When the Garland Theatre opened in November of 1945, it was the premier movie house in the west.
According to the Spokane Sentinel newspaper, “there is nothing like it on the Pacific coast, even in Los Angeles, it is 20 years ahead of Spokane.” One of the main attractions for youngsters at the opening was the snack bar, said to be “an innovation in the field and an import directly from Hollywood.”
Showing on opening night was a double feature: It’s a Pleasure (starring Sonja Henie) and Double Exposure. The luxurious lobby was filled with baskets of flowers from studio well-wishers along with congratulatory telegrams from Bing Crosby, Cary Grant, Dorothy Lamour, Bob Hope, Ginger Rogers and Eddie Cantor. The lobby floors were covered in rose colored carpet, brown oak walls and a purple and lavender ceiling set above center columns of dark purple tile.
The large auditorium featured stadium-style seating and an original capacity near 1,000 — currently 630, as the seats have gotten larger — and the rows were extra-wide, designed so that people could leave their seats without disturbing others. The walls were powder blue and Italian red and said to feature “germicidal lamps” to keep the air purified.
An innovation in marketing at the time was to have a record and gift shop at the theatre, and the Garland was no exception: as the music faded from the screen, a slide was shown informing patrons that they could purchase the music they just heard right there at the theatre.
The Garland closed briefly in the early 1960’s with the owner saying that it “had everything but customers.” According to the Spokesman Review it survived a brief period as an X-rated movie house and then stood empty from May of 1986 to November 1988, when Don Clifton reopened it as the first discount theatre in Spokane. The concept caught on, and 1995, The Garland marked its 50th anniversary with a 3-D showing of Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Current owner Katherine Fritchie purchased the theatre in 1999 and has been working to restore the theatre to its original splendor and modernize the sound and projection systems while retaining the family-friendly atmosphere and price.