Seattle Now & Then: The Arabian Theatre

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: The Arabian Theatre opened in 1925 with the Daniel Bagley Primary School two blocks north (the towers are showing, left of center) and its thruway, Aurora Ave., preparing for four decades of service to the Pacific Coast Highway. With its exotic tower and stain glass the theatre was designed to lure motorists and shoppers on would develop into an almost endless strip of small businesses. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: The Arabian Theatre survives although without the films and secular stage acts. Since 1969 it has been home for a non-profit with religious tax exemptions.

The Arabian, at 7610 Aurora Ave. N., opened in 1925, with still some silent films and sometimes on stage eccentric uses that were a vestige of vaudeville.  When those performing live were also north end neighbors they could fill the seats.   For instance . . .

On October 21, 1926 W. O. Hammer, accompanied by a brass band and a motorcar parade, pushed Tom Egan, secretary of the West Green Lake Commercial Club, in a wheelbarrow up Aurora Ave to the stage of the Arabian Theatre.  Hammer had bet Egan that Jack Dempsey would keep his heavy weight crown.  He was wrong.  Gene Tunney won and Hammer paid before his neighbors.

The city’s new light standards were installed on Aurora in the spring of 1927 and celebrated with a “Light-Bearers Parade” to the Arabian Theatre.  Our subject from 1925 or ‘26 is too early to include them, and Jean’s “now” too late as well.  The Seattle Times clip, below, however shows one.  (Click it TWICE, to enlarge.)

From The Seattle Times, April 13, 1927.

On Jan. 15, 1928 while the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok was performing on the piano for members of the Pro Music Society at the Olympic Hotel, the Patricia Perry School of the Dance was on the Arabian stage with a variety of dances as prologue to the motion picture “The Fair Co-ed.”  (I knew Patricia Perry, but not Bela Bartok.)

During the fall of 1928 the Arabian Theatre ran “beside” Clara Bow’s picture “Ladies of the Mob” an on-stage contest in the art of dancing the then popular Varsity Drag.  “Here is the drag, see how it goes, Down on the heels, up on the toes.  That’s the way to do the Varsity Drag.”  For another kind of “drag,” the following April 9 and 10, sixty “substantial business and professional men” – Masons all – dressed and deported like Broadway chorus girls on the Arabian stage for a benefit show they named “Vampin Babies Frolic.”

Mabel Randall, the Arabian’s last manager, also gave its stage to neighborhood extras, like the theatre parties and benefit style shows that were matched with appropriate films.  The Arabian screen went dark in 1954, but its stagecraft was resurrected late in 1955 when evangelist John H. Will’s Northwest Salvation and Healing Campaign, advertised its opening services for Dec. 11 at the “Old Arabian Theatre.”

Twenty-nine years and a few days separate the two Arabian stage productions promoted above in The Times on Nov. 11, 1925 and below on Dec. 11, 1954 also in The Times. Above, the nearly new Arabian showcases the Seattle tenor Magnus Peterson with a Moorish program to compliment its exotic setting.
Darkened to all uses but Evangelism, the Arabian gave its last service to John H. Will, a young preacher expecting to both save and heal from its Old Arabian stage before Christmas, 1954.


Anything to add, Paul?   Yes Jean as is our way a few more photos and features from the neighborhood. First a look north thru the same scene as at the top but more than a quarter century later – early in the silent 1950s – and shot from on high by a photographer from the city’s public works department.   He or she was probably perched in a cherry picker or platform made for checking utilities rather than from a big ten-footer pole, like your own.

Looking north on Aurora from its intersection with N. 76th Street on Oct. 6, 1953. (Courtesy, Municipal Archive)


Looking south on Aurora from 84th Street, 1931.

PAVED SPEEDWAY – AURORA at 84th (Looking South) 1931

(First appeared in Pacific, March 31, 1991)

In 1931, Aurora Avenue was a calm thoroughfare, where cars could safely

park along its border and bakeries were more common than cut-rate motels. But the billboards (then promoting sliced bread) were a premonition of things to come for the North End street.

When state officials decided to direct a high bridge over the Lake Washington Ship Canal north toward Aurora Avenue, the byway would begin its transformation into a primary strip of highway. Its metamorphosis was assured in 1933, when the new speedway was cut through Woodland Park, despite spirited protests led by The Times.

Albert and Birdie Collier witnessed the change. They operated the Delicious Bakery  at 8320 Aurora Ave. N., left of center, and lived just across Aurora at 938 83rd St. Each year, they saw more passing cars and had to Increase their caution crossing the street.

