SIFF Cinema Downtown

2100 4th Avenue,
Seattle, WA 98121

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9-19-13 Cinerama screen for 70mm film festival

Seattle’s Martin Cinerama opened in 1963 using the original Cinerama 3-strip projection technique. But with a shift underway towards 70mm projection, the theatre was altered just a few months later, although the enormous, curved screen was kept. It had a capacity of 808 seats.

The 70mm Cinerama screenings lasted until 1969, when the theatre switched to more conventional 35mm projectors. Eventually Cineplex Odeon took over operations. By 1997, the theatre was struggling, and developers swooped in with plans to repurpose the theatre.

Very quickly, Seattle Cinerama lovers began a grassroots effort to save the theatre. A year later, Paul Allen (of Microsoft fame), bought the theatre for $3 million. Soon after, he orchestrated an immense restoration project that enhanced the theatre’s appearance and returned it to its roots—showing films in the Cinerama format.

Re-opened on April 23, 1999, the Seattle Cinerama Theater is now one of only three operating Cinerama theatres in the world. This beautifully restored shrine to Cinerama is now one of the most technologically advanced movie theatres ever erected. In the Fall of 2014 it was closed for remodelling, reopening in November 2014 with a reduced seating capacity of 570.

After philanthropist Paul Allen’s death in 2018, in early-February 2020, it was closed for ‘refurbishment’ but in May 2020 it was announced that it would be closed for the “foreseeable future” and may not reopen, so the future of one of the world’s greatest single screen showcases is again uncertain.

On May 11, 2023, it was announced that the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) had taken over the building and it reopened on December 14, 2023, renamed SIFF Cinema Downtown. The reopening movie was Timothee Chalamet in “Wonka”.

Contributed by Ross Melnick

Recent comments (view all 267 comments)

HowardBHaas on December 8, 2023 at 7:21 pm

A new page won’t be created, as the theater reopens December 14 with Wonka. The theater here will be renamed and the Intro adjusted.

Redwards1 on December 8, 2023 at 9:54 pm

Just to clarify, the 70mm prints of Cinerama 3-strip productions are very effective when projected on a deep curved screen. Pacific Theatres was involved in creating these 70mm prints. Apparently they own all the original Cinerama features. Seattle Cinerama presented a terrific restored Lawrence of Arabia 70mm print on the deep curved screen. It would seem the 70mm Cinerama prints could also be presented on that screen.

Mike Tiano
Mike Tiano on February 16, 2024 at 5:27 pm

From what I see here if a theater changes management and/or gets a new name there is only one page for all iterations of that theater, a new one is not created. I saw this for the Ritz/Cine/Pussycat/Miracle in Inglewood, CA and suspect it’s the rule, not the exception. This makes more sense to me from a historical perspective rather than creating a different page for each successor, but that seems to be the way it works here at CT anyway.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on February 16, 2024 at 9:31 pm

You are correct, sir.

Mikeoaklandpark on February 17, 2024 at 1:14 pm

Did they keep the large curved screen?

Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on March 9, 2024 at 12:46 pm

Here’s a link to recent article on current Seattle cinemas. Click here

Mike Tiano
Mike Tiano on April 12, 2024 at 10:47 pm

When SIFF acquired the Seattle Cinerama there were unanswered questions. After some effort I was able to get answers about those previously undisclosed details WRT the theater’s new incarnation, including the story behind the loss of the Cinerama name.

Read my article here

Mark Boszko
Mark Boszko on April 13, 2024 at 8:51 am

Thank you so much, Mike, for researching that, and linking the article. Good to finally know the reason behind losing the name.

rivest266 on April 13, 2024 at 11:50 am

Reopened April 23rd, 1999 by Paul Allen and General Cinema. Ad posted.

Redwards1 on April 14, 2024 at 9:58 am

Good to learn SIFF has determined the curved screen, one of the last to be manufactured to original Cinerama specifications, and projectors are intact and functional. Also that is true of the 70mm projectors. What about the lenses used on the 70mm projectors that were custom built to fill the curved screen with an undistorted image? A number of these lenses of various lengths were on sale at the Arclight bookshop during a previous Cinerama Festival in Los Angeles. I assume they came from dozens of theaters where deep curved screens were removed.

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