Ownership of the Historic Roxy Theatre is slated to change hands this month when the nonprofit Roxy Bremerton Foundation – current operators of the venue – purchases the downtown landmark.
“What this does is give the Roxy another 80 years of vitality and provide the community a cultural, cinema, arts and musical centerpiece,” said Steve Sego, foundation president. “I am incredibly proud, satisfied and appreciative because this was a community project that included hundreds of people.”
Sound West Group, a Bremerton-based real estate company, is selling the art-deco theater to the foundation for $818,000, Sego said. The foundation has raised $785,000 to buy the theatre and is expected to raise the final $33,000 from donations and proceeds of the New Year’s Eve rock concert at the Roxy.
To commemorate the purchase the foundation is holding a celebration Jan. 19 at the Roxy. U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, and Bremerton mayor Greg Wheeler are expected. Friends of the Roxy and other supporters will be invited.
“We are going to have a celebration of Mission Accomplished of phase one,” Sego said. “We have climbed the mountain. Now we are going to focus on the long-term planning of ongoing improvements and maintenance.”
The foundation has been closely associated with the Roxy since SWG purchased the theatre in 2015. The foundation had signed a 25-year lease of the theatre, which was later converted to a sale and purchase agreement. The understanding between the parties was that once the nonprofit raised sufficient funds it would purchase the Roxy.
Of the foundation, formed in 2016, Sego said, “We started with $2.22 in our bank account. The joke was our options were – we could buy a Pepsi, or we could try and figure out how to buy the theatre.”
In six years, the foundation raised enough funds to purchase the theatre. The revenue came from grants, state funding and contributions, Sego said.
Major contributors included – Washington Department of Commerce Building for the Arts program, which awarded a $269,000 grant; Birkenfeld Trust provided $200,000; First Federal Community Foundation invested over $100,000; and the Cowlitz Tribe bestowed $100,000.
The Roxy opened in 1941 just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. In its early days, legends Bing Crosby and “Chairman of the Board” Frank Sinatra performed on its stage. The theatre features art-deco design said to have premiered in the 1930s. The interior sports curved forms, long horizontal lines and nautical designs.
Remnants of the original venue remain, including a 35-foot maritime mural featuring works of Northwest photographer Asahel Curtis, showcasing the White Fleet set against the Bremerton Navy Yard. A replica of the original Roxy marquee shines above the entry. The original chandelier, found at the farm in Silverdale, hangs in the foyer.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, the Roxy fell on hard times with the of development of multiplex theaters, which could show several movies under one roof. Over the years, the theatre went through a number of iterations, including becoming a church.
The Roxy got a new lease on life when SWG purchased the place with the aim of refurbishing the theatre and rejuvenating the area.
Once the foundation is handed the keys there will be some programming changes.
No adjustments to the movie programming are expected. However, more emphasis will be placed on bringing in first-rate live shows that normally go to Seattle, Sego said, citing as an example the recent “Christmas Rocks” show. Special events will also be scheduled, such as a proposed Women in Music Festival that will feature a variety of musical genres and workshops. The Roxy will also play a role in the expansion of the West Sound Film Festival, Sego said.
Remodeling of the theatre, which had its 80th Anniversary in 2021, will continue. The concession stand will be remodeled, and a new $75,000 sound and light system will be installed, he said.
The Roxy Theatre is a key component of Quincy Square, a project aimed at transforming Bremerton’s 4th Street into the entertainment center for the Kitsap Peninsula. The makeover is named after legendary musician Quincy Jones, who spent part of his youth in Bremerton.
Supporters envision the undertaking to transform the street into a collection of live music clubs, cultural arts, restaurants and hotels. Plans call for an outdoor performance stage to be built across from the Roxy and a giant piano keyboard design to be embedded in the road. The black and white keys are expected to be large enough to be seen from space. The area will feature a series of murals and sculptures that pay homage to Jones’ musical career and his connection to Bremerton. The Roxy has been designated as the center stage of Quincy Square, Sego said.