Eatonville theater — from Silent films to Star Wars

Eatonville Theater ca 1924
Eatonville Theater ca 1924

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.

Angelo and Regina Pecchia, 1979
Angelo and Regina Pecchia, 1979

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.”

The Roxy
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.”

Roxy Theater 2011
Roxy Theater 2011

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.

Click on images to enlarge.




Mill Strike, Shooting and Bombing in 1935

Eatonville Lumber Company
Eatonville Lumber Company

In 1935 a timberworker’s strike was called and all the mills and camps around Eatonville closed down.

Mineral was a hotbed of uncompromising striking and a man was shot on Main Street during a bitter demonstration against workers of the North Fork Logging Company.

Someone put dynamite in Russell Krones’ car on August 6. The blast tore holes through the roof of the garage. Krones was employed at the Wheeler-Osgood Mill and folks believed the strikers were the ones who bombed his car.

After the strike was over, the Tacoma Lumber and Sawmill Workers Union refused to be associated with anyone guilty of terrorism, vandalism or intimidation committed during the strike. Although the mills started operating August 15, they were still picketed. (History of Southeastern Pierce County.)

Weyerhaeuser's Camp 5 Vail — 1938
Weyerhaeuser's Camp 5 Vail — 1938

Photos courtesy of Williams family.

Click on images to enlarge.








Eatonville Lumber Company, shut down by a strike in 1935
Eatonville Lumber Company, shut down by a strike in 1935

Eatonville’s First Doctor – A.W. Bridge

A.W. Bridge's office
A.W. Bridge had his office above what is today Kirk’s Pharmacy

What do Eatonville and Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital have in common? Answer: Dr. A. W. Bridge.

In 1909 a young doctor, Albert Wellington (A.W.) Bridge, schooled at the Vermont Medical School, arrived in Eatonville carrying his bicycle and all his earthy possessions. He’d lost his father to a logging accident and his late mother had worked in a sawmill. Now he was focused on providing services to logging camps and lumber mills.

The town was in need of a doctor and T.C. Van Eaton offered to build him a clinic if he’d set up shop in Eatonville.

Taking Care of Loggers
A.W. settled in and got right to work. He set up clinics in Kapowsin, Mineral, Ashford and Morton. He also established one of the first medical plans for loggers and lumber company employees — $1 a month for medical care

The doctor didn’t just provide care to loggers. You could find him traveling out to farms — first by horse and buggy and then by car — to deliver babies and care for the sick and injured. Despite this incredibly busy schedule, he still found time to serve as Eatonville’s mayor in 1919.

Cruiser Cafe
A.W. Bridge’s home — currently (2011) the Cruiser Cafe

Estate Goes to Children
When Dr. Bridge passed away in 1949 he surprised many by leaving a half million dollar estate ($4.5 million in today’s dollars). He said all his money was to go to a group or hospital for children, but there was one stipulation. It must be named after his mother and inspiration, Mary Bridge.

The years between 1909 and 1949 were filled with lots of colorful stories, which will be the subject of future columns. Until then, take a look around Eatonville. Dr. Bridge’s footprint is still here.

• The annual Eatonville Country Christmas bizarre, which raises money for Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, is put on by the A. W. Bridge Orthopedic Guild.

• Dr. Bridge’s home still stands. Today it’s more commonly known as the Cruiser Café.

• The doctor had his offices above Kirk’s Pharmacy.

• He also practiced at the old Eatonville hospital, which is now a residence across from the Eatonville High School.