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Columbia Theater in the '30s

RVHS Photo #93.1.56

This photo was taken looking northeast from the intersection of Rainier Avenue and Hudson Street. The Columbia Theater was a popular movie theater in the 1930’s. The marquee indicates the movies showing at that time were “Mother Didn’t Tell Me” and “Captain China”. 

Every Saturday afternoon however, the neighborhood kids paid 10 cents to see the continuing saga of “Flash Gordon” and “Buck Rogers” flying across the screen with “jet-packs” strapped to their backs, preparing for their spaceship trip to the moon. The ticket booth at the entrance was on Rainier Avenue and from there, moviegoers walked up a sloping ramp to the separate theater building, built parallel to Rainier Avenue and behind the brick building on the right in the photo. The odd location was the result of a city ordinance at that time requiring theaters to be a certain minimum distance from a school, in this case, Columbia School, a block away.

Carol’s Sweet Shop was located at the top of the ramp where one could buy popcorn and candy for munching at the movies. The old theater building is being used as a recording studio now with practice and performance space for musical groups. The entrance, now on Hudson Street, was formerly the fire escape door behind the screen at the back of the theater. Above the door is a big sign that says “Columbia Theater.”

The former theater entrance ramp and adjacent space fronting Rainier Avenue has been turned into a cooperative artist’s gallery for local artists. Part of the old ramp has been cleverly included into the design of the gallery. 

The exterior of the brick building on the right looks much the same today as it did when the photo was taken in the 1930s. After standing vacant for many years the exterior has been rejuvenated and the interior walls that separated the individual shops have been removed. The spacious interior has been completely remodeled for the Italian Deli and restaurant, “Salumeria on Hudson.” 

  The owners are Lisa Beckland and Sherri Serrino who also have the Italian restaurant, “La Medussa” at the north end of Columbia City. After a yummy lunch at the “Salumeria on Hudson” I would suggest a leisurely stroll through the Artist’s Gallery.

The building on the left, formally the Columbia Café, was purchased last year by local resident  and completely remodeled. It is now the Columbia Ale House, and has quickly become a favorite eating place for many of the locals. 

The building has always been a restaurant on the main floor dating back to 1911 when it was known as Hugh Mill’s Restaurant. The owners lived upstairs in one of the hotel rooms. Those second floor rooms at various times were known as the Hotel Knohf, the Hotel Rutley, the Hotel Mayfield and the Hotel Whitfield.

Over the years the restaurant was known as Phil Knauf’s Restaurant, Mayfield’s Restaurant and Fred’s Restaurant. About 1929 it became the Columbia Café and the owner, Fred (Fatty) Power’s ran a card room at the rear of the café. It later became a cocktail lounge with the name “Elbow Room.” 

Shortly before this photo was taken the original sloping roof across the top of the building had been removed. The new owner has restored the building pretty much to the original design. All these improvements on that one half block along Rainier Avenue at Hudson Street are typical of the changes taking place in Columbia City as well as the entire Rainier Valley. 

For us old timers who survived the troubled times of the 1970’s and ‘80s, we cannot be happier with the improvements we see taking place. It is reminiscent of the thriving community that was Columbia City from the turn of the century up through the ‘50s and into the ‘60s when the Columbia Merchants Association had grown to 75 members. We have seen a big turnaround in Rainier Valley and are very optimistic about the future.


Days Gone By 

South District Journal 2/27/02

By Buzz Anderson


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