(click to enlarge photos)
Here’s a lesson in the sleeping befuddlements that may nestle for long naps with mistaken captions.
In this instance we return a quarter-century to the mid-1980s when Clay Eals, then the editor of the West Seattle Herald, was busy assembling the West Side Story, the very big and revealing book of West Seattle History written and illustrated by volunteers, (myself included) with Eals our guiding hand and kind support.
But then briefly and undetected something bad happened in the editor’s office. Clay made a mistake, or rather he repeated one. Eals, who led the neighborhood’s forces of preservation in a successful save of its threatened landmark theatre, The Admiral, received the print shown here from a credible and even venerable West Seattle source and so felt confident enough to include it in the big book as the Portola Theatre, the predecessor of the Admiral. After all, “Portola” is how it was identified with a label stuck to flip side of the print originally loaned to him.
Here, and recently, enters one of Seattle’s silent film era experts David Jeffers who was not convinced. First, there is no “Portola Marquee” showing for what is still obviously a motion picture theatre with film posters pasted to it. With a sharp enlargement – and no deadline – Jeffers studied the scene in detail. Knowing where Seattle’s now “missing theatres” were once located he soon determined that this was not West Seattle’s Portola but Queen Anne’s own neighborhood theatre at the northwest corner of Queen Anne Avenue and Boston Street.
Jeffers reflects, “Much of our history is forgotten, not lost, and only awaits re-discovery. Just as every neighborhood has a branch of the Public Library, in the years before television they all had a movie house, typically within easy walking distance. One of these forgotten theaters stood on the Northwest corner of Queen Anne Avenue North and West Boston Street. The Queen Anne Theatre opened for business in 1912 and closed, as did many, with the advent of sound in the late 1920s.”
Jean writes: Just a couple of extras from my end this week, Paul. The first is a sweet pair of perpendicular shoes across the street from the now-horizontal Peets:
And the second, Clay Eals himself, about to slurp from the water fountain at the base of the Queen Anne water tower. Some may note his Cubbies hat and recall that Clay recently authored a masterful biography of Steve Goodman, songwriter/musician known for writing ‘The City of New Orleans’ but also the immortal “A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request’ (amongst many others). For more about Clay and Goodman, click here.
Observant readers may recall that Clay appeared in a previous SN&T column at the beginning of the year.
Anything to add, Paul?
Yes Jean, I have some more “web extras” or as we sometimes call them “blogaddendums.” Many years ago – in the 1980s – I was given Lawton Gowey’s slides of Queen Anne Hill where he had lived all his life. Previous to his death by heart attack Lawton was a collector-student of local history. He especially liked trolley history. He died suddenly on a Sunday morning while preparing to go once more to play the organ at his Queen Anne church (Presbyterian). His collection was quite large and most of the prints in it were directed by his family to the University of Washington’s Northwest Collection. All of the below are pulled from about 300 (or more) slides of Queen Anne he left. Some others have been sorted into “programs” (carousels) that were not examined for this selection. Among those are others scenes for our intersection of Queen Anne Avenue and Boston Street, but I have not as yet found them. I’ll come upon them most likely when preparing a slide lecture – later. Jean, if you like, you may wish to take some repeats for these when you have time, for instance, on your way downtown. They are all of Queen Anne and easily found. I will give short captions for each with location and date. All of the colored slides were photographed by Lawton.
20 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Queen Anne Theatre”
I want to believe this was at Queen Anne & Boston, as I’ve been fascinated by stories my Grandmother told of a theater there – which she referred to as an old location of the Uptown Theater. She led me to believe the current building is the same the theater was in, but now I can’t be sure if that was her intention or my interpretation.
I have a hard time reconciling the house behind the theater with the houses that are there now. Did the theater not go back as far as the current building, so there was room for a long since demolished house?
We will need to reconcile your houses Gam. Stay tuned.
Here are my original research notes with a brief update:
“First, a word on portholes as an architectural element of theaters. Quite common for a certain period of time, The Society, which was later remodeled and renamed The Broadway, originally had portholes. So did The Motor on Fremont Avenue, The Metropolitan on University Street and many others. The commonality of second story mezzanine, office or projection room windows in theater design and an assumption regarding the similar sounding theater name may have contributed a misidentification in this case.
