Anchorage Memories VIP Club Podcast
Anchorage Memories Podcast
Anchorage Movie Theatre Memories

Anchorage Movie Theatre Memories

What was your favorite Anchorage movie theater? What movies do you remember seeing? Do you remember the Empress movie theater on 4th Avenue? Let's go to the movies.

During the long, cold dark of winter (not shown above), Anchorage movie theaters offered us a relief from the grip of Cabin Fever.

For two hours or more, you could enjoy a movie or two, if it was a double feature.

In the 1940s, 1950s, and into the early 1960s, you might also see a cartoon, a serial and, or a newsreel just before your movie.

Movies (and television) were our window on the world outside of Alaska.

The Empress Theater

Austin Eugene “Cap” Lathrop (October 1865–July 26, 1950) is considered to be “Alaska’s first home-grown millionaire”.

The Lathrop movie theater group began back in 1916 when Cap Lathrop built the Empress Theater (seen above) located on 4th Avenue near G Street. It was the very first movie theater in Anchorage.

At the time, movies were still silent.

In 1917, a 2/11 Kimball Organ was installed. Jim Orcutt was the organist.

Happily, I recall going to see movies at the Empress back in the early 1950s. The last movie I remember seeing (I think) at the Empress, was the 1953, “Invaders from Mars”.

The Empress closed in the 1950s.


Some years later, KTVA channel 11, Chief Engineer Franklin Butte, used parts of the Empress theater’s Kimball organ in Uncle’s Pizza restaurant, managed by Chuck Martin. It is my understanding that the restaurant closed in the 1970s.

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The 4th Avenue Theatre

While the Empress was a grand theater in its time, the dream of Anchorage’s first movie palace started with construction of the 4th Avenue Theater in 1941.

But the world had other ideas, and World War II caused completion of the theater to be delayed until 1947.

Cap Lathrop really went all out for the 4th Avenue theater.

It was an Art Deco, Streamline Moderne and Art Moderne style building. The theater had a combined seating capacity of 1,100 (including the balcony). And you might not know this, but Cap Lathrop was not convinced that a concession stand was appropriate. Years later, we are all happy that one was added.

The 4th Avenue theater was a wonderful experience for Alaskans, and each of us have special memories of this movie theatre.


What are your memories of the 4th Avenue movie theatre in downtown Anchorage, Alaska?

This 4th Avenue Theatre Memories e-book will bring back fond memories of Anchorage's movie theatre palace.

From the e-book:

“It was the perfect place in Anchorage to see a movie.

Imagine the first time you went to see a movie at Anchorage's famed 4th Avenue Theater.

Just standing there on the sidewalk in front of the theatre, looking at the colorful posters showing you what was playing and what would be playing in the weeks and months to come, was fun.

And as you approached the box office to get your movie tickets, you knew you were about to enter a special place.”

A Few Chapters from the Table of Contents

  • It was our Movie Palace

  • How the 4th Avenue Theatre was Created

  • 4th Avenue Theatre, Hold the Butter

4th Avenue Theatre Memories will remind you of a time when going to see a movie was special.

Take a look at the 4th Avenue Theatre Memories e-book and enjoy.

The Denali Theater

Photo above by Orville Eggen

For those who came to Anchorage sometime after the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake, some folks don’t realize that the Denali Theater wasn’t always located in Spenard.

Its original location was next to a bar on 4th Avenue. But as you can see by the picture above, the Denali sank to its theater marque during the 1964 earthquake. After that, it was relocated to Spenard.

The very first movie, I remember seeing at the Denali on 4th Avenue, ended up being a big mistake.

I was 15 years old at the time.

Me, my sister Anna and my brother Tom were walking downtown with our mom, Louise Dougherty. As we came closer to the Denali Theater, mom said, “hey, do you kids want to see a movie?” of course, we all got very excited and shouted “yes”. Then mom said, OK Mike, you’re the oldest, you get to choose the movie.”

When we found ourselves in front of the Denali, they had a sandwich board on the sidewalk with a display about the current movie they were showing.

I looked it over and said, “this one, Let’s see this one.”

In her wisdom, mom knew it was a mistake, and she said, “are you sure?”

Well, we ended up in the Denali where we saw the 1962 low – budget, black and white movie “The Brain that Wouldn’t Die”.

The movie was tame by today’s standards, but back then it scared me half to death. I think my brother Tom spent most of the time with his hands over his eyes.

The Fireweed Movie Theater

When it first opened in 1965, the Fireweed Theater was the largest movie theater in Alaska.

Among the many movies we remember seeing at the fireweed were “2001 a Space Odyssey”, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and “Herbie the Love Bug”. for the Love Bug”, they displayed a Volkswagen in the lobby, looking like it was the star of the movie.

Seems to me that KBYR radio hosted a screening of the movie “Woodstock” in the Fireweed.

Sundowner Drive-In Movie Theatre

As I recall, the first drive-in movie theater in Anchorage was the Billiken out in Muldoon.

But pictured above is the Sundowner, which was located behind the Fireweed Theater.

Going to an evening movie at a drive-in theater in Anchorage had its challenges. In the summer, it was difficult to see the movie on the screen because of the amount of sunlight.

In the winter, you could see the screen, but you either had to use the little “heater” that was hanging from the speaker post, or you had to start your car and turn on your car heater for a while.

But Alaskan’s are a hearty breed.


Read more about the Anchorage Drive-In Experience and enjoy.

From our North Stars (that’s you)

From “The Anchorage Film Caper” episode about the basement of the badly damaged McKinley building, following the 1964 earthquake.

“I remember my dance group going into that building (and it was creepy) to perform on KTVA channel 11 after the earthquake. We girls were all nervous since it was after the earthquake, and we were all worried about the building staying upright”. 


“A very frightening story. You were very brave to have delivered the film.”


“There are strange things done in the midnight sun…” I remember my teenagers being very spooked by the long, narrow hallway that went from the music rooms to the auditorium at West High. Great storytelling Mike!”


Connect with Us

Time to put away the popcorn, flicks, and jujubes. Oh, those were great movie snacks.

We certainly enjoyed bringing these Anchorage Movie Theatre Memories to you.

What was your favorite Anchorage movie Theatre? You can send us your comments by replying to this email. Or, you can Contact Us to Say, “My favorite movie snack was…”

Are you enjoying the audio commentary in the podcast? Please let us know.

Until Next Time

Mike and Mary


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