The Journey

Garland Theatre: a Destination for Children
By Chelsie Moyer

Walking into the Garland Theater is walking into history.

Few things are still attractive to youth at the age of 65, but the Garland Theater manages it nicely. Neon lights from the fifties, a snack bar that still serves homemade cotton candy, and a space age ceiling built in the forties are sure to entertain.

The Garland Theater was innovative when in it opened in 1944. The wider seats did not necessitate rising to let movie-goers in or out, and each seat came with its own cup holder. The snack bar and music shop attached were unheard of outside of Hollywood in that time.

To have such a theater in Spokane was a great treat. Lifelong Spokane resident Nancy Compau recalls the Garland Theater when it was new.

"It was very luxurious, as I remember. It had big, wide, comfortable seats," Compau said. "In those days when it opened, we'd sometimes go with friends and sometimes go on dates."

Compau has a unique view of this historical building, as she spent 20 years of her life documenting the history of Spokane as the Spokane Public Library Northwest Room Historian. She wrote two books to introduce children to Spokane and its history and believes The Garland is an important part of the city's story.

Time itself has served the Garland Theater well. The owners' foresight saved money in the long run when wild additions such as snack bars became staples in the movie industry. The theater's original design unwittingly anticipated the needs of its future audience.

Modern construction is designed to meet the needs of a taller population. People back in the 1940s were simply shorter than they are now. That means today's children still can rest their elbows on the snack bar countertop and read what treats are on the menu. The entirety of the theater is child convenient, including the water fountain that rests a mere two feet above the ground. The stickers and toy machines topped out at five feet, making them very accessible to children of all ages.

Marie Jensen has two young boys, and they know just how child friendly the theater is. The boys ran to her from the vending machines with swollen upper lips and eyes twinkling. They tried to shout "Rrrr!" as they bared their crooked, plastic teeth. Jensen sighed, chiding her youngest as his teeth feel onto the floral carpet. He quickly tried to pop them back in his mouth.

"My kids love it here. I've lived in Spokane since I was a little bit older than them and remember coming here when I was a kid. It's great that I can share some of my childhood with them and see how much they enjoy it too." Jensen said.

Garland Theatre owner Katherine Fritchie knows the attraction her business has had for children across the years. Her youngest child was one year old when she bought the theater. As he wandered through the building, she discovered by necessity how to make the theater more child friendly and safe. Nothing sharp and hard is within a child's reach, and but clean water from the fountain is. Fritchie believes the Garland Theater caters to the younger population of Spokane.

"In the summer time beginning at 9:30 a.m., they can watch a movie for free," she said. "I try to keep them newer movies, and the same movie runs for a whole week."

During the school year, Fritchie offers $1 Wednesdays. The regular Garland ticket price is $3.50, drastically lower than the standard $8-to-$9.50 you can expect to pay at newer theaters. Aside from lower ticket prices, you can also get a bottomless popcorn tub for the cost of a small popcorn in other movie theaters. Candy and drink prices are lower by comparison as well. Fritchie tries to keep things affordable despite money being tight, and doesn't want to have to drop her $1 Wednesdays or free summer movies.

"I really want to keep doing that especially because of the economy," she said. "We can offer a service for a lot of people who couldn't otherwise afford it, if you don't have $50 to spend to take your family to a move."

Notes to the Garland Theater fill up a prominent glass display case on the wall next to the upcoming movie posters. Pictures of families walking, smiling faces, and scenes from movies rest beneath the sprawled print of those learning to write. Little hands penned inch-sized letters all saying thanks to the Garland Theater and signed "Subibi," a child's phonetic version of sincerely, to show how much they really mean it.