societal hunger for restaurants and bars is apparently bottomless. In December, Seattle’s Scott Shapiro, known for developing the popular Melrose Market on Capitol Hill, announced that he had purchased the Harvard Exit from Landmark Theatres, and over the next year will transform it into a bar and restaurant, with offices above.
While the silver lining is that the building façade will be kept intact, the change nonetheless adds to the feeling of a “sordid atmosphere”—at least culturally—in this rapidly developing western city.