Arts and Entertainment

Old Kingston Firehouse becomes town's first movie-plex

The partners behind the Kingston Firehouse — (from left) James Wetter, Dave Wetter, Craig Smith and Rick Lanning. - Bill Mickelson/Staff Photo
The partners behind the Kingston Firehouse — (from left) James Wetter, Dave Wetter, Craig Smith and Rick Lanning.
— image credit: Bill Mickelson/Staff Photo

And perhaps most importantly, Kingston has a place for breakfast again.

A town’s first movie-plex is always kind of a big deal. The North End has been abuzz for weeks, even a few years for some, at the thought of having its own bona fide downtown cinema.

Kingston celebrated its first movie theater Thursday night with a sold-out black-tie soiree, replete with bright lights and limousines, and a red carpet entrance at the old firehouse off highway 104 downtown.

But it seems they’re celebrating more than just the town’s first silver screens.

“There seems to be a lot of excitement about this, way beyond Kingston,” said theater director Craig Smith the week before the opening. “I’ve been noticing it dramatically, trying to put my finger on it all. I think one, there’s a need for it, and it’s cool, and it’s endearing. But it’s also a broader investment of the community to the arts — which is an essential part that a lot of communities are lacking.”

Smith christened the Firehouse screen with a documentary detailing the evolution of film through the cinematographer’s lens called “Visions of Light” Thursday followed by their normal programming, they’ll feature the new Tom Hanks’ intellectual thriller “Angels and Demons” and the indie flick “Sunshine Cleaning” starting Friday.

Smith said he’s hoping to feature a mix of independent and art flicks with occasional mainstream features, midnight showings, classic nights and more. Maybe an Oscar party. He even hopes to someday stage live theater in the bigger of the auditoriums. And that’s just the half of it.

Along with the concessions and ticket stand, the lobby also hosts Smith’s Peninsula Video Store. Next door is the Oak Table Restaurant, which since its opening May 6, has provided Kingston its first steady place for breakfast since the Kingston Inn burned down in 2005.

The Firehouse Partners, a group of four Kingstonites — Dave Wetter and son James, Craig Smith and Rick Lanning — banded together to buy the Firehouse in 2006 with the intention of building a one-room theater with the potential for a second room later on. Once they got into the project, they realized they had a bit of extra space.

“So it came down to ‘What do we need in Kingston?’ ” Dave Wetter said. “And it was pretty obvious that we needed a breakfast restaurant.”

There’s something about having a place to go out to breakfast in your town, Lanning said. It’s huge, almost unquantifiable.

And there’s this overarching attitude in Kingston that seems to drives citizens to take the reins of their own vision for the community, illustrated in spades by the Firehouse Partners. Not even a global financial crisis, which incidentally happened about midstream in the Firehouse Partners planning process, could stop them.

“We were already pretty much into it and under way when that really started to go south, so it was kind of like ‘hang on,’ ” Wetter said. “Now, looking back it was probably a good decision, but if we would’ve been starting when it was all going south, we may not have started at all.”

However, coincidentally, the darkness of the recession has once again illuminated the box office.

“It picked up 16 percent in the fourth quarter of last year,” Smith said of the dramatic increase in nationwide ticket sales. “And you can argue the reasons for that, but if you compare it to the Depression, people want to escape.”

And being the first movie theater in Kingston since they used to show 16 mm films in the upstairs of the old school house back in the 1940s, the Firehouse is in a good position to provide just that for families across the North End who wouldn’t have otherwise made the trek to the Lynwood on Bainbridge or the Rose in Port Townsend.

“I’m not trying to steal from the Lynwood, or from the Rose, I just think that people who haven’t been to the movies will start again,” Smith said.

Similarily, evident by the constant flow of business meetings and leisure breakfasts at the Oak Table next door, those who haven’t had a breakfast joint for years will start going out to breakfast again.

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