The Rose Bud Movie Palace

It was hardly a “movie palace”, but that’s what it was called — the Rose Bud Movie Palace.

It was constructed of plywood and two-by-fours, with no real architecture and no glitzy veneer. The seats were mismatched, with a few chairs rummaged from an older theater that had closed, a few folding chairs, and a row of benches made with wood, hammer, and nails. It’s been a long time so I’m not absolutely certain, whether the screen was the kind you set up and pulled down, like in high school science class, or whether it was literally a bedsheet pulled taut over a wall.

The Rose Bud opened in 1974, in what had previously been a very small storefront shop in a decrepit old building on a semi-scummy block in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. With one screen and only 88 seats, it was often described as the smallest operating movie theater west of the Mississippi. When it opened I was still a kid, so I missed the theater's first few years. It closed in 1981, and by then I'd been to the Rose Bud many times.

They didn't show the movies you'd see at a mall multiplex. The Rose Bud specialized in old movies from the 1930’s and 1940’s, movies you couldn't see anywhere else — DVDs and streaming video hadn't yet been invented, and even VHS was expensive and limited.

Sometimes they showed the ‘standard’ classics, but often they screened esoteric stuff that was truly hard to find in that era. The first film I saw at the Rose Bud was The Maltese Falcon – not the 1941 version with Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre, but the 1931 version with Ricardo Cortez and Otto Matieson — and it’s better than the Bogey remake, if you ask me. 

Wild guess, I was there a hundred nights, and I always came alone, because nobody in my world wanted to watch old movies. I asked my girlfriend to come along for a Carole Lombard double bill, but she said "No, that neighborhood smells like pee." Her loss — it was a great night at the Rose Bud, but she was right about the smell. It's a bum neighborhood, and sometimes it had a scent — but the theater never smelled like pee.

Seeing a movie there was magic. The tickets were reasonably priced, screenings were usually accompanied by era-matching cartoons, shorts, and newsreels, and the proprietor — a guy named Dennis Nyback — was always happy to talk about movies while he was selling popcorn between the shows. He had worked in ordinary theaters as a projectionist, and I think he was still working a day job to support the theater as his hobby.

The Rose Bud closed in 1981, a victim of VCRs and perhaps of the owner’s changing mood. I've seen thousands of old movies since then, on VCR and DVD and streaming, and sometimes in magnificent fully-restored movie palaces older than the movies themselves. But I've never been to another theater like the Rose Bud Movie Palace.

Mr Nyback, the owner, went on bigger and better things, operating several theaters in Seattle, then New York City, and later Portland. He's earned a Wikipedia page for his film-related work and travels, and yesterday I discovered that he publishes a blog, where I've already spent an hour, and I'm going back after this is posted.

Thanks, Dennis. It was always worth more than the three paltry bucks you charged.

Republished 4/28/2023  

Addendum, 2023: Dennis Nybeck died in 2022, and I thought I'd reprint this to say toodle-doo and thanks.

His website is now offline, which angers me maybe more than his death. People die, that's the way life works, but someone made a conscious choice to kill Dennis's website, and I it probably wasn't Dennis.


  1. A movie theater as a hobby, sounds like a great theater & hobby.

    1. That was my daydream, years and years ago. Called it "pulling a Nyback." I'll never have the money, of course, but more obviously, I'd never really want strangers coming into my movie palace.

  2. What's with the republished articles recently? I like reading them but I'm always surprised to see that they were already published once, because I don't remember any of them. Is my memory just bad or did you publish them elsewhere at first?

  3. In my many months of unemployment I grew accustomed to trying to write two pieces daily. That's nigh impossible with a job and commute in the way, so when I don't have anything in me I've been grabbing things off the shelf.

    The answer to your second question is easier and more obvious. Lots of what I write might be enjoyable but it's also forgettable.


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