In 1892, Angelo Pecchia was born a farmer’s son in Italy. No one could have guessed he’d open theaters in the United States — especially since the first motion picture camera was yet to be invented.
Coming to America
Angelo came to the U.S. when his was 16. He performed countless jobs — from railroad worker to laying keel for the Liberty Ships of WWI. But when a man owing Angelo money paid off his debt with a theater in Orting, Angelo’s destiny was set.
Angelo, who had never seen a roll of film, was a quick learner. By 1922, he opened another theater in Kapowsin and bought the Eatonville theater from Frank and Mac Van Eaton.
By the 40s Angelo was also operating additional theaters in Randle, Mineral, Morton, Steilacoom, Old Town and Salkum, as well as the Narrows Theater in Tacoma, which he built in 1949.
During the 1950s Angelo was constantly on the road. He traveled to Seattle twice a week to pick up new films and to and from the Narrows every night, while his family operated the Eatonville theater.
The Ups and Down
The movies and the world changed dramatically over the decades. When Angelo started out, movies were silent (the first talkie didn’t come to Eatonville until 1930) and Angelo hired local pianists to accompany the films.
In the 1930s when Angelo returned from Italy with a new bride, the country was in the throws of the Great Depression. The man who had been handling the Eatonville for Angelo had closed the doors because he couldn’t make a profit.
Angelo immediately reopened, and placed his new bride — who couldn’t speak a word of English — at the door while he ran the projector. In a 1950s interview, Regina said she didn’t look back on that time fondly. But Angelo said, “She learned to talk fast.”
By 1942 the economy had improved and Angelo and Regina built the Roxy theater that stands today. But then theaters took another hit — television.
“Everyone in the movie business got scared,” said Regina in a 1979 Dispatch interview. “Lots of people sold out or closed down. People did stay home when it was new, but they started coming back. We didn’t have anywhere to turn, so we stayed open and kept working.”
Another challenge was power failures. “The power would go off a lot and we had to refund everyone’s money when it did,” said Regina.
But it was all worth it. In 1977, after nearly six decades of showing movies, the couple closed their theater doors. The farm boy from Italy and his wife had had an incredible run.
Images courtesy of Pat VanEaton and The Dispatch.
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