Seattle Now & Then: The Atlas Theatre

(click to enlarge photos – often CLICK TWICE)

THEN: This subject of a drum major leading the funeral parade for Dong On Long through Seattle’s Chinatown was photographed by The Seattle Times but not used in its May 12, 1941 report on the parade. We revive it now. (Ron Edge)
NOW: The low-rise Atlas Theatre mid-block on the east side of Maynard Ave. between Jackson and King Streets has been redeveloped with a bright multi-story structure. Much else survives including, on the right, the brick Atlas Hotel building at the northeast corner with King Street.

On Monday May 12, 1941 a brass band leading at least three floats moved from Jackson Street south on Maynard Avenue into Chinatown with a parade that trumpeted the life of Dong On Long, the then recently deceased president of the Chinese Benevolent Association. Dong, who had lived and worked in the neighborhood for more than a half-century, was famed for his wisdom as an arbitrator in what the Times called “the Chinese colony.”

A May 1, 1941 S. Times clips describing the “Chinese Colony’s” plans for Dong’s funeral.

Here the first float in Dong’s parade, with the beloved citizen’s portrait framed by a memorial wreath and inscribed, “Father” in flowers, passes in front of the Atlas Theatre. Running inside are either “Men Without Souls,” a prison movie with a young Glenn Ford, or “Ebb Tide,” a south-seas adventure staring Seattle’s Francis Farmer.  The welcoming marquee allows that smoking is permitted and that the Atlas never closes.  When it first opened in 1918, Seisabura Mukai, advertised his Atlas as “the finest in the south district . . .Large Capacity, Clean and Cozy, catering a First-Class patronage.” By the year of Dong on Long’s parade it was as likely used as a dark retreat.

Early in 1942 S. Mukai learned that he would be interned with other Japanese Aliens, and so soon leased his Atlas to Burrell C. Johnson, who with second-run double features, kept the Atlas running and warm.  That December Johnson was booked for operating a crowded fire hazard.  On, we assume, a cold Jan 3, 1944, the police routed “scores” of sleepers from the Atlas at 5 in the morning.  The Times reported, “twenty were held for investigation of their draft status.”

James Matsuoka, president of the neighborhood’s community council, advised the city in 1950 that the Atlas created as “atmosphere” that promoted crime, and that its license should not be renewed.  The police described “trouble with pickpockets, some strong arm robberies . . . and prostitutes.”  Johnson pleaded that “It’s a difficult theatre to run – perhaps the hardest in the whole city . . . I’ve been trying to do the best I can.”  He then promptly remodeled the Atlas with new seats, lighting, and candy bar and painted it in mulberry and chartreuse.  That summer the theatre continued its atonement during the International District’s Seafair Carnival.  For the citywide celebration the Atlas showed films with all Filipino and Chinese casts.


Anything to add, Paul?

Some and not none – but not much.  Sometimes – like this time – our weekend efforts will run out of time.  We will plop in only a few additions, some clippings, and some photographs but neither, I think, supported with former features – merely with whatever captions we can string from them now.  [It is almost one in the morning and we mean to be to bed by 3am.]


Another early clipping for the Atlas, inserted March 8, 1919 in The Seattle Times.
An odd and early example of "adult films" is listed here on Nov. 21, 1919 for the Atlas, but not in a advertisement but rather in a news clip on the Seattle Times film page. (See and you will find it - below the center of the page.) The Atlas is described as showing "Wild Oats" in 1919. We have found some "Wild Oats" on line for 1919, a film that "according to reviews . . .was made under auspices of the New York City Dept of Health and the US. Navy and was 'approved' by the 'surgeon generals." Special screenings were arranged for Pres. Woodrow Wilson and members of the U.S. Senate and House of Reps. In early 1920, the film was re-copyrighted twice and re-released as a seven-reeler under the new title Some Wild Oats . . . " What kind of film was Wild Oats? A story of prurient pedagogy. The plot is summarized, "Motivated by his affliction with syphilis, a wealthy young man schemes to prevent a young country boy from making the same mistake as he. At the afflicted man's request, a reputable physician arranges for some hospital nurses to impersonate prostitutes and thus convince the boy that a visit to the brothel can result in his contraction of the dread disease."
Here S. Mukai, the founder of the Atlas, is in early trouble with "he built Seattle" Judge Thomas Burke, for running a player piano on Second Avenue in connection there with his Circuit Theatre and so annoying the tenants in the Burke Building at Second's northwest corner with Madison Street, then. The Times clip dates from Sept. 8, 1916.
Another risk while running a theatre - some spilled lattice. (You will need to search for this one.) This Times clip dates from Sept. 15th, 1932. Perhaps the Great Depression has also depressed building maintenance.
Knife in the back - another incident of "bad news" for the Atlas during the depression. The Times clip is from 1932.
Local theatre scion John Dans is rumored - only - to be interested in buying the Atlas. The Times clip is dated Jan. 11, 1940, and the news appears in the feature "Amusements, Along Film Row."
The popular "Amusements Along Film Row" feature on the Times film page for Wednesday Feb. 25, 1942, notes that the Atlas Owner S. Mukai, after thirty-one years of operating theatres in Seattle, has been caught in the dragnet for "foreign aliens in restricted areas" i.e. the Japanese. The part on Mukai appears near the end of the feature.
A sampler of other Atlas leads, which you can pursue through the Seattle Times key-word search service - or opportunity - for the years 1900 to 1984 and available on line with your Seattle Public Library Card. Call the library and ask how. For any local researcher it is a great resource and great fun too!


[The location and date are ordinarily typed and attached – with tape –  along the bottom of the negative.  CLICK TWICE to enlarge.]

MEANWHILE, on Long Beach . . .






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