Things That Go Away


I moved to Seattle in the fall of 1989, crashing on the couch of the only friend I ever made in college. Months later, we started renting a house with two other guys. All three of them had been part of an improv comedy troupe, but they weren’t happy with the way it was being run, so they quit and formed Jet City Improv in 1992.

I was the only housemate not actively involved in the group but I did a few things to help out, like run the video camera when they needed to record shows. Little stuff. I also spent a lot of time in the audience in the early days when the crowds were thin. It was their thing, not mine, but since I was around them all the time I got caught up in it, too.

Eventually I fell in love and moved out, which meant I wasn’t around Jet City much and was no longer witness to their day to day. I remember the way they moved from venue to venue until they got a dedicated theater of their own up near the University of Washington. It was a great location for them. College students are always looking for something to do and they naturally circulate into and out of the neighborhood. Smart move by the guys, I thought.

When my buddy and I made the (disastrous) decision to make our own cheapie horror film, we were allowed to shoot a scene or two inside the building. A few years later, we took our son to see a holiday special they were putting on, which he liked quite a lot. Not as much as video games, but hey, he’s a 21st century kid.

So I was a little shocked to learn that the theater had been condemned a few years back, and was going to be demolished. Here’s what it looks like on Google Maps as I write this.

Jet City Improv theater, now condemned and covered with graffiti

Taken from Google Maps, Sept ’22

I remember when they painted the building yellow. For weeks after they moved in, they had friends and acquaintances who wanted to come to the new venue but who couldn’t find it. They’d drive down the street, looking for the theater, and somehow just pass it by. The shadow you see in the lower right is for a bus shelter, but even saying “Next to the bus shelter” didn’t do them any good.

So they bought a few gallons of yellow paint and made the building un-missable.

I remember one of the founders telling me that, as they were slapping on all that bright color, a business owner from across the street yelled at them for making the neighborhood garish or whatever. A week later, that same business owner was telling customers on the phone that they were “across the street from the big yellow theater.”

That’s how I remember the story, anyway.

But nothing last forever. The building sold and was set to be demolished a few years back. It was left to decay, as you can see in the pic above.

And then this happened:

The condemned theater on fire, at night, while firefighters work on it.

This is just a couple of weeks ago.

Here’s a little video:


Supposedly, witnesses heard an explosion when the fire started, and some saw a person on the roof while it–and they–were burning. Firefighters couldn’t recover the body until excavators removed the roof. I can’t find a mention in the media about who this person is, but the SFD has determined that it was intentionally set.

Maybe the body was the arsonist. I certainly hope it wasn’t a squatter.

Seattle has seen a string of arsons at the end of last month. As usual, people are blaming the crimes on whoever they hate most. Some point at addicts living in condemned buildings. Some blame developers who want to get their projects fast-tracked. Personally, I wonder if it could just be a neighbor who hated the way an undemolished ruin makes their neighborhood look. I’ve asked about it but gotten no answer.

And obviously I think it might make an interesting book.

I’m glad Jet City is still active, although it’s sad to think that the building is gone.

There are no permanent things.