The Orpheum Theatre at 5th Avenue and Stewart Street, which debuted on August 28, 1927, is widely regarded as a landmark in Seattle’s downtown. Initially constructed to exhibit vaudeville and movies, the venue was primarily used as a movie theater, with the exception of a short time when it was home to the Seattle Symphony. The Orpheum Theatre was the last of the 1920s-era venues to be demolished without the need for a protest from community archivists, who were always beginning to understand the cultural and historical worth of such structures when it was demolished in 1967 to make room for a hotel.
History of the Orpheum Theatre
The Orpheum Theatre vaudeville circuit, established in 1887 by Gustave Walter of San Francisco, celebrated its 40th anniversary in 1927 with the opening of Seattle’s new Orpheum. But even though the new Orpheum Theatre was arguably the most well-known Orpheum in Seattle, it wasn’t the first. The initial Orpheum, which was constructed in 1911 at 3rd Avenue and Madison Street and had been in operating at the time, albeit as the President, earned that title. Orpheum circuit vaudeville might be viewed at the Coliseum at 7th Avenue and Union Street, a previous roller-skating arena that had been converted for stage entertainment in 1908. B. Marcus Priteca (1889-1971), a prominent theater designer (and Seattle resident) best known for designing mansions for performer Alexander Pantages, constructed Seattle’s newest Orpheum (1876-1936). The building was a multi-purpose building, as is typical of Priteca. When the structure first debuted its street level housed not only from the theater’s entrance and box office, as well as other shops such as a cigar shop and Bartell Drug Store the top tiers were used for office space. The venue had a hefty price tag, with estimates ranging from $1.25 million to $3 million.
The Orpheum Theatre was the biggest theater in the Pacific Northwest somewhere at time, with capacity for 2,700 people. The distinction was just temporary. The Paramount, formerly called as the Seattle Theatre, opened six months after the Orpheum Theatre and had a seating capacity of around 4,000 people. Unlike most houses, the building had no box seats; instead, Priteca constructed a pair of modest alcoves that had no purpose other than adornment. Carl Reiter, who had previously managed the Moore Theatre and, before when the, the first Orpheum (which opened in 1911) as well as the Coliseum, was in charge of the venue. Reiter disclosed to the media several of the upcoming attractions for the Orpheum’s 1927-1928 season, which would have been chock-full of performances and characters that were Seattle favorites, as part of the inaugural celebration. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (1878-1949), an African American dancer, was named “the ‘Dark Cloud of Joy’” by the New York Times (“Orpheum to Bring Varied Talent Here”).
Robinson is probably best known for his six films with Shirley Temple (mostly in the character of a servant), especially the staircase dance he did with the child actress in The Little Colonel in 1935. Once the Orpheum opened for business on August 28, 1927, customers were thrilled. Priteca had used a Spanish Renaissance style that provided the complete theater a polished air, prompting parallels to Europe’s most renowned opera houses. A document from the Spanish Renaissance period noted, “That rising epoch, thus according historical evidence, drove artwork into such a world of compromise.” “The early medieval principles clashed with both the modern ones of the significant cultural renaissance. Creativity didn’t have a plan to emulate, so it made one” (“The Artistic Perfection of the New Orpheum Theatre is Unparalleled”). Priteca’s plan was evidently hampered by the venue’s confined area, thus the absence of a patterning may have been a gift in disguise. A total of four windows were put up to sell tickets to interested customers.
Within the venue, visitors were greeted by a lushly carpeting entrance lobby featuring marble walls with stone columns sustaining the 40-foot-high roof. (The balustrades were made of Northwest stone, a break from of the traditional setting of prior theaters but one which gave the venue a Northwest feel for an otherwise European setting.) The chandelier “of remarkable beauty and elegance” topped the foyer, which required six months to build (“Illumination of New Theatre Looks to Phenomenal”). These are some of the 131 chandeliers that suspended all throughout structure. Several of the eight artworks by artist Clairin Checa acquired by the Orpheum were also displayed inside the lobby area. The artworks, which previously displayed in Chicago’s Majestic Theatre, were bought for $25,000 each. As furthermore, for the lobby, a custom grandfather clock was purchased, which required three months to produce. Their smoking rooms, bathrooms, and childcare were all just a few steps down from the front lobby. And according to New York Times, female Orpheum guests were treated like royalty.
