History of the Sunset Theatre

The Sunset Theatre is located in Connell, a small town in Eastern Washington. It was built in 1952 by August Aubert and was originally called the Aubert Theatre. The name was changed to The Sunset Theatre in the late 1950s because of several damaged marquee letters and also the fact that people had trouble pronouncing "Aubert" correctly. The word "Sunset" was made from "Aubert" by replacing only three letters on the marquee. In 1952 Connell had a population of less than 500 people. The Theatre was designed for a seating capacity of 500, but during construction it was decided that 384 seats would be plenty. The extra seats were never added. Connell currently has a population of about 4,000 and the current seating capacity of The Sunset Theatre is 268.

The Theatre first opened on September 4th, 1952. The first movie played was "The Wild North" with Stewart Granger & Cyd Charisse. In the early days of the theatre, before television had become widely popular there were shows six days a week, and two features per week. Cartoons and newsreels were also part of the show. Installed in the theatre was the latest technology in picture and sound. The theatre had two projectors, which was required of all theatres due to the limitations of the light source of the time. Since each reel of a movie was only about 20 minutes long, the two projectors took turns during the movie. The theatre also had the capability of showing dual projector 3D movies by synchronizing both projectors to run at the same time. This type of 3D movie could never be much longer than 40 minutes though and they soon stopped making them that way. The Theatre also had an elaborate sound system that was the very latest in technology. It was actually two sound systems connected by a complex switching system. The theatre could play standard monaural movies or the latest in four channel magnetic stereo films. Unfortunately production of magnetic stereo films didn't last long so for nearly 4 decades the sound in the Sunset theatre was provided by one small amplifier and only one of the 3 speakers behind the screen. Most of the old sound system sat unused until 1993. At that time a new four channel sound system was installed which made use of all the existing speakers in the ceiling and behind the screen. In 2002 a subwoofer and 12 additional surround speakers were added.

August Aubert sold the theatre in the 1970s and it went through a series of owners. A video store was added in the 1980s in the space that was at one time a Cable TV Office and Dentist's Office. The current owners, Dirk and Jeri Reinauer bought the theatre and video store in 1992. Some of the seats in the theatre are the originals as is the Manley Aristocrat Popcorn Machine, which still puts out a great batch of fresh popcorn for every show.

In May 2012 The film projection system in place since 1952 was replaced with a brand new Digital Projection System. The most extensive upgrade to the theatre ever included a new screen, new digital projector, server and digital sound processor. Two new amplifiers were also added to acommotate the additional sound channels. The theatre now has an amazingly bright clear picture and 7.1 Dolby Digital Sound. ..and RealD 3D!

For information about our recent Digital Conversion click here.

The entire center section of seats was replaced with 16 recliners and 86 rockers in 2016.

For most of the year the theatre is open three nights a week (Friday to Sunday),
and during the summer months it is open five nights (Friday to Tuesday). Showtime is 7:30pm for all shows.

Dirk and Jeri Reinauer would like to thank the people of Connell for supporting their local Movie Theatre!

Here are some historical pictures of the Sunset Theatre:

August Aubert in the booth in 1952.

The original Concession Stand.

Concessionaire Lucille Griggs during the grand opening in 1952.

Original projectionist Tim Brookshire during the grand opening.

Going to the movies in 1953.

This photo is from a Spokesman Review article, February 15, 1954.
The cost of the paper was seven cents.
Provided by Bruce Bowen who took the credit even though it was actually BJ who provided it.

The Original "Synchro-Screen" with "wings."
More about the amazing Synchro-Screen from Popular Mechanics January 1953 here.

This replacement screen was required early on to accomodate Cinemascope films.

On February 21, 1956 sandbags couldn't keep the rising floodwater from entering the theatre.
Most of the seats were left underwater.
The name "Aubert" was still on the marquee, and City Hall was right next door.

The North end of Columbia Avenue was completely underwater.

After the first flood and cleanup.

The second flood of 1956 (April or May) was not as bad.

With their mom in the lobby, Duane & Keith Harris check out the cleanup outside.
That's August on the right.

Helping in the booth in 1963 are Don & Larry Covault.

Here is a picture from the mid 1960s.

This movie schedule from 1969 was provided by Gloria Harper.
To see a larger version click here.

Lana McIntire & Orin Withers at work in 1972.

Joanne & Mary Omlin in the 1970s.
Thanks to August Aubert (1926-2014) for providing almost all of the great pictures above!

Heidi Leroue and D.J. Livingstone helping Jeri on a busy night in 1992.

Jessica helping out in 1993.

This rainbow found the theatre in 1995. The pot of gold has not yet been located.

Coleen Keitges in 1999: "Large with butter? No problem!"

...and Lisa Page

2002 marked the theatre's 50th year as well as the 10th year of its current ownership.
Thank you for supporting your local movie theatre!

Original owner August Aubert takes tickets as another former owner, Yvonne Rayment stands by during our 50th Anniversary Celebration September 4th, 2002.

Brian Rayment whose family owned the theatre in the 1970s
dropped by in 2010 with his restored Ford Galaxie that belonged to his mother back then.

Film Projection

Digital Projection 2012

Old Seats

New Seats 2016

It was good to meet Orin Withers (in some of the old pictures above) during the 2016 Fall Festival!

A Brief History of Connell