About the Clyde

More then 75 years of showing movies, South Whidbey-style

Langley's First Street in 1923, fourteen years before the Clyde was built.

Langley’s First Street in 1923, fourteen years before the Clyde was built.

The Clyde Theatre was built in 1937–the height of the Depression–by Norman and Hazel Clyde. Although a lot more humble than the grand movie palaces being built in the big cities, the new theater was greeted warmly by folks on South Whidbey. The first movie to show at The Clyde when it opened September 16, 1937, was You Can’t Have Everything, starring Don Ameche. The discovery when screening the first reel of that film for The Clyde’s 50th anniversary party that the last line on the reel was “Just call me Blake,” provoked more than a few discussions about karma.

The community-minded Norm and Hazel ran The Clyde Theatre, as well as Clyde Motors and the Clyde Garage, for decades. Vandalism and other bad behavior caused Norm, then Town Sheriff too, to close the theater for a while in the 1960s. It was being leased and run on a very limited schedule by a local banker when Blake Willeford bought the theater from the Clydes in February of 1972.

Blake was newly out of three years in the Punjab of India with the Peace Corps, and really knew nothing about running a movie theater. His realtor aunt, Margaret Kish, somehow convinced him it was the perfect small business for a guy with two years of graduate school in philosophy under his belt. He experimented a lot over the next few years, showing a Shakespeare festival one winter, and adding foreign and art movies to the slate the next. He talked local artists into designing the printed calendars, which soon became standard décor on South Whidbey refrigerators.

Clyde theatre and garage Cherry III Mag copy

The new Clyde Theatre next to Clyde’s Garage

Blake added a stage for live performances of musical acts like street troubadour Jim Page, Country Joe McDonald, and Eric Tingstad, and the excellent productions of Island Theatre and FOOLS. Hundreds of local children have also made their stage debuts at The Clyde in the plays and revues of Martha Murphy’s Whidbey Children’s Theatre (including our own son Brook in 1986).

Lynn started as a sweeper and slowly worked her way up to Sunday night ticket seller, then girlfriend and bookkeeper, and finally became Blake’s wife and business partner in 1978. With marriage came the power to change the ugly colors of The Clyde, whose interior featured tan acoustic wallboard and red plastic leatherette seats with hard wooden backs, and whose exterior was an awful mustard color. After a few different color schemes The Clyde segued into its current soft rose interior and teal, aqua, rose, and purple exterior (paint choices that horrified the Design Review Board of the time).

The Clyde became a bowling alley temporarily when the movie Dixie Lanes was filmed in Langley in 1986.

Filming of the movie Dixie Lanes briefly turned The Clyde into a bowling alley

Blake did an extensive seismic retrofit of the building in 1992 to make it safer for everyone. In 2002 the original 65-year-old seats found new homes on South Whidbey porches as more comfortable chairs were installed. Blake continually upgrades the equipment at The Clyde as well. He installed Dolby surround sound and switched to xenon bulbs from the old carbon-arc power supplies in 1985, and upgraded to Dolby Digital Sound in 2000. He added a commercial-quality digital projector and BluRay DVD player in 2009 so the theater could be rented during off-hours for conferences, parties, classes, etc. In 2011 he hauled out the 35mm projectors and converted the theater to digital cinema with the latest 7.1 Dolby digital sound. Now we can show movies from hard drive, DVD, and BluRay, as well as slide shows, videos, presentations, and other material from a laptop computer.