"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Give Me the Liberty

Forget Grauman’s Chinese Theater; give me the Liberty Theater in Seward, Alaska, any old time.  It’s my favorite theater in the whole world, at least until the Spanish Riding School in Vienna starts showing flicks.

Even then, I think I’d prefer the Liberty. 

When the muse yanked me out of my truck last Wednesday as I was leaving to go to the Liberty, it was more than just wanting to see a movie.  A couple weeks before that, I’d received a well-circulated e-mail suggesting a variation on flash mobs, only called a “cash mob.”  Let’s all go to the Liberty on February 20 and given Skip and Marie a shot of cash.  Incidentally, we could see Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse.”  Not a bad idea. 

The challenging weather we’ve been having all winter has been keeping a lot of folks indoors, or outdoors shoveling snow.  Perhaps business at the Liberty was off, suggested the e-mail.  Well, as a former small business owner who tried to keep a restaurant and motel open all winter, I know exactly what that’s like.

I fell in love with the Liberty the first time I walked in the front glass door, and that must have been thirty years ago.  No big glaring marquee, just a tasteful sign above the entrance.  Outside the door, a vending machine and a movie poster.  Inside somewhere, an automated machine that answers a phone number I've had memorized for thirty years, and when t clicks on, Skip tells you all about the movie that day, and what's coming up next week.

Once inside, you climb the carpeted stairs to the tiny ticket booth, usually manned by Skip, who with his wife Marie, is the owner, and also the projectionist.  General admission, $7; kids and seniors, $5.  For this night, I lopped twenty years off my real age, and paid as a “general admission.”

I continued through the small lobby, paneled all around with African ribbon stripe mahogany.

The line at the concession stand was long, so I went into the auditorium.  The first time I was here, I was amazed that they were selling Green River.  

One night Marie set my husband's popcorn on top of the cash register.  When he reached for it, he accidentally knocked it over, filling the cash drawer with buttered popcorn.  He was forever after embarrassed to order popcorn from her, so I had to do it and hand it to him..

 Once inside I was struck again by the resemblance to a humongous Quonset hut, a building with which I am very familiar.  I lived in one for several years after I first came to Alaska in 1948, and have a bit of a special affinity for them.

The choice of seats is another thing I love about the Liberty.  No fancy-dancy stadium seating with cup holders and such.  No, but the Liberty has several seats available for your selection:

There are the cushy plush seats:

The wooden back seats:

The Naugahyde seats:

More plush seats:

 My favorites are the plush seats that lean back.

There are five or six different kinds of seats here, as if the original builder bought seats-on-sale wherever he could find them.  What a kick.  No false pretense here, but simple down to earth small business.

Plus, there’s a real stage that is used occasionally for special events.

Skip isn’t sure how many seats are in the auditorium.  He thinks there are between 250 and 260.  On this special night, almost all were filled.

Marie and her helper at the concession stand dispensed popcorn and sodas and candy bars long after the movie had started.  “Great night,” I said to Marie.  She started to reply, then teared up and clamped her mouth shut.

Skip, on the other hand, was smiling and quite talkative.  He’s been in the movie business since the 1930s, beginning in Kodiak where his father owned a theater, and here at the Liberty since 1957.  He met Marie in Kodiak, when she worked at the theater for his dad.

I can tell you this for sure:  Skip and Marie are two of the most loved folks in Seward.  Remember that popular TV show called “Cheers?”  And the theme song with the words, “where everybody knows your name?” 

Same thing at the Liberty.


  1. I've always loved small towns...I guess that's why I loved spending summers as a kid with an aunt and uncle who lived in a small railroad town in Idaho. Everything was in walking distance if you didn't have a bike. Miss those days a bit. Love you story.

  2. Sounds like an extra special evening in an extra special place for extra special people. Thanks for taking me there.

  3. When I was in high school in the 50's I worked for Skip and Marie first as an usherette in our cute little uniforms and flashlight to show people to their seats and then in the concession stand (which was a big promotion!!) I once burned the popcorn and was sooo emabarrsed. I was so afraid of being fired. However as always they were so understanding and nice I cried. Love those people so much and miss The Liberty. Ewana Jackson

  4. Wonderful! I sometimes get to Seward for my job. Win-win if I get to go to the Liberty while I'm there on my next trip. It's on my calendar, now.

  5. Is Seward where the cruise leave from? Having to take the tunnel to get there?

  6. Karen: No, that would be Whittier. But, cruise ships do dock in Seward also.

  7. My hubby and I watched a movie there when we were in Seward for a weekend last winter. I love that theater! It feels like you're stepping back in time when you walk in those doors. The lights, the stage, the curtains, the concession stand, just everything. It almost feels like we were walking on a movie set. It's nice that the cash mob could help them out. I hope they are still around for our next trip to Seward.

  8. Aaawww! A blast from the past! I last went there.. WITH YOU! To see Amedaeus.

  9. I lived in the Liberty Theatre building for most of 1982 when working for KRXA, the lone radio station (950-AM) in town back then. Skip & Marie took me in as a member of the family. Great memories. i am thrilled to hear that they and the Liberty are still going strong 30 years later. It is great yo see your pictures!

  10. I am so thankful for this posting. the waves of nostalgia are tsunami sized. I wonder if krxa is still in the building. in the perfect world Andy Small men and I wouldn't take a trip up there this summer and talk the way into doing a couple of board shifts. skip and Marie, I miss you so. I still have a krxa bowling shirt I believe the name on the pocket is "Skip."