Harvard Exit Theatre

807 E. Roy Street,
Seattle, WA 98102

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Landmark Harvard Exit Theatre, Seattle, WA

The Harvard Exit’s two screens are housed in a three-story brick building erected in 1925 for the Woman’s Century Club. The club’s main floor has a medium-sized auditorium, about 400 seats including a small balcony. In 1969, two Boeing engineers and movie buffs, Art Bernstein and Jim O'Steen, opened a movie theatre there.

The curious name comes from the fact that moviegoers purchase tickets near the Roy Street entrance, but they exit through a set of doors that open onto Harvard Avenue.

Bernstein and O'Steen programmed a mix of offbeat, independent and arthouse films. Bernstein personally introduced the feature at each showing.

In 1979, the duo sold the theatre to Landmark Theatres/Seven Gables.

In the early-1980’s, a second-floor ballroom was converted to a small cinema, calling it the “Top of the Exit”. There are very steep stairs to the upstairs theatre, and there is no elevator.

The theatre’s large lobby retains a 1920’s atmosphere, adorned with a fireplace, a grand piano and chandelier. It was closed on January 8, 2015.

Contributed by Katie Mac

Recent comments (view all 6 comments)

bamtino on May 9, 2005 at 6:55 pm

The theatre has a reputation for being haunted.

The entire text below is from HauntedHouses.com:
The spirits who still enjoy the ambiance and atmosphere of the Harvard Exit Theater have been the topic of many newspapers and TV shows, not to mention many psychics and paranormal psychologists who have investigated the building through their equipment, medium contacts and personal experiences. At least three or four female spirits, one or two male spirits and a “Thought Form” have been identified by witnesses and researchers.

Main Theater – First Floor

A) Around the turn of the century, a murder of a man, killed in a brawl, took place in the house that was torn down to make room for this Harvard Exit building.

1). A male manifestation, described as being portly, slightly see-through and wearing an old-fashioned suit has made his appearance known. Calls himself Peter, and described as “a very lighthearted fellow, kind of goofy.”

a) Psychic investigators, Jane Riese and J.R. Benight, producers of TV Talk Show, “Seattle in Vogue,” were watching a film in the main theater auditorium. Jane felt an invisible presence playfully toying with her hair over her neck. Out of the corner of her eye, she spied a flicker of light down front of the auditorium just right of the screen, by the exit door. She then saw a translucent form of a portly gentleman in profile, with a distinguished demeanor, watching the film on screen, enjoying himself.

2) The same psychic investigators, Jane Riese and J.R. Benight through a channeling medium talked to another male spirit with a British-like accent, but no name was gotten. This suggests that perhaps Peter has a fellow male spirit to do some ghostly male bonding within the main theater, perhaps helping themselves to free showings when the place is empty of the living and doing their part of be “helpful.”

a) On other occasions, one or both of these ghostly film enthusiasts have been known to reorganize the film canisters around this projection room, much to the annoyance of the living.

b) On several occasions during the years, Theater Managers have opened the building and found the movie projector showing a film to an unseen audience. In one instance, a projectionist arrived to start his shift and found that a movie had already been playing to an empty, dark house. He made haste to the projection room to catch the guilty party, but found that the door was locked from the inside!!!

I think that not only this spirit Peter and this unknown male spirit enjoy films, but also other unseen guests, perhaps the female apparition spotted in the balcony (mentioned below) also appreciate the cinematic arts.

B) In the 1940’s, a woman was suffocated somewhere in the building. She could be the entity in the balcony mentioned in #3, and perhaps the same entity getting her kicks scaring the administration personnel on the 2nd floor.(See below – Second Floor Experiences)

3) In the balcony of the first floor theater, a female entity has been felt and seen there.

a) A janitor who was vacuuming the rugs suddenly got the sense that she wasn’t alone in the auditorium. After turning off the vacuum cleaner, she glanced up to the balcony and saw a figure wearing an old fashioned dress (perhaps Victorian), standing there, though she couldn’t make out the face or hands. Another young woman at a different time saw this same apparition, in a more complete form also standing in the balcony.

