By day, the eastern alcove on the tenth public floor of Seattle’s downtown library, aka the Betty Jane Narver Reading Room, is an aerie for people who don’t have a lot of other places to go, Seattle’s loftiest homeless-friendly lounge. Last Friday night it looked more like a scene from The Player. Bullivant Houser Bailey, a multi-city West Coast law firm with an expanding entertainment practice and an imaginative style of hospitality, had rented the space for a high-octane meet-and-mingle between Hollywood hustle and Seattle corporate muscle. APA, the Agency for the Performing Arts, joined in, ferrying up the players on a private jet. Cultural cover was provided by the bestselling local mystery author Robert Dugoni (an attorney himself) reading from his new novel. Classic RKO films beamed on two overhead screens while the president of RKO Pictures schmoozed below, along with reps from the Weinstein, Summit, and Paradigm studios. But the underlying, not-so-ulterior, motive was to enlist local companies in “strategic brand integration partnerships” with movie and TV productions. Forget product placement—that’s so ’90s. Now brands are built into the movie right from the pitch, and vice versa. “Think The Romantics and J.Crew, Mad Men and Banana Republic, or Transformers and Camaros,” read the invitation.
Culture Fiend didn’t overhear any deals getting cut. But it was thrilling and a bit disorienting to see a familiar space work so well for an unexpected use. One guest wondered why the library hadn’t been used as a movie set. Indeed, with its soaring girdered trapezoids and twinkling nighttime cityscape, it seems readymade for a skyline chase scene or futuristic cliffhanger. Perhaps a remake of North by Northwest, or the movie of one of Dugoni’s novels?
The Rem Koolhaas/Josh Ramos-designed library is already enjoying a second career as an all-purpose event venue. “Do you remember the old library?” snorts spokesperson Andra Addison, recalling its dowdy ‘60s predecessor. "You couldn’t get authors to come there." But today’s Cool House hosted 450 private events last year, from computer classes to swank parties and lit-star book readings, plus 49 nonprofit and 384 library-sponsored gatherings. The $160,000 rent the private sponsors paid was a welcome boost in hard times, but just a nick in the 8.5 percent cut in the library’s budget announced Monday. “We’d love to have more parties,” says Addison. “All spaces in the central library can be rented.”