(click on photos to enlarge)
When it opened on Times Square in the summer of 1927, the Orpheum Theatre was the largest venue for films and vaudeville in the Pacific Northwest. However, in six months the distinction of its 2,700 seats was surpassed only six blocks away when the Paramount Theatre opened with 4,000 seats. The Paramount, of course, has survived, while the Orpheum was razed in 1967 with hardly a protest.
Six years earlier, the destruction of the Seattle Hotel in Pioneer Square was vigorously protested because it was the cornerstone of that neighborhood. But here uptown in the mid-1960s the unique three-block diagonal cut of Westlake, from its origin at Fourth Avenue and Pike Street to Sixth Avenue and Virginia Street, was being discussed as the best place to create a civic center that Seattle did not have since the city’s commercial interests moved north into this retail neighborhood. This aura of progress by building something “new and modern” surely dampened preservationist enthusiasm for the Orpheum.
Right after the two-day auction of its lavish appointments, including the marble cut from floors and walls, the theater was destroyed. Surprisingly, the tear down took so long it broke the wrecker’s budget. The sturdy Orpheum was more reluctant than expected.
This “Spanish Renaissance masterpiece” was one of Seattle architect B. Marcus Priteca’s greatest theaters. And in spite of the squeeze of its location his Orpheum was in every part sumptuous from sidewalk to sky. The roof sign was the largest on the coast. Meant for Vaudeville as well as films, it had 14 dressing rooms, all but two with baths.
The Orpheum opened with the film ‘Rush Hour’, and although designed for live performance, it kept for the most part to movies through 40 years in business. I remember seeing both “Never on Sunday” and “Goldfinger” there in the mid-1960s, and confess to being more interested in the films than in the theater (or even aware that it was doomed). Perhaps if it had been in Pioneer Square. (Later I purchased in a garage sale a nicely cut piece of marble that was, I was told, salvaged from the lobby. It was then my belated part in preservation. Now it is on my desk.)
Jean writes: Stepping out into Fifth Avenue gave me a better view of the “corncob” and the statue of Governor John McGraw (1850-1910), which existed both ‘then’ and ‘now’.
Anything to add, Paul? Yes – a few things Jean. And will first say that it is a fine hide-and-seek with the Police Chief in the bushes, you show above. Another evidence of what a shadow is life. How brief and how forgotten. A man of such note, now unknown but to a few. Not even this monument in one of the landmark intersections of the city will instruct or distract citizens enough to make much mark for the identity of Governor McGraw, pawn of the railroads. Still surviving in a few libraries are copies of McGraws “In Memoriam” chap book served up at his memorial service. This cover was copied from the library of our regular supplier of “Edge Clipping” – Ron Edge.
First another photo of the new Orpheum, followed by another now-then feature first published in 1993, and more, which will be captioned in its places.
GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY FOR THE SEATTLE SYMPHONY.
(This story was first published in The Seattle Times Pacific Magazine on Dec. 5, 1993.)
In 1953,The Seattle Symphony Orchestra promoted its golden anniversary with a pubic campaign to discover “Where were you on the night of Dec.28, 1903?” – the night Harvey West directed the Seattle Symphony’s first concert in the ballroom of the Arcade Building at Second and Seneca.
Arthur Fiedler guest-conducted the Seattle Symphony for this Nov. 3 concert, and local virtuoso Byrd Elliott was featured with Prokofieff’s Second Violin Concerto. The Orpheum was filled to its 2,600-seat capacity.
Earlier, in January of 1953, Arturo Toscanini’s assistant, the violist Milton Katims, made his first appearance here as guest conductor. The Seattle Symphony was then still playing in the Civic Auditorium, an acoustic purgatory that violinist Jascha Heifetz called the “barn.” Heifetz’s opinion was shared and extended by Sir Thomas Beecham. The already-famous English maestro conducted the Seattle Symphony during much of World War II and, before leaving here, famously called Seattle a “cultural dustbin.”
The symphony’s first postwar conductor, Carl Bricken, resigned in 1948. The musicians soon formed their own Washington Symphony League and scheduled a season of 16 concerts at the Moore Theatre with a conductor of their own choosing, Eugene Linden of the Tacoma Symphony. This rebellion was short-lived, and the following year the organization was reformed. Milton Katims, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s guest conductor became its residence conductor with the 1954-55 season and he stayed on until 1976.
In 1993 when this feature was first published, the Symphony was it its 90th season and, the story noted then, “is quietly campaigning for a new auditorium.” It got it, of course.