From a dance hall to furniture store: The storied history of Seattle’s Showbox music venue

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James Brown has his hair attended to by Henry Stall, his hairstylist and personal manager, as his wardrobe coordinator Gertrude Sanders waits in the background. He was primping by a mirror in his dressing room between shows at the Showbox in 1980. (Matt McVay / The Seattle Times)

Since its beginnings in 1939, the Showbox venue has gone through many changes. Take a look at our archives.

On July 24, 1939, The Show Box opened as Seattle’s grandest “dine and dance rendezvous,” where dancing began at noon each day and continued into the night.

The storied venue has served many purposes since that time — a dance hall, a furniture store, a Jewish bingo hall. But its most well-known for hosting big music stars, from Duke Ellington to Iggy Pop to Macklemore.

This week, a developer filed initial plans to demolish the Showbox to make way for a $100 million apartment tower — almost  79 years after the venue opened.

Here’s a look at some of the acts that performed in the venue, and the changes it’s undergone over eight decades.

July 24, 1939 — The Show Box opens

The Show Box opens at 1424 First Ave. Shows featured musicians, comedians and even a dancing dog.

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April 1, 1940 — Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington, called “Harlem’s Aristocrat of Jazz,” brings his 25-person orchestra to The Show Box in 1940. For one performance, the venue offered low admission prices to schoolchildren so they could hear Ellington play.

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July 14, 1941 — Gypsy Rose Lee

Seattle’s own burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee performs at the Show Box to sold-out crowds. The reporter wrote that she was “assisted with a group of attractive girls” and other musicians.

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1948 to late 1970s — the era of change

The venue closed in 1948 but reopened several times, as a theater, dance club and a furniture store. In the late 1960s it reopened as a teenage dance club called The Gathering. After that closed, it reopened as a Jewish bingo parlor called the Talmud Torah, which the owners occasionally rented out for rock shows.

Nov. 26, 1979 — Iggy Pop

Iggy Pop performs at the Showbox (this time its name stylized as one word), taking “rock to the edge of insanity.”

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April 19, 1980 — The Ramones (until Johnny Ramone fell victim to measles)

The Ramones were set to play the Showbox on an April night in 1980, but had to cancel — Johnny Ramone had the measles. The three remaining Ramones still managed to do a meet-and-greet with fans and radio interviews while Johnny slept in his hotel room.

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May 15, 1980 — New Wave

In a story about the genre New Wave, the Showbox is described as a “wonderfully tacky nightclub” that has presented some of the best music in Seattle. At the time, the Showbox was operated by a concert company called Modern Productions.

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Nov. 16, 1980 — James Brown

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James Brown has his hair attended to by Henry Stall, his hairstylist and personal manager, as his wardrobe coordinator Gertrude Sanders waits in the background. He was primping by a mirror in his dressing room between shows at the Showbox in 1980. (Matt McVay / The Seattle Times)

After his performance at the Showbox, the hardest working man in show business spoke with a Seattle Times reporter about politics, music and patriotism.

Mid 1990s — The Showbox Comedy and Supper Club

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The building that houses the Showbox Comedy and Supper Club on First Avenue. The venue went through many changes, and names, over the years. (Rod Mar / The Seattle Times)

Nov. 21, 2003 — Death Cab for Cutie

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Death Cab for Cutie at the Showbox in 2003 Photo by Jenny Jimenez

Nov. 18, 2014 — FKA Twigs

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England’s FKA Twigs performs at The Showbox on Nov. 18, 2014.

May 7, 2015 — Sleater-Kinney

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Guitarists and vocalists Carrie Brownstein, left, and Corin Tucker, right, perform as Sleater-Kinney on May 7, 2015, at The Showbox in Seattle. (Lindsey Wasson / The Seattle Times)

May 11, 2018 — Concert For Recovery

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Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready headlined an all-star show at the Showbox in May to celebrate an honor bestowed on him by the Recording Academy’s MusiCares for his work in aiding those in the industry suffering from addiction. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
Paige Cornwell: 206-464-2530 or pcornwell@seattletimes.com.