Best Of

Best Movie Theater

Garland Theater

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Erick Doxey photo
The iconic Garland Theater opened in 1945.

The description "theater" doesn't quite do justice to everything the Garland does.

It's arguably the most recognizable part of the district and street of the same name, thanks to its flashy marquee. But calling it just a "theater" — as in a physical space where films are projected onto a screen in an auditorium with folding seats — sells short its history and status as a neighborhood anchor.

That history is one of note: It opened in 1945, part of significant post-World World II growth in entertainment venues across the country. Like all theaters, it's seen ups and downs, financially and reputationally, and for a short time showed X-rated movies. It closed for two years in the 1980s before reopening as a discount theater — still its reputation today. Spokane historic preservation advocate Katherine Fritchie bought the Garland in 1999 and has worked to restore its original look and feel.

More than a cool-looking building, it's carved out a reputation as a neighborhood anchor. That wasn't quite on the radar of Jasmine Barnes when she got a job there as a Whitworth University student. Coming to Spokane from California, she wasn't familiar with its history. She admits to just thinking of it as a "college job." But she's quick to point out: "I also really love movies."

That was nine years ago, and Barnes is now general manager, overseeing both the theater and the attached Bon Bon bar, where on a recent Monday night staff were busy cleaning dishes and prepping for the regular trivia night.

Barnes says the appeal of the Garland is much more than the nostalgic movies. (On this night, there's a 25th anniversary showing of The Big Lebowski, complete with people in robes drinking White Russians.) Rather, it's the whole community formed around the theater and the Spokane neighborhood it anchors.

Barnes liked the job — and the area — so much, she bought a house nearby.

"I am fully invested," she says, not just of owning a house in a desirable neighborhood, but in the sense of connection living near the theater allows. "I am a Garland District lifer."

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