PEARLS OF PROMOTION can bear timeless truths, as in this pair of catchphrases 95½ years apart:
● “The Magic Sign of a Wonderful Time.”
● “Joy is essential. Laughter is essential. Escape is essential. Inspiration is essential.”
The former graced ads for the Sept. 24, 1926, grand opening of downtown Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre. The latter exhorts from today’s marquee. Either can apply to each era.
Beneath the hype is a bedrock message: An alluring array of entertainment venues can bolster a downtown’s durability and buoy the soul of an entire city.
No doubt The 5th’s first-night throng — its girth likened to the spontaneous celebration that broke out at the end of World War I eight years before — heartily agreed.
“More humanity to the square inch than was ever crowded into a similar space in this northwest corner of these United States packed the streets of seven city blocks radiating from the 5th Avenue Theatre last night,” exulted the next-day Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
The turnout, spurred by an outdoor carnival and free streetcar service, equaled “the populace of Ballard and Georgetown, Ravenna, Alki and the whole Rainier Valley.” It was “the closest approach to a human sardine can that Seattle has seen since Armistice Day.”
Inside the 2,400-seat, elaborately Chinese-themed palace, those with tickets enjoyed three stage shows, each climaxed by Cecil B. DeMille’s silent cinematic drama “Young April.”
Emblematic of a raft of vintage downtown theaters, The 5th has stood tall through the years, buoyed crucially by a massive 1978-80 renovation. Sadly, many Seattle showplaces (notably the Orpheum, Music Box and Blue Mouse) have fallen, while one was preserved for a different use (the Coliseum, as the now-closed Banana Republic clothier), and two others (the Moore and Paramount) survived largely intact.
After a two-year pandemic-induced closure, The 5th reopened in January, providing hope for all who see such institutions as instrumental to the physical and mental health of Seattle’s core.
Surveying more than a century of context and detail about the rich history of downtown theaters, longtime Seattle architectural historian Lawrence Kreisman has assembled a lavishly illustrated online talk, “Another Opening, Another Show,” which he will present at 5 p.m. March 31 for the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.
The sponsor couldn’t be more apt, as the Trust, with the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, launched a grant program in 2020 to bolster the viability of 80 eligible historic theaters statewide.
That aim catches the 1926 sentiment of the P-I, which proclaimed The 5th “a large asset to this city” that “far excels the ordinary.”