A look back at the Rivoli Theatre, Seattle's last burlesque house, before it was razed to make way for the Federal Office Building.

Share story

I FIRST SHOWED this Kodachrome slide of the Rivoli Theatre, Seattle’s last house of burlesque, to the Daughters of the American Revolution in the mid-1980s. The DAR’s program director, then in her mid-80s, had asked me to do an illustrated lecture (we then still called them “slide shows”) on local history. I confess now to including the Rivoli in that lecture in order to ask the members if any of them had gone there to see a show.

The response was startling, and it came first and fast from my “sponsor.” She exclaimed, “Oh I danced there!” This clamors for some explanation.

Lawton Gowey date-stamped his slide April 11, 1967. Knowing Gowey, I think it most likely that he photographed this east side of the block on First Avenue between Madison Street, where he stood, and Marion, because it would soon be razed to make way for the Federal Office Building. An ad in The Seattle Times that spring day promised “Blonde, Beautiful and Buxom Maria Christy in person! Plus extra added Zsa Zsa Cortez Mexican Spitfire — plus a stage full of beauties” in “4 shows daily” at the Rivoli.

Of course, the DAR’s program manager appeared on stage here much earlier than Christy and Cortez. She was part of a small local class of amateur dancers performing for a mixed audience — often including their parents — at a weekend matinee.

Stage acts had been all or part of the entertainment here since 1905, when vaudeville impresario John Considine bought the corner as the Star Theatre. In 1939, the theater changed its name to the Rivoli and its programming to a “vaudeville policy.” Years later, during World War II, the Rivoli “refined” its vaudeville policy into programs that mixed B movies with the art of removing clothes.

Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard’s blog at www.pauldorpat.com.