The popcorn smell is gone. There are no posters advertising new indie flicks. But good portions of the charm and character that made the old Harvard Exit movie theater in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood a special place have been retained, and it can be home to anyone looking to work out of the historic location.
In a city where coworking spaces are popping up and gobbling up square footage everywhere, changing the very nature of how people work, add Harvard Exit Coworking to the list.
The building at 807 E. Roy St. first opened in October 1925 as The Woman’s Century Club, a civic organization with a membership of about 350 women at the time. The building hosted both club and community events until the 1960s, according to historic details on the Harvard Exit website.
In 1968, the property was sold and took on life as a two-screen cinema called the Harvard Exit Theatre. The theater ran for 47 years before closing in 2015 after the building was purchased by Seattle-based Eagle Rock Ventures and slated for renovation.
Founded in 2000, Eagle Rock is a real estate investment and development firm that does a combination of ground-up projects as well as adaptive reuse projects like the Harvard Exit. The company has one other coworking space, in the Spinnaker Building on Vashon Island.
Founder Scott Shapiro, who did not reveal the cost of renovations, described what’s been done to the three-story brick building and why he thinks it’s an attractive option in the competition for coworking tenants.
“Obviously in real estate we say location is the most important thing — it has a great location on Capitol Hill,” Shapiro said, ticking off the nearby amenities such as restaurants and transportation options. “It’s a lot easier to get to our building on Capitol Hill than it is to get to South Lake Union or downtown Seattle, being able to avoid the traffic in those busy areas.”
The three-year renovation pretty much created a shell inside the original structure. Eagle Rock renovated existing windows and light fixtures, and left large Douglas fir ceiling beams and wood molding in place. But the historic rehab, in meeting federal standards, created the need for seismic, electrical, life-safety, water and sewer upgrades, as well as adding previously non-existent elevators.
“It’s an amazing space, good light, large windows — it’s really a character space,” Shapiro said. “It’s very inspiring and unique tenants like unique spaces, too, to work in. It’s part of the experience and the ambience that helps our customers be successful.”
The Mexican Consulate in Seattle is one of those customers. The consulate moved into the building at the beginning of July, taking the first floor, second floor, basement and a little bit of third floor — about 70 percent of the building.
“To be in this iconic building is something to be proud of,” Mexican Consul Roberto Dondisch told The Seattle Times.
What was once a ballroom on the third floor, and later the second screen of the Harvard Exit Theatre, is what became the new 5,200-square-foot coworking space. Eagle Rock didn’t have a single tenant yet interested in the space, so they built it out for multiple tenants with shared desks, private offices, a conference room, kitchenette, shower and more.
“The building has a lot of history and everyone who has lived in Seattle for any length of time has some story about the Harvard Exit,” Shapiro said.
GeekWire co-founder John Cook counts himself among that group. He moved to Seattle in 1995, and one of his first jobs in the city was taking tickets and slinging popcorn at the Harvard Exit Theatre.
“I loved working at the Harvard Exit — the historic feel of the place and just some amazing people who staffed the theater. It was one of my favorite jobs from my early years in Seattle,” Cook said.
He added that he never saw the ghost which was rumored to appear from time to time. But he is haunted by something else.
“‘Leaving Las Vegas’ played at the theater for like six months when I worked there,” Cook said. “And I couldn’t get the harrowing soundtrack by Sting out of my head for years. Kind of a depressing movie to see 100 times.”
In growing Seattle, where a familiar scene plays over and over as the old comes down and the new rises up, Shapiro said it’s nice to to be able to take an old building and create a new use that’s productive and fits within the neighborhood and within the city.
With new office furniture moved into place just a week ago, the owners are definitely looking to attract potential tenants. Shapiro laughed at the idea using his building’s cinematic history to some advantage.
“Maybe we’ll have a movie and popcorn night,” he said.