This past March marked the world premier of “Grays Harbor Happenings: the Newsreels of C.D. Anderson” when the 7th Street Theatre debuted Seattle film director Ann Coppel’s new film. That film will once again grace the 7th Street’s silver screen on Saturday at 7 p.m. This final screening also marks the first time DVDs of the film will be available for sale.
The documentary is a beautiful tapestry of 1920s Harbor life as captured in dozens of short newsreels by Aberdeen photographer Charles Anderson. The film is the culmination of eight years of preservation work by the University of Washington Libraries Special Collections and nearly two years of additional research collaboration with the 7th Street Theatre Association, the Aberdeen Museum of History and the Polson Museum.
In 2004, the UW Libraries Special Collections received a donation of 53 35mm film reels discovered in a commercial storage unit in Seattle. The numerous film canisters — several that were quite rusted — contained brittle and potentially unstable nitrate film with very little documentation of its subject matter or its history other than the fact they originated from the commercial studio of C.D. Anderson in Aberdeen. In 2006 and again in 2010, UW Library staff procured National Film Preservation Foundation grants which gave them the resources to carefully preserve the delicate collection.
UW Library staff, led by Associate Director of Advancement Joyce Agee and film archivists Hannah Palin and Nicolette Bromberg, set out to discover the deeper stories shown within the short films. Additional funding from the Apex Foundation helped with digitizing and further preservation of the films. A publicly-accessible online archive was created and then in 2011, UW staff contacted the 7th Street Theatre Association about the collection. The Seattle curators of these films sought to connect with people on the Harbor to bring this diverse collection of moving images back to its origin.
An initial meeting held in the lobby of the 7th Street Theatre with UW and Harbor-area historians started a conversation that spawned several additional meetings, dozens of phone calls and hundreds of email communications. At that first meeting, all in attendance agreed that making these rare newsreels more publicly accessible was a worthy goal.
During 2011 and 2012, Aberdeen Museum volunteer Roy Vataja spent countless hours pouring over microfilm copies of the Aberdeen Daily World from the mid-1920s onward. Vataja hit paydirt when he began finding short “Harbor Happenings” articles from mid-1925 announcing that C.D. Anderson would begin showing local newsreels modeled after those of the era distributing national or international news. Harborites were to have their very own newsreels and theater-goers could expect to catch a glimpse of current “happenings” around the county.
In newspapers published during the final years of the 1920s and into the early 1930s, Vataja continued to find stories that chronicled Anderson’s film reel screenings at such landmark Harbor theatres as Weir, D&R and others.
With Vataja’s extensive research nearly complete, noted film producer and director Ann Coppel was brought on board through University of Washington Television (UWTV) to weave Anderson’s historic footage into a more complete, refined package. At an August 2012 meeting at the Aberdeen Museum with Mickey Thurman, myself, Dann Sears, and Roy Vataja, ideas were exchanged about what a documentary film based on Anderson’s reels might look like. The next day Larson showed Coppel the actual locations where Anderson’s films were originally shot — viewpoints around Stewart, Emerson, and Franklin fields, St. Mary’s School, downtown Wishkah Street, the Simpson Avenue Bridge and beyond.
In early November 2012, on-location filming began with Larson and Vataja guiding Coppel and her director of photography, Bruce Hutson, to the very places that C.D. Anderson had filmed his Harbor Happenings over 80 years earlier.
With further funding by the Grays Harbor Community Foundation in December 2012, completion of the new documentary was assured. In addition to on-camera interviews with Nicolette Bromberg, John Hughes, myself, Hanna Palin, Mickey Thurman, and Roy Vataja, the film also features former Aberdeen Mayor Chuck Gurrad and is narrated by the noted actor and host of Northwest Backroads, Grant Goodeve.
Saturday’s screening is the main feature of a broader event dubbed “Harbor Happenings: Reel Life in the 1920s” and will feature additional short films of historical interest to Harborites. Included is a new Washington State Department of Transportation film on the Simpson Avenue Bridge, Brandon Eugene Maine’s new exhibit film on Ben K. Weatherwax, and a silent color film from 1951 called “Industries of Grays Harbor” that will be narrated by Roy Vataja. These additional films are rich with local historical images and in the case of the Weatherwax movie, a wealth of archival audio as well.
Tickets to Saturday’s event are $7 each and may be purchased in advance at Harbor Drug in Hoquiam, City Drug in Aberdeen, and online at Brown Paper Tickets (harbor.brownpapertickets.com). Tickets will also be available at the door but given the long lines that formed at last year’s Jones Studio program at the theater, attendees are encouraged to purchase ahead of time. The new DVDs of “Harbor Happenings” also include 16 of C.D. Anderson’s uncut film reels and will sell for $25 which includes the sales tax. The Grays Harbor Community Foundation funded the creation of the DVDs which will be regionally distributed to schools and libraries and whose sales to the general public support the Polson and Aberdeen Museums.
Proceeds from Saturday’s event will benefit the 7th Street Theatre Association, the Aberdeen Museum of History and the Polson Museum.
John Larson is Director of the Polson Museum in Hoquiam