Sunday, September 12, 2010

Remembering the Vale Theatre (and the floods) in Kent, Washington

This is the theatre where I learned to love movies.  It was built in about 1946, roughly when this photograph was taken.  The only photo I could find was not snapped to show the theatre, but the annual flooding in the waterlogged valley where I grew up.

We went there most weekends. I remember that a ticket was thirty-five cents. It was not a first run theatre, but I remember seeing I Saw What You Did And I Know Who You Are, House of Wax, lots of bad comedy, The Thing, Gorgo, tons of Godzilla, Frankenstein, Three Stooges, The Birds, Night of the Living Dead, and many more.

When I was young, the Kent Valley flooded almost every winter...until the Howard Hanson dam was build far upstream on the Green River.  The dam was completed in about 1942.  Its completion led to the transformation of Kent from a fertile farming area to industrial use, and it eventually became one of the largest concentrations of warehouses in the world. writes "the dam has changed South King County from flooded farmlands to a sea of warehouses, industrial plants, condominiums, and shopping centers."

The White River and the Green River flowed down from the mountains in the east into the valley and formed a confluence near downtown Auburn.  From there, the river traveled north and was met by the Black River (an outflow from Lake Washington that no longer exists) near Tukwila, where the combined rivers become the Duwamish River which flow into Elliott Bay in southwest Seattle.

As it turns out, the earthen dam was not built for the ages and has shown signs of deterioration.  Over the last few years, the Army Corps of Engineers has been frantically reinforcing the dam to prevent a breach and a King-Hell sudden flood of the valley.  My mom still lives there, and the last two winters were spent in a flood watch, and with the residents all buying flood insurance against the deluge they were assured would never happen again.


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