Welcome to Our Website
The Anacortes Museum, Maritime Heritage Center and W.T. Preston exist to preserve and interpret the history of Fidalgo and Guemes Islands and to nurture in the community an awareness and appreciation of its heritage.
The Anacortes Museum and our Maritime Heritage Center will be closed to visitors until late March 2021. We will announce our reopening schedule in the coming weeks on our website and social media.
Museum staff will continue to respond to phone calls and e-mails, and our website is a portal to a wealth of photographs, movies, yearbooks, newspapers, exhibits and other history.
The Circus Drive-In
The old Circus Drive-In screen. The word 'THEATER' has been reduced to only the letter 'R' (2021)
Leaving Anacortes off State Route 20, there are few sights more iconic or eye-catching than the monolithic drive-in movie theater screen off the north side of the road. It’s a mysterious remnant of a past civilization to the younger crowd and a recognizable and nostalgic image to the older - they may even remember it as the “Circus Drive-In,” once the premiere spot on Fidalgo Island to see first-run films!
Jim Bonholzer in 1995. (1995)
It was through the workings of serendipity that the Circus Drive-In came to be. Jim and Lorraine Bonholzer, prominent theater owners/operators from Seattle, were traversing the ebbs and flows of the Salish Sea one day in 1963 when a heavy fog came over them. Forced to head ashore, they found safe harbor in Anacortes where they stayed overnight to wait out the weather.
Touring Fidalgo Island the next day, the Bonholzer’s eyes were caught by a For Sale Property sign extending over both sides of Old Memorial Highway. The couple instantly fell in love with the lot and the area, and they knew exactly what they were going to use the property for. Fate had brought the two to Fidalgo Island and thus began the building of the Circus Drive-In, one of the greatest outdoor theaters in all the Pacific Northwest!
Jim Bonholzer (left) and an assistant preparing for the opening of the Circus. (1963)
The Bonholzer couple opened the Circus Drive-In to the public on June 30, 1963. The duo pulled out all the stops with the Circus: modern concession stand amenities, sweepstakes and raffles, a playground for young children, a 500 slot parking space for viewing, and even a live clown!
Word had quickly spread far and wide about the new theater. There was excitement in the air leading up to its opening. The first film screened at the Circus was Elvis Presely’s “It Happened at the World’s Fair,” a movie set and shot only an hour and a half away in Seattle. Following it in a double feature was “Follow The Boys,” a WWII era musical starring Connie Francis, Paula Prentiss and Dany Robin. Opening day was a huge success with over 400 cars jamming Old Memorial Highway leading into the theater. It was one of the largest traffic jams in Fidalgo Island history back then.
Original Anacortes American news clipping promoting the opening of the Circus Drive-In. (1963)
The Circus’ popularity continued for years. The Circus owners showed everything from first runs, to color cartoons, to hardcore exploitation films -- a cash cow for Drive-Ins across America that would introduce the public to new forms of extreme filmmaking. It all proved to be extremely popular, attracting viewers from Oak Harbor to Mount Vernon and beyond! Unfortunately, all good things have to come to an end.
Timothy Harris: Owner of the Drive-In during the year 1989. (1989)
The theater would end up closing in the early 1980s, but its closure was not long-lived. In 1989, Timothy Harris revived the drive-in with himself acting as manager. As it would turn out, this revival would be short-lived as well.
The most notable event from this era was a doomed heavy metal show set to take place at the Circus on September 2nd, 1989. Anacortes metal band Kaos was behind the event and was set to perform alongside a slew of other metal, punk and hard rock acts. Kaos held a successful show at the Drive-In three years prior, followed by a showing of “Friday The 13th VIII.” The same success was not found at the 1989 event. Two days before the event, they were shut down by an outdated, Woodstock-era county ordinance meant to contain rowdy concert-goers.
Kaos 1989 effort to run a show at the Circus was quashed by outdated county law.
The Circus wouldn’t last much longer. On September 10th, 1989, the drive-in premiered its final films: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Ghostbusters II on one screen, and Casualties of War and Lock-Up on another. By 1995 it was repurposed as “Circus Drive-In Boat Storage.” Much of the drive-in’s equipment and memorabilia was swept up by collectors during the transition. It has remained boat and RV storage for the majority of the 21st century. Only recently has the property been bought by the Swinomish Tribe, who hope to give it new life as affordable housing for the didgwálič Wellness Center! While it’s sad to see the demolition of the old outdoor theater, it’s great news that the property will be used for an important cause. Besides, the memories that were acquired at this incredible theater, will last a lifetime.
Lewis Jones with the Tonjes Havekost Bill Mitchell Mural
We were heartbroken to learn of the sudden passing of Museum Advisory Board President Lewis Jones, a treasured member of the Anacortes Museum family, who had a heart attack and died Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020. He brought a generous spirit, a photographer’s eye and a passion for history to his work with us.
Kay Reinhardt, who served on the board with Lewis, sums up our reaction: “Aching and questioning. I'll talk to the stars about this on one of these dark, clear winter nights,” she said.
Lewis was a thoroughly considerate gentleman. I got so much from knowing Lewis in our museum capacities, and I so felt the pleasure of running into him about town any time that occurred. He gave a lot,” she said.
joined the Advisory Board in the early 1990s at the urging of Bret Lunsford, now the Anacortes Museum’s director.
Fellow Advisory Board members also noted his leadership and dedication.
“Lewis was on the Museum board when I joined, around 20 years ago,” said Gib Moore. “He has been very knowledgeable about all aspects of the museum and his knowledge base and dedication will be missed.”
Sandy, Barb, Gib and Lewis at the 2016 Museum Holiday Reception
“Lewis was certainly one of the good guys,” said Tom Kuhn.
“I really enjoyed talking to him about all things ‘Anacortes.’ He will be missed,” said Deane Brazas.
“I can't take in the fact that we won't be seeing him come through the door anymore. We always had such nice talks. Such a kind and thoughtful man,” said Administrative Assistant Linda Yerby.
Lea DeVere, Libby Walgamott and Lewis Jones at the 2018 board retreat
FEATURE ARTICLE: The Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918
by Museum Curator Elaine Walker
“With schools and businesses closed, nurses exhausted and many people caring for sick loved ones at home, it feels to us like the COVID-19 pandemic is historically unprecedented. However, Anacortes citizens faced an almost identical situation 100 years ago when the Spanish Influenza swept the world.”
So begins an in-depth article, Spanish Influenza in Anacortes, by our Curator of Collections, Elaine Walker, who put her reporter’s hat back on to research and write about these stories from Anacortes history. She has also assembled the original stories, found in online Anacortes American’s, which can be read in the original historic pages or in this chronological compilation, Spanish Influenza articles AA 1918-1920. READ MORE…
Anacortes Museum - CLOSED
Located in the historic Carnegie Library Building.
Tuesday through Saturday
10 AM- 4 PM
1 PM- 4 PM
1305 8th Street, Anacortes WA 98221