The oldest photograph of West Seattle’s Portola Theater I know comes from UW Digital Collections and is dated 1930. I provided a link to that online image, posted with my comment to Paul’s Admiral Theater piece, “A Bonus Seattle Now & Then: We Shall Overcome…” Regarding the image found on the PSTOS web page for the Portola (Paul also sent a copy), purported to be the that theater (ca.1919): The American Film Institute online Silent Film Catalog lists the release date for Anne of Green Gables as November 23, 1919. Checking the newspaper archives at SPL, The Seattle Times and Seattle Star specifically, I found no downtown theater advertisements for this film. This search was hasty, so it is possible I missed it. While films were often previewed here in advance of their general release, I began looking several months before the release date and continued into early 1920. This was a very popular and financially successful film and would surely have opened downtown before moving to suburban theaters, as was the custom. I suspect this photo was taken sometime in the Spring of 1920. More on that in a bit. West Seattle had its own newspaper, The Herald. Libraries at the State of Washington and UW list archives beginning in 1923. I was looking for anything announcing the opening of The Portola, and possibly a photo, but did not find it. This material may be in the newspaper archive, but without any date to reference, would require a very detailed search to find.
Next, lets consider the business name C. P. Martinez, which appears to the right of the theater entrance. A check of Polk’s City of Seattle Directory shows listings for C. P. Martinez, “Real Estate, Rentals, Insurance and Mortgage Loans, Notary Public 2203 Queen Anne Av,”from 1915 through 1944. This was Martinez’ only directory listing found in those editions. Located on the northwest corner of Queen Anne Avenue and West Boston Street, the first Queen Anne Theater (2201 Queen Anne Av) lists a build date of 1911 in tax records. Martinez first appears in 1915; while Polk’s first listing of The Portola is 1920.
After finishing up at SPL, I drove out to The Admiral (photographed) and examined the building exterior. The rear wall appears to be reinforced concrete with pour lines showing a (pre-plywood) form construction using wooden planks. Tax records show a build date for The Admiral of 1942, which could indicate The Portola was demolished entirely. I do not believe that to be the case, and I’m certain there are still folks in the neighborhood that witnessed the construction/remodel in 1941. The Queen Anne on the other hand was masonry (or brick) and survives today as a coffeehouse. I have examined the rear wall of that building recently and it is indeed brick, which appears to be the appropriate age. The side wall of The Admiral (also concrete in appearance) is much taller, which proves nothing, but the 1936-37 tax photo of 2201 Queen Anne Avenue (the oldest I had seen) is a possible match with the Ann of Green Gables theater photo, both in placement, construction and dimensions. The Queen Anne closed in 1929, rather than converting to sound, and was converted for other commercial use (a Safeway Store in the tax photo). A newer theater at 1527 Queen Anne Avenue changed its name from Cheerio to Queen Anne at that time.
Finally, I did find an advertisement for Anne of Green Gables when it screened at The Portola, dated March 11, 1920 in the Seattle Daily Times. This date was the first for a column of suburban theater ads (they seldom advertised in the papers) I found within this search. It only indicates the film was shown on that date in that theater. The Queen Anne likely screened the same print before or after this date and did not advertise. I also believe someone (see reference below) may have found the same advertisement, which led to misidentification of the photo. Neighborhood theaters drew most of their business from moviegoers who passed by daily or saw “coming attraction” notices at earlier shows. I believe this image is The Queen Anne Theater and not The Portola, This discovery was tremendously exciting when I examined the larger image and realized things were not what they seemed. I had never seen a photo of the building when it was a theater, a common occurrence. The ability to clearly read the address to the right of C. P. Martinez’ front door would settle the matter with some certainty.”
We later identified C. P Martinez’ address in the photo as 2203. The Queen Anne Theatre was 2201. While it hadn’t been used as a theatre for decades, the building that housed the second Queen Anne Theatre (first named Cherrio) was demolished a few years ago and a large condo complex now occupies that site. The Uptown Theatre in the lower Queen Anne neighborhood is an entirely different theater with a history of its own. I wonder if anyone remembers the fourth Queen Anne movie house, which operated during the silent era?
Well there you are Gam. Just put an implied call for help to David Jeffers and he delivers many times over. As for your home’s incongruities I have two speculations.