Quickly, Aurora was becoming the busiest North End arterial. In a two-month period in 1937, more than 400 people were arrested for traffic violations on the speedway. When a meeting was called to discuss the problem, Harry Sutton, chief of the Police Department’s Traffic Violations Bureau, lamented, “Give a man a chance to drive 35 miles an hour under the law and he will drive 55 miles an hour.”

Looking north - and back - thru 84th Street on April 18, 1939.

Looking north on Aurora to the Arabian and its neighbors on Sept. 16, 1937.



(First appeared in Pacific, Oct. 31, 1993)

Looking north through the center of Woodland Park across a-field of stumps on May 17, 1932, by a photographer from the Seattle Engineering Department. Three days shy of one year later, the first traffic rolled on what its enthusiasts called the “Great Aurora Highway.”

When an ordinance permitting the park’s bifurcation was passed by the Seattle City Council over the objections of the city’s park board, a front-page battle to save the park ensued. The leading advocate of this preservation and opponent of “park vandalism” was The Seattle Times.

“It is proposed,'” The Times editors wrote, “to build an 8,800-foot speedway 106 feet wide over a hill 293 feet high, and through 2,400 feet of the central portion of Woodland Park to save 25 seconds of time required to drive the 9,850 feet by way of Stone Way.” The Times figured the difference was ‘ about the length of three city blocks, and also noted that 107 homes would be sacrificed to the thruway.

Much earlier, When the Olmstead brothers were designing the city’s boulevards and parks, they included West Green Lake Way, connected with Stone Way, as the principal route for north-south traffic to circumvent Woodland Park. The landscapers proposed that the undeveloped center of Woodland Park be saved for, among other things, the expansion of the park’s zoological garden. In the meantime the Olmsteads recommended the old-growth forest in the park’s undeveloped interior be preserved.

Here are the stumps. Obviously, the campaign to save the park failed. The highway was approved by public vote. Answering an imaginary commuter’s question, “What will I get out of the Aurora thruway?” The Times answered, “A reminder at least twice a day that you sacrificed Woodland Park.”


Another WPA tax survey photo from 1937, this one looking east across Aurora from 76th Street. (Courtesy Washington State Archive, Bellevue Community College branch)


An early 1937 portrait of the Twin T-P’s restaurant when the Aurora Speedway was new. Although fixable after it suffered smoke damage from a fire in 2000 the roadside attraction was without warning bulldozed early in the morning of July 31, 2001. What remained was the parking lot show here. It was nestled in a landscape of healthy weeds and a surrounding steel fence, until cleared for the construction that now fills the odd-shaped block. (Courtesy MOHAI)

TWIN T-P’s 70th

[The feature that follows were first published in 2007 and made note then of its 70th birthday]

In the spring of 1937 the shining steel towers of the Twin T-Ps were lifted above Aurora Avenue.  They were strategically set across this speedway section of Highway 99 from the east shore of Green Lake. The Teepee, of course, is a form etched in the imagination of every American child and so this fanciful architectural corn (or maize) could be expected to lure a few matured kids called motorists off the highway.

Once inside the shiny example of Native American housing – the pointed and portable type used by the plains Indians – visitors were suddenly transported to the Northwest coast, for the decorations were done not on plains motifs but rather on designs like those we associate with totem poles, long houses, masks and spirit boxes.

Let’s imagine that almost everyone has eaten some of the regular American food at the T-Ps.  I did once and ran into my old friends Walt Crowley and Marie McGaffrey who live nearby.  If memory serves, they were enjoying prime rib.  Walt would later write twice about the Twin T-P’s for, the web site of state history he directs.  The first essay (#2890) is a good summary of the exceptional story of this symmetrical piece of nutritious kitsch.  Walt’s second essay (#3719) is a lament following the July 31, 2001 early morning bulldozing of the landmark.   (If you so use the computer do it now – please.)

Jean has a more recent recording of this corner fill with what seems to be a new Condo.  I’ll urge him to find and insert it.  My black-white look dates from 2007.


The Aurora Bridge deck in 1932, its first year, looking north to Wallingford and, some claim, the eastern section of Fremont.. This may be a check of its night illumination, for the speedway is without traffic, and traffic it had traffic from the beginning.



In 1921, Seattle’s health department closed Green Lake to swimmers. The seven-foot lowering of the lake 10 years earlier had accelerated its natural tendency to become a swamp. In 1922, runoff from the nearby Green Lake and Maple Leaf reservoirs was diverted into the lake to freshen it. The south end of the lake became especially stagnant with aromatic algae. So, also in 1922, the Seattle Parks Department carefully disassembled its bathhouse and moved it from the southwest (Woodland Park) corner of the lake one mile north to the crowded beach scene recorded here by Asahel Curtis.

