Built in 1916 for Greek impresario Alexander Pantages, Seattle's lavish Coliseum Theatre has been revived as a Banana Republic store.
Seattle’s Coliseum Theatre opened in January 1916 with legends attached. That the stage was a bit small for the largest of vaudeville acts did not matter because it was claimed to be the largest and most lavish of theaters built not for stage acts but for films.
Seattle’s famed architect of theaters, B. Marcus Priteca, designed it for the Greek-American impresario Alexander Pantages, whose only stipulation was that it include some classical columns. Priteca concocted for him a neoclassical temple of such flash that the facets of its glazed white terra cotta facade were designed with the help of sciography: the study of sun angles. At night, inset electric bulbs threw their own shadows.
The lavish appointments continued inside with, by one report, “a symphony of upholstering,” which did not, however, dampen acoustics that were considered the best in Seattle. The orchestra of eight players, plus a “giant Moller Pipe Organ,” were all Russians, the “highest paid in the U.S.” Fountains framed the orchestra pit, and songbirds in wicker cages accompanied the players. By one count there were 30 canaries. High above, the Big Dipper twinkled from the ceiling.
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Released in 1929, “Tide of Empire” is the Western melodrama advertised on the marquee. The film was produced in the transition to sound and had only a soundtrack for effects and music. The star, Renee Adoree, can be seen in a clip via a Google search for “youtube tide of empire, 1929.” From the Coliseum’s big screen, it’s a bittersweet reincarnation as a low-resolution postcard-sized rendering on a computer screen, but the French-born star still dazzles.
“Washington Then and Now,” by Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard, can be purchased through www.washingtonthenandnow.com ($45).