Perhaps the home we see in the theatre photo was to the east of the alley and that the theatre building was later extended to the alley, thus destroying the home. A Google Earth look at the corner building suggests that some addition may have been made. The only footprint I have is from 1912 so that does not help because although David determined that the brick building was constructed in 1911 it was not identified as brick in the 1912 Baist map. So I don’t know on that score. But there are other maps with footprints between 1912 and – say – the WPA photo from 1937 – that would show these changes if I am not just imagining them. I do not, however, have such real estate maps,except for that 1912 Baist, here in the basement with me. Greg Lange has a 1920s real estate map, and I think Ron Edge does as well, so Greg and Ron consider this an implied request to check that block on Boston west of Queen Anne Ave to count the number of homes and the length of the brick building. Does it reach the alley before the Theatre left the building in the late 1920s. Next,if you return to Google Earth and set yourself down on Boston street there mid-block for an examination of the front porch of the home that is now to the west of the alley you will see first that there is no tree blocking your inspection and then that the porch there now may well be a later creation – it is a bit minimal for the house, especially the stairs. Perhaps it was a replacement for the more craftsman porch the detail for which seems to show up in the theatre photo. Perhaps.
Oh, what wonderful photos you added of “my” era of Queen Anne! I grew up there from ’65-’84, so I will be pouring over the photos and enjoying all the delicious details. To this day I mourn the closure of Tony’s to make way for the expansion of the Uptown.
Back to the theater:
I suspect my grandmother’s comments of the Uptown Theater moving from location to location (the one it is currently in, the one we are discussing here and what I knew as the long gone Queen Anne Bowling Alley) is inaccurate and the theaters were unrelated. I doubt she had the obsessive interest in these things that I seem to have acquired, so it may well have appeared to her casual observations that one theater was moving around.
I agree that the Martinez office is very compelling evidence that the building is correctly identified. That alone would convince me, though I appreciate David leaving nothing to chance and supporting his arguments in other ways. I am convinced.
Which leads to the question of the house in the old photo. While I have too much time on my hands with which to ponder such questions, I do not have the time, nor the eyesight, to count bricks in an effort to determine if the building became longer when it was converted from a theater. When I look at it from above in Google Earth I note that the back third of the building is narrower than the rest. While that could mean many things (including nothing), it leaves open the possibility that the house in the “before” picture was removed to make room for an extension of the building. However I agree with Paul that the porch on the house behind the building is at the very least modified, which leaves open the possibility that the house is the same as in the old image. I’m going to go a step further and say it is a probability.
Thanks to both of you for your responses!
RE.Admiral Theater: My parents moved to West Seattle Six months before I was born in June 1941. I was told by them that it was being built as they moved in. The Admiral looms large In the life of any kid who grew up in West Seattle, it was a place where very young teens could go on Friday and Saturday nights wrap their selves around each other in the darkness and on Monday pass one another in the halls of Madison with out recognition At that time they ran B movies on Friday and Saturday. There were two theaters along California ave the Admiral in Admiral junction and the Granada Just south of the Alaska junction.
I think the date on your picture featuring the uptown theatre is wrong. the pawnbroker opened in april of 1965. the uptown, being a first run house, would not have been showing it in march of 66, especially as a single feature. the one possibility is that it was brought back to exploit its oscar nominations. even so, the custom was to re-release nominees on double bills, and rarely in first run house like the uptown. again, i am not 100% sure of this, but am enough so that i think it warrants into looking into the date of the photograph.
After a little digging, here are a few details on the house. Digital Sanborn Maps, Vol. 4, sheet 413 is available in two versions through ProQuest at SPL.org. The 1905-1950 version shows no structure on Boston behind the theater. The 1905-Mar. 1951*, 1917-June 1950 version shows 16 West Boston, just across the alley. King County Assessor’s parcel viewer web site shows the build date of the small house currently located at this address as 1917. I also recall city records which indicate an enlargement of the theater stage area around 1920 (couldn’t find my paperwork) for a Photoplayer, which was a sort of orchestra-in-a-box played by a single performer.
Also, the Washington Secretary of State archives in Bellevue has a great progression of Uptown Theatre tax photos. From the WPA survey photo taken in 1937, new images were added in 1954 and 1959. A trip to Bellevue would no doubt, reveal more about 16 West Boston as well.
Gam, Jonathan, Bill & David – thanks all.
Gam, Jonathan, Bill. Thanks be to David
Gam I like your efficient style – of writing.
Johnathon. That was the date stamped on the Lawton Gowey slide holder (the paper frame sort). Lawton was rigorous and industrious and conscientious, but without a survey of many of his stamped slides against internal evidences (rare) I cannot say what lapse there might have been between the day he shot it and the day he stamped it. I have always blithely treated his stamping as back-dated to the day he actually shot the scene. That would “be like” Lawton, for what use really is a stamped date for the day one “gets” the slide back from the developer. Not so great. This has not been of much concern to me for I rarely need a date finer than the year. It seems I’m an annualist. Gam there are many more from Gowey and from his friend Bradley and for their friend Sykes. When I can get to them.
i failed to notice before the “academy award nominee” mention above the title of the pawnbroker, which would account for the 1966 date.
