At 75, Admiral poised for another big opening

The Admiral provided curb space — and kept its doors and restroom facilities open — for Bremerton's Armed Forces Day parades. (Photo: Bremerton Sun)
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BREMERTON — Brian Johnson laughs — and winces a little at the same time — when he remembers perhaps the smallest turnout in the Admiral Theatre's subscription-season history.

"It was 44 people, I think," says Johnson, the Bremerton theater's executive director since 2012, but a constant for nearly all of its second life as a variety venue run by a nonprofit foundation. "It was the Seattle Opera Young Artists program, my first season here."

That was during the 1998-99 season, the renovated Admiral's second in operation as a show house. It had been a movie theater from its first opening in 1942 until it was shuttered in 1989, remaining dark until a $4.2 million renovation got it back into shipshape. It opened for business as the host of annual series of concerts, plays and other live performances in 1997, under original executive director Ruth Enderle.

For math wonks, that makes 75 years since the venue first opened as a movie house. Erika Nickrenz of the Eroica Trio, the chamber group who played here twice in the mid-2000s, spent part of her formative years in Bremerton, and remembered that her Aunt Carla "used to take tickets there, and she met the man who would be her husband there."

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There's a lot of other history there, too, for a lot of other people, from longtime Kitsap residents to artists who stop by to tread the Admiral's stage every few years as part of its growing second-life legacy.

The opening of the Admiral's 2017-18 season is significant for more than just that 75-year milestone. It comes at the end of a summer-long renovation project, $1.2 million worth, that represents the theater's first major sprucing-up since that 1998 opening.

"This is the first time in those 21 years that we've done anything major," Johnson said of the renovation. "We just figured it was time."

It'll allow the Admiral to celebrate its diamond-and-gold anniversary, a run dating back to World War II, when Bremerton businessman and community leader Ike Parker spearheaded formation of the Admiral Theatre Foundation, morphing the nonprofit Flagship City group, which Enderle was heading at the time, into the foundation.

"The water was coming in through the roof," Enderle said in a 2012 Sun story noting her retirement, referring to her first visit with Parker to the dilapidated theater, in 1990. "We looked around the inside of the building, and we just couldn't imagine how it could possibly be worse."


It'll allow the Admiral to celebrate its diamond-and-gold anniversary, a run dating back to World War II, when Bremerton businessman and community leader Ike Parker spearheaded formation of the Admiral Theatre Foundation, morphing the nonprofit Flagship City group, which Enderle was heading at the time, into the foundation.

"The water was coming in through the roof," Enderle said in a 2012 Sun story noting her retirement, referring to her first visit with Parker to the dilapidated theater, in 1990. "We looked around the inside of the building, and we just couldn't imagine how it could possibly be worse."

In its dinner-and-a-show configuration, with tables on the main floor and theater-style seating in the loges and balcony, the Admiral accommodates about 800. In recent seasons, sellouts or near-capacity crowds for favored repeat visitors like Arlo Guthrie and Jake Shimabukuro, or one-time passers-through like Joan Rivers of Garrison Keillor are not uncommon.

"The floor is pretty much sold out to season-ticket holders," Johnson said. "But more people are starting to find out that the balcony seats are a great value, so we're selling more of those for the whole season, too."

Like Enderle, Johnson knew next to nothing about booking talent when he came on board. She sent him to a showcase event his first year, and they quickly formed a strategy that helped grow the number and variety of shows available pretty much year over year.


It hasn't always been easy. Well, it hasn't ever been easy, especially in a region with lots of venues in competition for the same level of attractions the Admiral likes to book.

But Johnson has become better at, so to speak, hitting the curveball.

"We had one time when Jake (Shimabukuro) was in Spokane, and the weather was terrible," Johnson said. "There was some question about whether or not we'd be able to get him here. We rented a four-wheeler to go pick him up if it came to that, but it turned out we didn't need to."

He remembered the 2005 concert by Tiempo Libre, who made the trip despite their Florida homes being "wiped out" by Hurricane Katrina.

"They came anyway, and they didn't know what they were going to find when they got back home," he said. "They did a great show, and afterward the audience took up a collection to help them out."

Illness and even death of artists have caused schedule juggling, too, but Johnson said, "We always figure something out."