C) For many years, The Harvard Exit building was the headquarters of the beloved The Women’s Century Club, which many women called a home away from home..

Entities found in the First Floor Lobby – Two different female entities and their friends have been seen here, in person and in photos taken of a supposedly empty room. Theater Manager, Janet Wainwright, who was the Theater Manager for 10 years, in charge of opening up the theater, met these spirits and felt they were positive and helpful.

4) On one of her first days on the job, Janet Wainwright walked into the lobby and was startled to see a woman, sitting in a chair near the fireplace, reading a book. The woman was described as having her hair in a bun on top of her head, wearing a long, floral dress and was just slightly see-through. Much to her fascination and horror, the woman slowly melted into thin air. At other meetings in the lobby, this ghostly female entity would look up at Janet or any human being standing there, smile pleasantly, turn off the lamp and walk out of the room.

a) It is traditional to have a fire burning in the first floor fireplace for the enjoyment of the film patrons waiting to go into the auditorium for the evening’s film presentation. This responsibility was the duty of the evening Theater Manager. This was the first job Janet W. did upon arriving. Every once and awhile, the fire was already burning brightly before Janet had arrived; a spirit had helped with the chores!! On these occasions, the chairs had been moved around the fire as if people had been chatting, enjoying the company. The chairs had always been moved back to their places before closing the Theater doors the night before.

5) Sometimes, Janet didn’t have to enter the darkened lobby to light the fire, because she would see a tall female entity leave the lobby, switching on the lights as she left the room, on both the first floor and the third floor.

a) It is thought that this tall entity could be the spirit of Bertha K. Landis, a strong president of the Women’s Century Club and the City Federation of Women’s Clubs, who also was Seattle’s first mayor. She seems to like to help out the Theater Managers, and keep an eye on the place, while hanging out in a place she loved.

Psychic Research – Through a channeling medium, Jane Riese and J.R. Benight were able to talk to a stern, older woman,(describes Bertha Landis) who wanted to know in no uncertain terms what the Janet and J.R. were up to in her place. After acknowledging that she and the other ghosts knew that they were dead, she had a hissy fit when it was suggested that she needed to move on because she no longer belonged there. “We like it here, this is our home. You wouldn’t want to leave your home in the middle of the night and neither do we.”

2nd Floor Experiences:

6) As mentioned above in the First Floor Theater section, a woman was murdered in the Harvard Exit during the 1940’s. Medium Sylvia Brown describes this apparition as being a short woman, an actress dressed in a Victorian period long dress, who was suffocated, meeting a violent end, which often creates a restless, unhappy spirit.

a) Although the hauntings mainly occur on the first and third floor, a female apparition, a sad, forlorn soul, has appeared several times to various people working in the administrative offices, scaring the socks off the living. When she isn’t getting her kicks upsetting the living on the 2nd floor, an apparition of her description has been seen in the balcony of the first floor. (See above – First Floor Theater Hauntings)

b) On one occasion, a man working in second floor administration office suddenly heard a woman crying as if her heart was breaking. Going out in the hall, he saw a female in emotional distress. Thinking she was a real human being, he approaches her to offer comfort, but she vanishes into the air!

c) Several other women working in these offices throughout the years have also seen this full formed female apparition floating down the hall way, inspiring them to flee as fast as possible down to the main floor.

The Third Floor Hauntings:

The Spirit of Bertha Landis enjoys appearing briefly to the living in the third floor lobby as well as the first floor lobby it seems. She is the most common apparition spotted by the living, and doesn’t plan to leave anytime soon, as discussed under the First Floor Lobby Section, found above.

