Anchorage Pioneer "Cap" Lathrop
Do you remember going to the 4th Avenue Theater? And in the 1950s, you may have gone to the Empress Theater. Both were built by Cap Lathrop.
Anchorage pioneer Austin Eugene “Cap” Lathrop inspecting a blueprint.
You may have heard his name before, and you may even remember that for years, all the theaters in Anchorage were built and operated by the Lathrop corporation.
But as a pioneer, Cap Lathrop, was involved in many successful businesses.
1895 saw the beginning of Lathrop’s Alaskan adventures. Those included a shipping and freighting company that would later serve the Klondike gold strike.
In 1897, Lathrop obtained his Master Mariner’s license. He then became the Captain of a steam schooner he already owned called the L.J. Perry. And with that, he earned the nickname Captain or “Cap” Lathrop.
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The First Wedding in Valdez
On February 18, 1901, Cap Lathrop and Lillian McDowell were married at the residence of Reverend D.W. Crane. That wedding was the first ever in Valdez.
Lathrop Movie Theaters
The Empress Theatre on 4th Avenue in Anchorage
Cap Lathrop actually started his chain of movie theatres (he always used the British spelling “theatres” for his movie houses), in the early 1910s.
It all started with the Empress in Cordova, Alaska which was first opened in 1911. He also built Anchorage’s first movie theater, The Empress in 1916.
From 1941 to 1947 he built Anchorage’s Fourth Avenue Theatre. It took that long because of World War Two. In 1927, he built the Empress and the Lacy Street theatres in Fairbanks.
While the first radio station in all of Alaska and Anchorage was KFQD, Lathrop started the second radio station in Anchorage, KENI.
May 2, 1948 marked the very first broadcast by KENI radio. Both KENI and KFAR radio in Fairbanks were operated under the banner, Midnight Sun Broadcasting, with Cap Lathrop as the company president.
A Movie Studio in Downtown Anchorage?
In the summer of 1922, Lathrop started the Alaska Motion Picture Corporation.
The first (and only) movie they produced was a 1923 silent movie production titled “The Cheechahcos”.
In November of that year, a 7,000 square foot movie studio was constructed at the end of Third Avenue in Anchorage.
On March 8, 1923, the actors who were starring in the movie, Eva Gordon, William Dills and Albert Van Antwep, (as well as others) arrived in Anchorage from Oregon, New York and Hollywood. A “town-wide” party was held in their honor. It was billed as a “free dance and jollification at the moviedome.”
Scenes for The Cheechahcos” were filmed in Anchorage, Mount McKinley and Girdwood where they recreated the famous Chilkoot Pass.
When the movie was completed, it played to packed houses all around the Territory of Alaska.
But in it’s stateside showings, it was not a commercial success.
Critics called the plot “hokey” and the title “unpronounceable.” Stateside audiences agreed.
The Cheechahcos was the first feature length movie ever made entirely in Alaska. But Cap Lathrop never produced another movie.
The moviedome studio was converted into an exhibition center for the Western Alaska Fair in 1924. It later served as the Anchorage Community Center.
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Austin Eugene “Cap” Lathrop
Living to the age of 84, Lathrop died on July 26, 1950 following an accident at his Healy River coal mine.
He was laid to rest in the family plot at Forest Lawn in Seattle, Washington.
His Anchorage, and indeed Alaska legacy, was vast. And, like so many others, who traveled to Anchorage in the days when our town was nothing more than a raggedy tent city on the muddy banks of Ship Creek, Cap Lathrop will long be remember.
What movies did you see at either the 4th Avenue theatre or the Empress?
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