Another source stated, “Three resting lounges, one for each tier of the theater, have indeed been allocated to the lip-stick, scarlet, powdered fluff, and eyebrow pencil.” “Kingly Rooms Await Women” (“Mirrors Extend in Whole Length of the Wall”). (Let’s not forget, the Newspaper was keen to add out that these resting rooms served a more functional use as well: these were a great location for women to smoke hidden from watchful eyes.) The equipment in the women’s resting rooms was claimed to be of French “lineage,” and it had a mauve color palette, as did the curtains. As addition, the space was littered with multiple glass vases filled with beautifully cut flowers. Continuing to the lobby, a stairwell connected towards the middle balcony area, although this building also included a 50-person lift, which spared many guests the walk. Furniture filled the halls of the central lobby area, much of those in little alcoves that provided areas of privacy for an otherwise open place. The Orpheum Theater, such as the rest of the building, was decked out with chandeliers and curtains, all of which complemented the Spanish theme.
A massive master switchboard may manage three colors of illumination in the theatre (including the stage lighting). The device, which was a one of a sort in the Northwest, provided for up to five pre-programmed illumination patterns to be activated with the flip of a button. Within case of electricity failure to the theater’s main energy source, a “throw-over” switch was constructed such that power could be instantly switched to one of three backup generators. Its air conditioning system for the auditorium would be no less expensive, costing in the vicinity of $100,000 to establish. The technology brought in an outside air, filtered it, and then distributed the “cleansed” air all throughout arena. The technique was described by the US Bureau of Mines and Yale University’s Dr. Ellsworth Huntington as “noticeably perfect.”This same air that what guests of the new Orpheum would then inhale and exhale is generally healthier than that of the air which they will inhale and exhale in their very own households or outdoor environments” (“Playhouse Really does have Fine arts Appeal Moment to None”).
Backstage accommodations for performers and musicians were believed to be similar in many aspects in the city’s most prestigious resorts. For example, the majority of the 14 changing rooms featured personal baths. A different music room, a couple of supplementary rooms, and huge shared accommodation for chorus members and guests were also available. This Orpheum structure was capped by a big sign that has become perhaps the most identifying feature, in addition to its distinctive marquee out in front. This 65-foot-high and 55-foot-wide sign initially said “Orpheum Vaudeville and Photoplays,” however as the time passed, The Orpheum Theater was rented to numerous businesses. Promoting several years, it served as a billboard for Almond Roca sweets. Although a glitzy debut in late August 1927, the venue ultimately prospered financially, especially after the Great Depression arrived. The Seattle Orpheum remained abandoned for about a year in which the Orpheum circuit’s holding company, RKO, went through money problems with in early 1930s.
The exhibiting area filmmaker John Hamrick (1876-1956), which afterwards tried to resuscitate the distressing Music Hall Theater a few streets away, finally restored it in 1934. For just a physical attractiveness in the Orpheum, Hamrick enlisted movie comedians Bert Wheeler (1895-1968) and Robert Woolsey (1888-38), but temporarily managed to relive the building’s successes. It is just too unfortunate for Orpheum to be able to do really well in some regard because one of joys it had when opened is that it had the world’s biggest theater treasure with “a cash box of 1500 livers which might make it disgraceful for Treasure Island pirates” (“New Orpheum Theater Will Today Open Doors”). Since the mid-1930s film photos were mainly attracted to the Orpheum, but the venue was the location of the Seattle Symphony in the 1940s and 1950s for a brief time. The Orpheum scene was broken out of the remainder of the place in the early 1960s, which marked a complete closure as something else but a film theatre. The Sterling Theatres movie production company was sold in 1964.In 1967; the dissolution of the Orpheum produced fond reminiscences of the history, not the conflict of conservation against development, as opposed to the upheaval caused by that of the Music Hall Theatre, which was to be demolished.
A Auction Galleries of Greenfield arranged on June 1967 on favor of the Clise Agency a two day auction of something like the components of the Orpheum Theater, which owned the property privileges and furnishings of the site however after selling property at Western International Resorts. “Whether something was “unscrewed, chiseled or blown away or somehow separated out from theater structure, down to the marquee or metal studs railing around Fifth Avenue,” auctioneer Jim Greenfield stated (“Orpheum Auction Set June 26, 27”). All this was available for taking. The first day of auction, 26 June, included the original tools and devices of the building, such as the lighting and the cables. That second day was designed for the main artistic items of the property, included furnishings, paintings and drawings. Even just the marbles paneling on the walls and ceilings was separated by the winning price and re-entered. During August 1967, the official demolition of theater commenced, taking over ten weeks (more than expected) due to the robust building of Orpheum. Work has started on building the Washington Plaza Hotel, presently known as the Westin Hotel (in 2005).