7) The third floor is the favorite place where what they call a “Thought Form” is strongly felt and makes its home, with the purpose of watching out over the building. It is described by Jane Riese and J.R. Benight as a entity formed by mass energy, often from negative sources, which has no personality, just a collective will, that is often arrogant, dictatorial in nature.

D) Jane Riese and J.R. Benight contacted this Thought Form through a medium and came to the following conclusion. This Thought Form was molded over many years from several sources.

1) A group of strong, intense, passionate suffragettes called the Harvard Exit building their home base for many years.

2) In the late ‘60’s / early 1970’s, drug parties took place in the Harvard Exit building.

3) Two other activities really stirred up this entity; Seances & Spirit Communication Classes and the Renovation of the Third Floor.

a) On the third floor during the ‘70’s decade, a woman would hold classes in contacting the spirits, and would lead seances.

b) When the theater changed hands, being bought by Landmark in 1979, a new auditorium was added to the third floor. Building renovation projects often stir up the unseen entities and forces to new levels of awareness to the living.

Experiences With this Thought Form –

a) Alan Blangy, a man not easily scared and a bit of a skeptic concerning ghosts, became the Theater Manager after Janet Wainwright’s tenure, had an uneasy sense that something in the building was hostile to him. This something made itself known one evening when Blangy and his assistant manager were in the process of locking up the theater for the night. Suddenly he heard a loud bang, so he quickly went back inside. He heard people talking in the third floor lobby, so he went up to investigate. While no one was there, he did hear the side exit door open and close. He went over to be sure that the door had closed tightly; it hadn’t. Someone or thing on the other side was pulling against him, stopping him from shutting the door.

He finally did so, but opened the door again with his assistant by his side, so he had support in confronting these “strange people.” Both men opened the door 5 seconds later, but found that no one was there. The third floor metal fire escape would’ve made a lot of noise if anyone had gone down it. After this experience, Blangy no longer felt this hostility, but instead felt welcomed – He had passed the test!

One could conclude that while this Thought Form may be bossy and dictatorial in nature, it can change its opinion, which sounds like the main energy of this Thought Form may be controlled by the passionate suffragette energy mass, whose main purpose is to watch over the building.

b) A group of psychics and parapsychologists spent some time at night hanging out at the theater. Some put a magnet by the exit door mentioned above in the third floor auditorium. They witnessed over a period of weeks a large ball of energy which would appear and move across the auditorium and out the exit door, causing the magnet to revolve wildly.

Still Haunted? Yes indeed. Sharing the building with the living is agreeable to all the unseen spirits and forces residing there, and the living simply accept the manifestations as part of the Harvard Exit Theater.

rivest266 on January 21, 2012 at 8:47 am

This opened on May 21st, 1969. The second screen opened in 1981 as “Top as the Exit” until 1983.

Sean C.
Sean C. on July 18, 2013 at 1:55 pm

They are taking over the midnight screening series from the now closed Egyptian Theatre on July 27 with the Dark Crystal.

markinthedark on December 5, 2014 at 10:03 am

The building has been sold and Landmark will be pulling out in January. Future a cinema is uncertain. This has been quite the news here in Seattle as the Harvard Exit has been a fixture in Seattle for years.


neeb on January 13, 2015 at 6:19 am

Closed now. Last shows were 08 January 2015.


markinthedark on March 26, 2015 at 1:34 pm

SIFF will reopen the Harvard Exit in May for 3 weeks as a venue for the film festival. (It has been a regular venue over the years). There has been tremendous backlash in the community about this theater’s closing and how many of Seattle’s neighborhoods are losing their cultural charm with the tremendous growth happening in the city. Full page articles in many publications calling out the new owner/developer. Perhaps there will be a miracle and the place will be given life again. The last thing the Capitol Hill neighborhood needs is more bar/restaurant and office space. This was a perfectly viable theater and a fixture on Seattle’s movie scene for years. Had SIFF not rescued the Egyptian Capitol Hill would have lost all of its theaters. That in a densely populated area where people walk to restaurants etc and cultural events etc.

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