By Christi Baron
Forks Forum Editor
This week marks the 10th anniversary of the Olympic Theater fire.
Olympic Theater Memories
On May 9, 1930, the Olympic Theater opened for business. Movies previously had been shown in the IOOF hall, but this was a real theater.
Over the next 50-some years, the Olympic Theater played a great role in community interactions with friends and neighbors. It took us to foreign places, brought us excitement and entertainment on the big screen, but it always felt like home.
In the early years of the theater’s operation boxing matches and live theater appeared on the stage. Later food drives, a can of food got you in, and other fundraisers happened at the building.
Even though the theater had been boarded up for years, the fire on Sept. 22, 2010, and the building’s ultimate demise had everyone remembering their experiences at the theater. Even though it had been closed and was looking old and sad, it was an old faithful friend that you passed by on the way to somewhere else.
Many remember getting in trouble for talking and either getting moved away from their friends or even worse, getting sent home.
Former Forks resident Don Rhyne remembers when in 1960 his older sister Peggy won a life-size cardboard cutout of Elvis Presley. The prize was a lobby advertisement for Elvis’ movie “Flaming Star.”
Upon safely getting the cardboard Elvis home, the Rhyne residence became very popular. Young Elvis fans were visiting at all times of the day and night to get a look at “The King.” Rhyne remembers the frenzied young girls going crazy over the cutout. Rhyne, five years old at the time, said, “I remember looking up at Elvis and wondering, what’s all the fuss?” Rhyne’s father soon remedied the problem by giving cardboard Elvis to a neighbor girl, Ruth Hunley.
Ruth was thrilled, but her father, Hollum Hunley, also soon learned the curse of having Elvis in his home. If Rhyne’s memory serves him correctly, he believes the cardboard Elvis was cut up and burned by Mr. Hunley. Another of Hunley’s daughters, Leanne, later had a television and movie career of her own. Rhyne believes Hunley didn’t hate Hollywood or Elvis — just too much company.
Growing up, the great thing about the theater was a little freedom. Your parents would drop you off and parents and children would get a little time apart but that all came to an end in November 1967.
On a Friday evening, November 10, 1967, the moviegoers in line had been rowdy and when the movie did not start on time, the crowd of eight to 18-year-olds got disruptive.
I was there, the “other” kids started stomping their feet. It was a double-bill, Jerry Lewis and Sonny and Cher, I blame it on them.
After the mini-riot…owner of the theater, Estene Fletcher, announced that all children and teens had to be with a parent to come to the theater. It was repealed a short time later, due to parents not wanting to sit through “Beach Blanket Bingo.”
Who doesn’t remember heading to the snack window for popcorn, a Look Bar, Raisinettes or other delicious treats? Although I do remember one bad Hot Tamale experience …
In the late 1960s, the Motion Picture Association started rating movies. This meant many movies were off-limits to those under 17 years old. One evening three friends and I decided to go see an “R” rated movie.
A cinematic masterpiece called “Superfly” was about a cocaine dealer wanting to go straight but he wants to do one last big deal. My three friends made it in with no problem and, even though I was old enough, when I paid Mrs. Fletcher my admission, she pushed it back and informed me that if I needed to call my mother for a ride home, I could come inside but I would not be coming in to watch “Superfly.”
To this day I have not seen “Superfly” but it is available for sale at Amazon.com for $9.99. Early Elvis Presley memorabilia is most desired by collectors, a life-size Elvis cardboard cutout in mint condition could be worth $2,000 plus.
Olympic Theater memories … priceless.
Owner Estene Fletcher
In 1966 the Port Angeles Evening News ran a story on Olympic Theater owner Estene Fletcher. The following information was taken from that interview …
Estene shared that the theater was made available for many occasions not just movies. From town meeting to the annual Orthopedic Benefit film, with the proceeds going to the Hospital, Mrs. Fletcher hosted all these events free to those entities trying to raise money. The theater also was used each year for the VFW food film, admission was a can of food, which went to the Christmas baskets.
She was described also as a generous employer.
Estene met her husband, Henry, in Oregon when he was a pianist in an orchestra; she requested the song “Nola” and it led to a whirlwind romance.
In December 1934 the young couple made the trip to Forks to install a new projector in the Olympic Theater owned by Henry’s parents. That trip never did have a return route to Medford, OR where Estene was born and raised with an identical twin sister.
Estene began working at the theater in 1935 and the younger Fletchers purchased the business in 1947. The original show house construction started in 1929 and in 1966 the outside was remodeled.
Films that were shown at the Olympic Theater were ordered through a company in Seattle and then they made the trip out to Forks on the bus!
Sadly, Henry was killed in an automobile accident on May 8, 1951, near Port Angeles, but Estene continued to run the Theater on her own.
Estene said she loved the theater business and if she ever sold it would find another job in a theater.
Estene died on April 3, 2000.