217 First Street
1937: Clyde Theatre opens.
Circa 1937. Clyde Theatre (left) (Courtesy South Whidbey Historical Society)
The Clyde Theatre was built in 1937 by Norman and Hazel Clyde next to Norman's garage. The first movie to show at The Clyde when it opened September 16, 1937, was You Can't Have Everything starring Don Ameche.
1951. Clyde Theatre (left) (Courtesy South Whidbey Historical Society)
Norm and Hazel ran The Clyde Theatre for decades. Vandalism and other bad behavior caused Norm to close the theater for a time in the 1960s. It was being leased and run on a very limited schedule by a local banker when Blake Willeford bought the theater from the Clydes in February of 1972.
Blake, a recent Peace Corps volunteer, knew nothing about running a movie theater. His realtor aunt, Margaret Kish, somehow convinced him it was the perfect small business for a guy with two years of graduate school in philosophy under his belt. Lynn slowly worked her way up as sweeper, then Sunday night ticket seller, then girlfriend/bookkeeper, and finally married Blake in 1978, and the Willefords have operated the theatre ever since.
A stage was added to provide a venue for musical acts, and local theatrical productions. such as the "FOOLS musicals" presented by members of the community in the 1970's and '80's.
Circa 1980. Cast of a FOOLS production (Courtesy Michele LaRue)
"We'd always open shows on April Fools Day; hence the name. In the beginning, we'd all sit around and Bob Sabatini would have the ideas and we would say: 'Yeah, you know you could do a song, and paint this, and create this costume.' And we had a band. All locals. There was just a long narrow space in the back of our sets, so we would use nearby restaurants for rehearsals… there'd be fifty people, and many changes of clothing. People would be running all over town trying to find places to change." (Michele LaRue).
1984. Clyde Theatre (Courtesy Willefords)
The interior needed upgrading, so in the mid 1980's, the tan acoustic wallboard interior was replaced with the current soft rose interior. The "awful mustard" exterior color was painted with it's current teal, aqua, rose color scheme.
1986. Painted white for Dixie Lanes movie (Courtesy Willefords)
The Clyde was painted white for filming of the movie "Dixie Lanes" in 1986. The Clyde assumed the role of the Bowling Alley with a false front. It was repainted after the movie crew left town.
1987:Fiftieth Anniversary of the Clyde
1987. Crowd awaiting celebration of 50 years of The Clyde. (Courtesy Lynn Willeford)
The Clyde celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with a big bash. People came in 1830's costumes and filled the theatre.
1987. Blake Willeford introduces Hazel Clyde on the Clyde stage.(Courtesy Lynn Willeford)
1992: Seismic retrofit
1992. Blake Willeford (center) helps carry beams into the theatre through Melsen Alley stage door. (Courtesy Lynn Willeford)
When the building next door was demolished in 1992, Blake did a seismic retrofit of the building's walls. Hearing-assisted devices were installed in the late 1990s, and the sound system was upgraded. The 65-year-old seats were retired in 2002, and replaced with more comfortable seats with cup holders.
2014. Clyde Theatre with a gathering of stars. (Courtesy Robert Waterman)
Paper stars placed on and around the theatre for the anniversary in 1987 were subsequently replaced with metal ones, including one on the sidewalk in front of the ticket booth with the year of the Clyde's opening in 1937.
Star in front of the ticket booth. (Courtesy Robert Waterman)
The Clyde has retained much of its local flavor since it opened. In 2003, the Willefords asked for submission of people's memories of the theatre. A snippet of a submission by Shirley Jantz captures a sense of what people value about their Clyde:
"As I sat down there was a bustle of chatter and laughter...and a sense that everyone knew everyone. How common is that in a movie theater? Then a tall, lanky man approached the stage, and adjusted the movie screen... by hand. He explained that there was someone in the audience who was having a 12th birthday and all her friends would like to sing Happy Birthday to her."
Circa 1990. Blake Williford in the projection booth at the Clyde. (Courtesy the Willifords)
The Clyde bravely converted from classic large format film projectors to the latest digital technology in 2012, adding surround sound speakers. But the smell of fresh popcorn greets you as you buy your tickets from the little ticket booth out front, and every show still opens with local announcements and comments about upcoming features from the owners, delivered in person at the front of the theater. Just like it has always been!