Seattle Now & Then: The Society Theatre on Broadway

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THEN: Capitol Hill’s Society Theatre first opened its doors in 1911. This record of it most likely dates from 1920, the first year in which the theatre could have shown the four films promoted with sensational posters near its front doors: the comedy “Mary’s Ankle,” “The Sagebrusher,” a western, “Silk Husbands and Calico Wives,” and “Everywoman,” a feminist allegory appropriately filmed in 1919, on the eve of women’s suffrage in the United States. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)
THEN: Capitol Hill’s Society Theatre first opened its doors in 1911. This record of it most likely dates from 1920, the first year in which the theatre could have shown the four films promoted with sensational posters near its front doors: the comedy “Mary’s Ankle,” “The Sagebrusher,” a western, “Silk Husbands and Calico Wives,” and “Everywoman,” a feminist allegory appropriately filmed in 1919, on the eve of women’s suffrage in the United States. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: The lively neon brilliance at its northwest corner lends a nostalgic glow to the Capitol Hill intersection of Broadway and John Street.
NOW: The lively neon brilliance at its northwest corner lends a nostalgic glow to the Capitol Hill intersection of Broadway and John Street.
Clip from The Seattle Times for Dec. 6, 1911
Clip from The Seattle Times for Dec. 6, 1911

On the eve of its dedication in late 1911, the Society Theatre at the northwest corner of Broadway and John Street was anticipated in The Seattle Times as “the most pretentious” of any of the neighborhood theatres then popping up on greater Seattle’s street corners.  The Society would have accommodations for “500 people in a structure 35 x 120 feet in dimension … (it) will cost about $6,000 complete and will be finished with ever-modern convenience for its patrons.  It will be a one-story building of frame and brick with an ornamental front, following the Spanish Mission style of architecture and composed of brick and stucco.” 

S.Times clip from Dec. 8, 1911
S.Times clip from Dec. 8, 1911
Seattle Times clip from Dec. 9, 1911
Seattle Times clip from Dec. 9, 1911

Built with speed, the Society opened its doors to its surely excited neighbors on Friday,  December 8, 1911, with “four reels of new films and two song specialists.”  For that first night, the Society’s “specialists” would “consist of a male duet and a song by a young woman soloist.  There will be no attempt at vaudeville, it is said.”  Most likely “it” was the Society’s manager, George W. Ring, who did the saying.  Up from Portland, Ring brought with him “a large expansive smile and several years experience in the moving picture game.”  Managing neighborhood theatres included promoting neighborhood values, such as chumminess and convenience. One of

The nearly new Society Theatre's foot print appears at the top (middle-right) in this detail from the 1912 Baist Real Estate map. Note how an early user has drawn in with pencil the future adjustment's on John at Belmont .
The nearly new Society Theatre’s yellow foot print appears at the top (middle-right) in this detail from the 1912 Baist Real Estate map. Note how a earlier user has drawn in with pencil the future adjustment’s on John at Belmont .

the Society’s “modern conveniences” almost assured that there would be no delays for re-threading the projector.  From the start, the Society had two, and both were Powers No. 6 moving picture machines.  On opening night the two Powers moved pronto from “Old Billy,” a “Selig film, dealing with the comic adventures of an old fire horse belonging to a fiddler,” to “An Aeroplane Elopement, a Vitagraph comedy-drama.”  Two “scenic films and two biograph comedies” and the specialists’ singing completed the inaugural bill.

From the Times in 1913
From the Times in 1913
1935
1935

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Also in 1911, as a sign of the times, the Alhambra, one of downtown Seattle’s big stock and vaudeville theatre venues, converted to showing motion pictures exclusively.  In the same year the Pantages Theatre opened as a terra cotta-clad palace for presenting whatever played well, including vaudeville, stage plays, and film.  After many adjustments, in 1966 the Pantages (later renamed the Palomar) wound up as a parking garage – the big one at the northeast corner

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Circa 1946
Circa 1946
Circa, 1948
Circa, 1948

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of University and Third Avenue.  Up on the Hill, the Society changed its name to the Broadway in the early 1920s and continued to show films at its busy intersection until the winter of 1990.  Rite Aid Pharmacy, its next-door neighbor to the north on Broadway, took over its place by expanding into the corner, while keeping the “BROADWAY” part of the theatre’s vibrant neon marquee for promoting flu shots and such. 

Appeared in The Seattle Times for June 5, 1917
Appeared in The Seattle Times for June 5, 1917

WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, kids?  Yes Jean, and most of them from or near the neighborhood.

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THEN: Looking across Capitol Hill’s Broadway Avenue during its 1931adjustments. (Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archive)

THEN: An early portrait, circa 1911, of The Silvian Apartments, one of Capitol Hill’s abiding architectural jewels. (Courtesy, Bill Burden)

Holy Names THEN

THEN: The Volunteer Park water tower was completed in 1907 on Capitol Hill’s highest point in aid the water pressure of its service to the often grand homes of its many nearly new neighbors. The jogging corner of E. Prospect Street and 15th Avenue E. is near the bottom of the Oakes postcard. (Historical Photo courtesy Mike Fairley)

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THEN: Revelers pose on the Masonic Temple stage for “A Night in Old Alexandria,” the Seattle Fine Art Societies annual costume ball for 1921. (Pic courtesy of Arthur “Link” Lingenbrink)

THEN: Most likely in 1902 Marcus M. Lyter either built or bought his box-style home at the northwest corner of 15th Avenue and Aloha Street. Like many other Capitol Hill addition residences, Lyter's home was somewhat large for its lot.

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THEN: Both the grading on Belmont Avenue and the homes beside it are new in this “gift” to Capitol Hill taken from the family album of Major John Millis. (Courtesy of the Major’s grandchild Walter Millis and his son, a Seattle musician, Robert Millis.)

THEN: Beginning with the Reynolds, three hotels have taken tenancy in this ornate three-story brick block at the northeast corner of Boren Avenue and Pike Street. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)

THEN:The front end damage to the white Shepherd Ambulance on the right is mostly hidden behind the black silhouette of either officer Murphy or Lindberg, both of whom answered the call of this morning crash on Feb. 18, 1955.

THEN: The ‘Seattle showplace’ Rhodes mansion on Capitol Hill, ca. 1916. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)

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First appeared in Pacific, March 3, 2002
First appeared in Pacific, March 3, 2002

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First appeared in Pacific, July 18, 1999

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From the May 8, 1921 Seattle Times
From the May 8, 1921 Seattle Times

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