Whenever there’s an event in downtown North Bend, there’s some element of it happening at the North Bend Theatre, on Bendigo Boulevard. It’s been a venue for the ongoing tradition of Blues and Jazz Walks, home base for the Relay for Life fundraising kickoff each winter, the annual home of the Banff Film Festival which launches on the night of the city’s annual tree lighting (preceded by the North Bend Mountain Film Festival — organized by the North Bend Theatre — in November and December)
It’s also hosted many a student film debut, was the destination for the 1992 premiere of the David Lynch movie “Fire Walk with Me,” which was a highlight of the first Twin Peaks Festival, and as one of the few venues in the city with seating for almost 300, served as a venue for countless other community events that drew large crowds.
Soon, the building could be home to new owners, as Cindy Walker and her family prepare to leave the movie business behind.
“Our family embarked on this amazing journey as stewards of the North Bend Theatre nearly 12 years ago. It’s been a huge part of who we are for more than a decade and been one of the most interesting chapters of our lives.…” Walker wrote in an announcement to the community about her plans to put the theater on the market. “… As we seek a new owner opening their own new chapter at this amazing landmark, we plan to continue to be good stewards and find someone who appreciates the importance of the North Bend Theatre’s energy in the Snoqualmie Valley.”
It’s just the right time to do it, Walker told the Record in a phone conversation. The past year had been an eventful one for personal reasons, including the death of her father and a recently completed round of chemotherapy for a cancer diagnosis last May, Walker said.
“Life is moving on, and it just seems like it’s the right time for us,” she explained, but added, “We’re in no big hurry to sell it.”
Especially because new owners could mean a whole new use for the 1941-built theater.
The building is a King County landmark, Walker said, subject to various restrictions on how it can be maintained. Use is another story, she added, “which is a little unfortunate but there’s not really a way to landmark the use. Clearly the best use of it will be as a center of community.”
With its latest updates — new doors and an HVAC system earlier this year, a new roof and major repairs in the past decade and, the transition five years ago to digital projection — the theater is in great shape.
Walker recalled buying the building from the Slover family after Brian Slover had passed away. Slover, according to his 2005 obituary, was “a man known for his strong convictions and lifelong love of movies,” dating back to his childhood when he and his brother Kevin made their own Super 8 movies.
He owned the theater for only a few years before his death, Walker said, but in their 12 years of ownership, “we always felt like we honored what his vision for the theater was…. To really bring it up to the gem that it is right now.”
For many in the community, though, it’s always been a gem, including the Trostel family that owned and operated the theater for 30 years, the Slovers, who bought it in 1999 and completed a major renovation in 2000, the many customers that watched films there over the decades, and, naturally, the Walkers themselves.
In 2001, as newcomers to the North Bend community, Walker said, “We valued the theater when we moved here. We valued it as citizens. …It has a nostalgic feel. It was a gathering place for people to do all kinds of different things.”
Maintaining that place in the community, along with making a living, were Walker’s goals for the theater. She tried a variety of promotions to attract people to the theater over the years — matinee movie clubs, classic film nights, free summer matinees, amateur film festivals, special movie events — most of them with some small success.
“Nobody gets rich,” she specified, “we still have to pay the royalties and the licensing fees for everything… but it does keep the theater vibrant and alive in people’s eyes. The same people who come to the free matinees aren’t the same people who come to the Mountain Film Festival.”
The theater also draws from the community for its staff, too, hiring many students directly from their work with the theater through video production classes at Mount Si High School, taught by Joe Dockery.
The theater, Walker said, is still that community gathering place she first saw when she moved to town.
“We’ve been an orchestrator of that over the years,” she said, “but that theater played that role long before we got here and I hope it will play that role long after we leave.”
There are still lots of ways to do that, Walker says, itemizing a possible list of promotions for the next owners. Among them are live music performances, speakers, corporate events, and, sure, first-run films.
“I don’t think it’s done. Like anything you’re only limited by your creativity,” Walker said.
She hopes that the next owners are not only creative, but committed to continuing the theater’s role as an essential place in the community.
“My ego would tell me it’s someone who is going to come in and do exactly what I’d do…” Walker said. She also wants the new owner to “add to the vibrancy of North Bend and the whole Upper Valley. That’s the ideal buyer, someone who has that passion for the community, not just for running a business.”
Learn more about the North Bend Theatre and its history at www.northbendtheatre.com.