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The Grand Cinema: 15 years of movie memories

The Tacoma independent film house celebrates milestone birthday

THE GRAND CINEMA: "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," "Juno," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "Sideways" are movies that put the movie house on the map.

My birthday, January 2008: Laughing nervously as a crazed Daniel Day-Lewis delivers his now-classic line, "I ... drink ... your ... MILKSHAKE!" in the finale of There Will Be Blood.

Summer 2007: Marveling at the sheer scope of Danny Boyle's sci-fi spectacle Sunshine.

Fall 2005: (Over)acting all over the UWT campus in my friend's short for Tacoma's first 72-Hour Film Competition.

I have The Grand Cinema to thank for making these movie moments happen. The little theater reaches the big 15 officially on April 18, and with such a milestone approaching I can't help but look back. Vivid scenes of The Grand fostering a community's love for local and international cinema replay through my head. I could easily describe more scenes like the ones above to you, but I suspect you already have stacks of memories in which to lose yourself.

"There've been so many," Lu May says. She would know - she's volunteered at the theater for 14 years. You can still spot May at her usual shift once a week, manning the register and serving snacks. From her unique vantage point, she's observed the movie house rise in popularity and prestige throughout the area.

"Now it's a rare occasion when we get somebody who really doesn't know anything about the Grand at all," she notes.    

But maybe, just for kicks, we pretend you've never once stepped inside this particular cinema, never walked across its carpeted lobby and absorbed the soothing hum of volunteers quietly working behind the concession counter, prepping for the next showing's wave of visitors. Which also means the theater's irresistible combination of salty butter (or buttery salt?) wafting from the popcorn machine has never greeted your nostrils. Inconceivable! (That reminds me: free screening of The Princess Bride on May 19.)

If this actually does describe you, then there's no time like the present, right? And The Grand can think of no better present for its approaching celebration than your presence ... oh, and money. But don't sweat that second gift too much, because starting April 4, the non-profit theater will run a different deal during each of the 15 days leading up to the big date. Some of the more enticing offers include: free movies all day for Grand Cinema members on April 9 and 16; discounts on tickets, concessions and clothing; and multiple movie poster giveaways. (Find the full list at

All this culminates in the real party on April 18 at 6 p.m. in the theater's lower lobby. Surrounded by wall art of past films, attendees can reminisce and network over beverages and dessert while the staff salutes those who saved the business from closing its doors in 1997.

"The celebration is about our patrons. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them," says Rachel Marecle. In her five years as director of community development, Marecle has seen both the economic and artistic fronts flourish. She oversaw the construction of a fourth screen, which opened around Christmas 2009, and fondly recalls organizing her first three-day film contest in 2007.

"That just opened my eyes, because I am so blown away by artists," she says. "It was like the perfect way to baptize me into The Grand. ... It was a good spark that really gave me passion for what we do here."

The "what" - a commitment to actively engage the community in all things film - is exactly what 79-year-old Maggie Gray found 16 years ago. In 1991 her only daughter passed away, which for a time halted Gray's volunteer work. That changed when she visited the theater to see the documentary Message to Love. She hasn't left since.

"It was just one of those things," Gray says. "I was ready to do something volunteer again ... and that's how I got to the Grand."

This month we revel in a decade and a half of movie memories, all courtesy of a small theater on Fawcett Avenue. Stop by soon to share your "Grand tale," and help make more for the next 15. 

[The Grand Cinema, 606 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, 253.593.4474]

LINK: The Grand Cinema celebrates 15 years with 15 Deals A Day April 4-18

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