Seattle Now & Then: The Metropolitan Theatre, 1911

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: The Metropolitan Theatre was among the many structures designed by Howells and Stokes, the New York architectural firm for the Metropolitan Tract.
NOW: For his repeat Jean needed to move to the sidewalk on the north side of University Street.

For forty-three years – 1911 into 1954 – this elegant box of bricks and tiles, the Metropolitan Theatre, was among Seattle’s favorite attractions, a venue for many sorts of shows.  It was named for the Metropolitan Building Company, which held the lease on the University of Washington’s original campus. Pioneers first referred to the property as “Denny’s Knoll” for Arthur Denny, their founder-merchant-politician, that helped organize the giving of the knoll to Washington Territory for its first campus, and the state still owns its ten-plus acres.

Denny Knoll with Territorial University, looking southeast from Denny Hill ca. 1878.
Denny Knoll topped by the Territorial University, photo taken from Denny Hill (looking south) ca. 1885.  Beacon Hill is on the right horizon. 

Many of you are familiar, by photographs, with another ‘box’, the university’s first school building built in 1861 on this site.  It was adorned with a bell-fitted cupola for the waking of students and calling of classes. The façade was fronted with four classical ionic columns that looked west to Elliott Bay from its elevated knoll. You can still visit the original columns, which are preserved in the present UW campus’ outdoor Sylvan Theatre.  (Some may also wish to carry a flute, light incense and dance around them.)

After the University moved to its new and present Interlake Campus in 1895, the knoll waited another decade for the state to begin sharing its old campus with the expansion of the business district – for rents.  Many activist students joined nostalgic alums then pushing to save the school’s first multifarious hall, aka, the box.  The schoolhouse might have been saved with a move to the new campus or preserved at its original place on the old campus,  If the latter, it would have hindered Stone and Webster’s 1911 construction of the Metropolitan Theatre.  The northeast corner of the school’s first “box” overlapped the plans southwest corner of the Metropolitan Theater.  The fact is that in 1909, with a little moving of the theater’s footprint by its New York architects, Howells and Stokes, there was still enough room on the campus for both the elegant brick box and the cherished clapboard one.

Members of a troupe playing at the Met. pose for Max Loudon in the alley at the rear of the theater before what Olympic Hotel was built round it in 1924. 

This Webster and Stevens Studio portrait of the theatre at the top of this week’s feature is easy to date – within four days.  The clues, of course, are the posters pasted to the front of the theatre for promoting “Spring Maid,” a Viennese-inspired operetta on its west coast tour. Of course, It first stopped in San Francisco. While it was a light opera, the “Maid” was not a light haul, with a company of 94 and an orchestra of 35.  Tickets ran from 50 cents to $2.00.  The “Spring Maid” opened its four-day Metropolitan run on October 19, 1911. While it was the largest early performance to touch the Met stage, it was not the first event held there.  On October 12, a Columbus Day show was staged by the local Knights of Columbus, and aided by history professor Edmond S. Meany, surely the most prolific public speaker in the history of the UW.

History Prof. Edmund Meany poses for a most appropriate portrait As yet the artist is not identified.
Swedish film, The Girl and the Devil.

Any sample of the international talents that took to the Met’s stage would include many plays and foreign films. The Swedish movie “The Girl and the Devil” was projected at the Met in 1946. Tennessee Williams’ play “Summer and Smoke” was produced in 1950.  Also that year, the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America performed at the Metropolitan.  Many members ate and slumbered at the Olympic Hotel that since its construction in 1924 had a grip on the theater (as shown in last week’s “Now and Then.”)  Byron Fish, the Times screwball humorist and reviewer, instructed the newspaper’s readers that “The S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.” was founded thirteen years before the bomb.  Its members are “pioneers in the nostalgic wish to return to pre-atom bomb days.”

Humorist Byron Fish when still a Ballard Boy.

The Met was torn down in the fall of 1955 to enlarge the Olympic Hotel’s ballroom and build a better front entrance on the hotel’s University Street side. After its demise, the Metropolitan began receiving a long line of nostalgic citizen press coverage.

Victory Square on University Way, between 4th and 5th Avenue. The pylon lifted behind the small temple lists the local losses during WW2.
Byron Fish’s signature used during his years as a columnist for The Seettle Times and also when he was Ivar Haglund’s first companion huckster. Between them, they originated “Keep Clam” Ivar’s identifying command. 


Anything to add, lads?  Sure Jean.  While we are on the edge of exhaustion we know – at least by your reports – that you work even harder.   And here’s more of the same.   (We may proof-read later.)


THEN: As explained in the accompanying story the cut corner in this search-lighted photo of the “first-nighters” lined up for the March 1, 1928 opening of the Seattle Theatre at 9th and Pine was intended. Courtesy Ron Phillips


THEN: Steel beams clutter a freshly regraded Second Avenue during the 1907 construction of the Moore Theatre. The view looks north toward Virginia Street.

THEN: The Metropolitan Tract's Hippodrome was nearly new when it hosted the A.F. of L. annual convention in 1913.

THEN:The early evening dazzle of the Roosevelt Theatre at 515 Pike Street, probably in 1941. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)

THEN: With the stone federal post office at its shoulder – to the left – and the mostly brick Cobb Building behind, the tiled Pantages Theatre at Third Ave. and University Street gave a glow to the block. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)

THEN: Seattle Architect Paul Henderson Ryan designed the Liberty Theatre around the first of many subsequent Wurlitzer organs used for accompanying silent films in theatres “across the land”. The Spanish-clad actor-dancers posed on the stage apron are most likely involved in a promotion for a film – perhaps Don Q, Son of Zorro (1925) or Douglas Fairbanks’ The Gaucho (1929) that also played at the Liberty. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)

THEN: Long thought to be an early footprint for West Seattle’s Admiral Theatre, this charming brick corner was actually far away on another Seattle Hill. Courtesy, Southwest Seattle Historical Society.


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: Lawton Gowey looks north through the tail of the 1957 Independence Day Parade on Fourth Avenue as it proceeds south through the intersection with Pike Street. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)

THEN: This “real photo postcard” was sold on stands throughout the city. It was what it claimed to be; that is, its gray tones were real. If you studied them with magnification the grays did not turn into little black dots of varying sizes. (Courtesy, David Chapman and

















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