Good catch Bill! That one, at least, was in the details.
How do you explain the difference in the lay of the land between the two photos? The then photo seems to show the land higher on the right while in the now photo the opposite seems to be the case.
Let’s not forget the old S&M Market that was on that corner way before Peet’s, in the 60’s, and maybe before. My mom used to send me there for the cheapest ground beef on the hill.
George, I can also see more of a downhill slope in Jean’s 2009 photo. This must be due to street grading that has taken place in the intervening years. Seems like the city is constantly repaving streets and sidewalks. I am certain this is the same building however. There is excessive much documentary proof. The Sanborn Insurance atlas, King County tax records, City of Seattle Department of Planning records, Seattle city directory listings and film trade publications all identify this theater at this location. The facade of the current structure is also set back to the theater’s front wall, when the pillars and overhang were removed, probably when the building was remodeled for use as retail space. The Boston St wall was also given new doors and windows. How much of the actual theater building actually survives is unclear. There is no record of demolition. I believe I can recognize the south and west walls. There are neighborhood theaters all over town that have been re-adapted for other use. In some cases, the shell may be all that was saved.
Actually, there is only one pillar in the older photo and extended walls fronting the realtor’s entrance.
George and Ann and Ann first.
Someone else – by phone or on a street corner – mentioned the S&M and how prized the S&M Market T-Shirts were. Add to this your note on cheapest ground beef and the errant mind might wander to the pastry shops of regency London.
George – and David – I think it unlikely that the grade on the block or for that matter hardly any in the neighborhood has changed much since it was originally set and graded most likely in the early 20th Century. Here in Wallingford it was around 1906 that the grading work was rampant. The age of our grades streets is not quite as old as the oldest homes in our neighborhoods but nearly. Nothing much has changed since – except in front lawns. It is not wise to significantly fidget with a block or a line of them for one will have to make changes on all the streets that meet it. Also I don’t see any big difference between the then and now on Boston, what little of it we can see. Both continue to lose elevation for that block west of Queen Anne Ave., but not much. Looking at it on end – like with these pixs – makes it more difficult to determine grade than looking at it from a side or right angle. There is a sort of easy way to answer your upset balance in this matter. Go to the vault or morgue for the city’s engineering department records – it has a front desk that is open to inquiring persons. Ask to see the plans for Boston Street. For many streets they have continuous graphs that are in rolls. They show – with real graph rigor – the changes in elevation. They also show where lots of the infrastructure is laid and sometimes have little cartoons for the type of masonry included in curbs, drains, sidewalks and so on. And there are also “inspectors books” that will include lists of items and tasks involved in making the street and when. These are signed by the inspector sent along to grade and “pass” on them.
As a past archivist for the Queen Anne Historical Society, I added a couple of “found” items for the theater a couple of years ago.
1) a photo of the theater that was reproduced in a Queen Anne News anniversary edition; and
2) a donation of an article announcing the destruction of the building in 1929.
I’ve never seen that image of West Galer in 1927–that’s a beauty!
I think that 1927 Galer shot comes from the slides I inherited from Lawton Gowey. I also think that within the last eight years or ten I handed all of those over to the Queen Anne Historical Society for copying. I have had them back for some time. I also did this for West Seattle subjects with the Log Cabin over there. Those too have been returned. It is a good way to get things organized. Lend them out.
Bruce. I’ve seen this article before. As I have previously asked, how do we reconcile the word “razed” with the legal documentation? As I have previously stated, it is my belief that businesses, theaters included, may have gutted buildings and used the remaining structure to avoid the permits and taxes associated with new construction. Without a substantial photographic record we will never have a definitive answer. I suppose city, county and state records could be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time. But I am more willing to accept these documents than a single, non-legal reference in a neighborhood newspaper, which may be simply a misunderstanding of terms. Official records show a build date of 1911 and a remodel date of 1929. Your photo is the same as the one from the folks in West Seattle. Funny how no one, myself included, had noticed this before. I believe the larger image, which allowed for very detailed examination, was the key. Like I’ve said, history is only waiting to be re-discovered.
I am a reporter for the Queen Anne/Magnolia News and would like to ask permission to use a couple of your pictures of the Uptown Theater for my article.
Could you please let me know if that is possible?