The new beach was sanded and made sporting with a couple of large off-shore rafts, one with a high-dive platform. With this, the park department created a decent beach for swimmers. The more-or-less unisex swim gear of the time did not encourage sunbathing and, anyway, a “good tan” was a carcinogenic desire not yet widely cultivated.

Soon after the swimmers moved north, however, their end of the lake developed the same algae soup that gave the lake its name. By 1925 the beach was closed again, and Dr. E.T. Hanley of the city’s health department made the radical proposal that Green Lake be drained so that the muck on its 20,000-year-old bottom might be scraped away. After three years of tests and debates, Hanley’s plan was abandoned, as well as another drastic proposal that would have transformed Green Lake into a salt lake, with water pumped in from Elliott Bay.

Rather, in 1928, temporary relief was engineered by a combination of chlorinating the Licton Springs water that fed the lake; sprinkling the lake’s surface with copper sulfate, an algae retardant, and increasing the feed of fresh water from the Green Lake reservoir’s runoff.

At this beach, 1928 was also a big year for changes ashore. With the 1927-to-1928 construction of the brick bathhouse the shoreline was terraced with a long line of gracefully curving concrete steps. The same modern mores that exposed the skin disposed of the need for bathhouses. The bathhouse, which in its first year, 1928, serviced 53,000 people, was converted in 1970 into a 130-seat theater. Now bathers come to the beach in their swim suits.  Given the recurring restraint of the “Green Lake Itch,” many of them stay on the beach.

Above: a look at the beach showing raft with diving tower and Green Lake Primary School on the far shore.  Below: a look back to shore from the diving tower.

We include this Green Lake subject taken by Price (the founder of Price Photo on Roosevelt) in the 20s (or thereabouts) as a challenge. We may know where it is but leave it to you to figure it out.

The view looks south from near the northwest “corner” of the lake. The still impressive timber of Woodland Park marks most of the horizon. On the far left is the profile of Lincoln High School and its tall chimney. This is another Price photo.


Green Lake based photographer LaVanway’s post-war studio at Winona and 73rd. In 2001 I wrote a now-then feature about this ornate clapboard when it was new and the home of Maust Transfer. It follows here.


(First appeared in Pacific,  July 22, 2001)

From a life of raising chickens and saving souls, Charles Maust, a Baptist minister who ran a poultry farm on the shores of Green Lake in 1902, took to hauling coal that year.  Maust trucks are still hauling as the company climbs the driveway to its centennial. [Again, this dates from 2001.]

Maust built his namesake block at the flatiron corner of 73rd Street and Winona Avenue in 1906. He rented the upstairs comer office to a physician and the center storefront to a cobbler, and he attached a gaudy second structure at the north end on which he marketed the range of his service: coal, wood, sand, gravel, flour, spuds, brick, lime, cement, plaster.

Although the company home and stables were beside the lake, much of the hauling was done on the central waterfront. One of the earliest contracts was with Black Diamond coal. Loaded at the pier, Maust wagons carried the coal to commercial and residential customers all over town.

Eventually, Maust rolling stock was active from Blaine to Olympia. The company was also handling fish, and it was as a mover of fish – canned, fresh and frozen – that Maust got its reputation. For years it was headquartered at Pier 54, sharing space with Ivar’s Acres of Clams and the Washington Fish and Oyster Co. Three Maust generations -Charles, Harold and Norman – ran the company until 1996, when Gary Dennis, a longtime employee and friend of Norman’s, took over. Included in the company lore is a recollection by Charles’ son Harold how during the Great Depression his dad laid him off in favor of a married man who had a family. Evidently, the Baptist preacher turned trucker kept his interest not only in souls, but in bodies as well.

The clapboard Maust Block lasted until the late 1960s, when it was replaced by a four-story apartment house distinguished by its rough exterior siding made of Marblecrete.

Same flatiron, same post-war years, ca. 1949.
Nearby, Jim the barber – and his dog – at 73rd and Linden

McAllister’s Bikes where Wiwona meets Aurora.


In the 1935 romantic comedy "Hands Across the Table" Carole Lombard, a manicurist, applied a different kind of hands-on improvement than that of Evangelist John N. Hill 19 years later from the then "Old Arabian" stage. (See Hill's advert near the top.)
What post-modern mysteries move within the old Arabian now?



One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: The Arabian Theatre”

  1. My mother owned the Kodiak Cafe located in the same block of buildings as the Arabian Theater in the late forties. She may have closed it after the earthquake. Have you heard about this?

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