Who we are and the rich history of the Capitol Theater
The Olympia Film Society (OFS) was formed in 1980 as a nonprofit 501(c)(3). Its mission is “to enliven and enrich our community by presenting and fostering the development of independent and underrepresented film, music and allied arts.” OFS began leasing the Capitol Theater in 1990 and purchased the Capitol Theater in 2010. The 762-seat-theater, built in 1924 and an Olympia landmark, has been in continuous use as a theater. In the minds of many patrons, the Capitol Theater is an inextricable part of OFS’ identity.
To present film, music, and art that engages our community, encourages volunteerism and ensures preservation of the Capitol Theater.
Weekly Film Series
OFS presents the best award-winning, international, and independent films. Additional special, one-time-only screenings are also presented, featuring question-and-answer sessions with visiting filmmakers and mixed-media performance artists.
Members are invited to provide film programming suggestions by leaving ideas in the suggestion box in the theater lobby and by voting on member movie polls (you must be signed up to receive weekly email). Additionally, members can email movie suggestions directly to our Program Director.
Annual Olympia Film Festival
Since 1983, OFS has hosted the annual Olympia Film Festival, a ten-day around-the-clock extravaganza of films, filmmakers and film-related guests, special performances, discussion panels, and educational workshops. While the festival is well known and respected throughout the film world, the effort that goes into making it happen is completely local, from the many hours and days put in by our dedicated volunteers to the generous support of local businesses. The festival attracts between 5,000 and 7,000 attendees each year.
Live Music and Special Events
As part of our mission to provide new opportunities for the community to engage with the arts, OFS is committed to bringing live music and performance art to the South Sound. We seek out musical performers and performance artists of all stripes to reflect the diverse cultural interests of our membership and our audience. If you are interested in renting the Capitol Theater for your next concert, special event, or private use, visit our booking/rental page for rates and availability contact our Program Director.
Art in the Mezzanine
Art in the Mezzanine, curated by artists from around the Olympia area, provides a space for local visual artists to present their work in the mezzanine, alcoves, and halls of the Capitol Theater. The art space also supports local artists by producing the wildly popular annual holiday arts and crafts fair, Duck the Malls. To learn more contact the Art Space Curator.
Benefits & Rentals
The Olympia Film Society extends its support to local, community-based non-profit organizations by offering the use of the Capitol Theater for a reduced rate so that those organizations can utilize the facility for fundraising and outreach events. If you are interested in holding a benefit screening for your organization contact our Program Director
Board of Directors
The Olympia Film Society has a dedicated Board of Directors who volunteer much of their time to supporting the staff, events, and fundraising activities that keep our organization healthy and successful. To learn more about who is on our board or to join the board and help make a difference in your community, please contact the OFS Board Vice President firstname.lastname@example.org and follow the link above.
History of the Capitol Theater
Original owners E.A. Zabel and William Wilson were prominent purveyors of family entertainment in Olympia since 1909. The Capitol Theater, built in 1924, was the crowning glory of a succession of local theaters owned by Zabel. The two commissioned local architect Joseph Wohleb to design a “monument to amusement lovers in Olympia,” a luxurious “picture palace” that was designed for orchestras to accompany silent films.On October 7th, 1924, the Capitol Theater opened its doors to an audience of over one thousand people who came for an evening of festive entertainment including organ music, song, dance, movies, and community networking. For the next half-century, the Zabel family operated the theater. The theater was used primarily as a film venue and as a home for vaudeville. In the early days, many films premiered here, including Tugboat Annie, Ring of Fire, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, as well as many performances by famous musicians and singers like Judy Garland.
Built in the Mission Revival/Beaux Arts style, the building features glazed terra cotta and circular leaded art glass insets depicting the Greek Muses designed by Northwest glass artist Raymond Nyson. Terracotta masks designed by Polish illustrator and mask maker W.T. Benda flank the backlit stained glass. The interior above the massive stage was crested with a large “C” which you can still see today, and also depicted the Pegasus you see on the exterior of the theater along with golden angels and horns. Unfortunately, a fire in 1937 caused extensive damage, and much of the interior was removed and replaced.
The theater originally had two manual Smith theater pipe organs installed in 1926. According to records, the organs were moved to Shoreline, WA in 1959 and were eventually broken up into parts and sold to a man in Twin Falls, ID. On each side of the stage are two niches which originally displayed three-dimensional replicas of the State Capitol Building. Currently, we fondly call these niches “The Gardens”, and they are still used today to display works by local artists.
In November of 2009, Mayor Doug Mah, the City of Olympia, and the Olympia Heritage Commission presented the Olympia Film Society with the Historic Preservation Award for replacing a rusty and dilapidated 1940s marquee with a newly fabricated replica of one of the Capitol Theater’s original 1930s marquees, simultaneously revealing and relighting the stained glass muses that had remained hidden for over 70 years. Today, as you pass by, you may still be able to catch a glimpse of what the theater was like in its younger days!
The Capitol Theater is by far one of Olympia’s most treasured landmarks and finest structures. Since 1986, the Olympia Film Society has been its sole tenant and caretaker. Other past owners include local pipe organist and entertainer Andrew Crow; property investor Gary Holgate of Chehalis; and on September 1st, 2010 the Olympia Film Society purchased the theater. We continue to carry on the tradition of the Capitol Theater and its legacy of hosting movies (most on 35mm film), concerts, live stage performances, and work toward the renovation and preservation of this historic piece of Olympia!
Source: Puget Sound Theater Organ Society, Eugene Nye, The Olympian, UW Archives, Audrey Henley, Shanna Stevenson, Olympian, Historical Vignettes of Olympia, State Capitol Museum.