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Historic Theaters Across Washington State

Status: Most Endangered Places

Year Listed: 2021

Travel the Main Street of any American town and a theater will likely be there, anchoring the street and beckoning residents and visitors alike to lose themselves for a time in another world. Whether they are architectural masterpieces or modest storefronts with a marquee, they are essential to economic development and maintaining community character. As businesses, they contribute to local economies by purchasing goods and products, employing people, and paying taxes. As venues for performances and film, they support an arts economy that ripples far beyond individual artists to include construction workers, graphic designers, electricians, and many other trades and services. Additionally, historic theaters are indispensable assets in developing cultural tourism—the fastest growing segment of the tourism market.

Theaters are a critical piece of our cultural landscape that have been especially hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Historic theaters across the state have been forced to shutter, lay off staff, and defer important capital improvements. As we know from a survey of nearly 50 theaters conducted in April 2021, 72% of theaters reported being closed completely for the past year. Historic theater owners reported a total of about $3.2 million in lost income due to COVID-19—an average of $240,000 in losses per theater. With such unprecedented losses, theater owners were forced to lay off full- and part-time employees, resulting in an 83% reduction in employees overall across respondents. And with no revenue, theater operators were unable to implement critical capital projects, leading to deferred maintenance and endangering the long-term preservation of these important historic structures.

The creation of a new Historic Theater Grant Program by the state legislature in April 2021, to be implemented by the Washington State Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation, is one step towards supporting these cultural resources. But much more funding and public backing will be needed to support their full post-pandemic recovery, which is why the Washington Trust has chosen to add historic theaters across Washington State as a thematic listing to our Most Endangered Places list for 2021.

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Washington’s Historic Barns

Status: Saved!

Year Listed: 2006

Washington’s barns are historically significant for their association with broad patterns of agricultural history and community development and as examples of distinct architectural styles and methods of construction. Over 50 barns across the state are currently designated as local landmarks or listed in the National or State Registers.

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Historic Buildings within Washington’s State Parks

Status: Saved!

Year Listed: 2012

Headlining 2012’s roster was a thematic listing including the Historic Resources of Washington’s State Park System. With over 600 historic buildings and structures, Washington State Parks is the single largest owner of historic buildings in the state. The inventory of historic buildings, structures, and sites under the jurisdiction of State Parks includes territorial forts, coastal military fortifications, lighthouses, artillery installments, CCC picnic shelters, a seminary, and numerous others listed in local registers of historic places, in the National Register, and as National Historic Landmark Districts. Recent economic woes have made it increasingly challenging for the agency to sustain the needed level of maintenance at parks statewide, let alone address mounting capital needs. In the current biennium, the capital budget for buildings and structures is less than one-third of funding levels provided in the recent past. Moving forward, the State Parks operating budget will rely entirely on the success of the Discover Pass, a visitor fee-for-use program, the revenues of which have thus far fallen short of projections. Without adequate funding for capital projects, mounting deferred maintenance could lead to more serious building deterioration in the near term. Park Rangers, who already do double duty in performing a variety of maintenance tasks on buildings, will be going to seasonal employment, leaving dozens of structures unattended for periods of time.

The poster child for this thematic listing was the Seminary in St. Edward State Park, an impressive Renaissance Revival style building that has been largely closed off to the public since State Parks acquired the site from the Seattle Archdiocese in 1977. As the largest underutilized building in the State Parks system with rehabilitation costs far exceeding Parks’ financial capacity, the Seminary was at the forefront of our advocacy efforts. Thankfully, after several years of planning and negotiations, a public/private partnership emerged to adaptively reuse the Seminary as a lodge-style hotel.

Led by Daniels Real Estate, the plan required cooperation with Washington State Parks, the City of Kenmore, Bastyr University, preservation advocates, and hundreds of supporters who understood the value of a historic building situated within a state park. The plan even required legislative action to give State Parks the authority needed to negotiate a long-term lease of the site. But in the end, Daniels Real Estate’s reputation for tackling complex rehabilitation projects carried the day, and The Lodge at St. Edward State Park opened to the public on May 7, 2021—a stunning example of adaptive reuse and precedent-setting in terms of creating a public/private partnership.

PHN Listing

Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation

Year Listed: 2012

Location: Thurston County

The Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation is Washington State’s primary agency with knowledge and expertise in historic preservation. We advocate for the preservation of Washington’s irreplaceable historic and cultural resources—significant buildings, structures, sites, objects, and districts—as assets for the future.

Region: Statewide

County: Thurston


Allyson Brooks, Ph.D., State Historic Preservation Officer / Director

Greg Griffith, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer

Michael Houser, State Architectural Historian

Kim Gant, Certified Local Government Coordinator & Survey Program Manager

Nicholas Vann, Historical Architect

Guy Tasa , Ph.D., State Physical Anthropologist

Rob Whitlam, Ph.D., State Archaeologist

More DAHP Staff


1110 S. Capitol Way, Suite 30
Olympia, WA 98501

Mailing Address:
PO Box 48343
Olympia, WA 98504-8343