Built on the site of the University of Washington’s first school building, the Met closed after a Dec. 4, 1954, performance, and was torn down in 1956.
FROM 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, the founder-merchant-politician who helped organize the giving of the knoll to Washington Territory for its first campus.
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 facade was fronted with four classical ionic columns that looked west to Elliott Bay from its elevated knoll. You still can visit the original columns, which are preserved in the present UW campus’ outdoor Sylvan Grove Theater. (Some might wish to carry a flute and light incense, and dance about the columns.)
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.
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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 the 1911 construction of the Metropolitan Theatre. The northeast corner of the school’s first “box” overlapped the plans for the southwest corner of the theater. The fact is that in 1909, with a little moving of the theater’s footprint by its New York architects, Howells & Stokes, there was still enough room on the campus for both the elegant brick box and the cherished clapboard one.
This Webster and Stevens Studio portrait of the theater is easy to date — within four days. The clues are the posters pasted to the front of the theater for promoting “Spring Maid,” a Viennese-inspired operetta on its West Coast tour. It first had stopped in San Francisco. While it was a light opera, “Spring Maid” was not a light haul, with a company of 94 and an orchestra of 35. Tickets ran from 50 cents to $2. “Spring Maid” opened its four-day Metropolitan run on Oct. 19, 1911. While it was the largest early performance to touch the Met stage, it was not the first event held there. On Oct. 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.
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 & 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 13 years before the bomb. Its members, he wrote, are “pioneers in the nostalgic wish to return to pre-atom bomb days.”
The Met closed after a Dec. 4, 1954, performance, and was torn down in 1956 to enlarge the Olympic Hotel’s ballroom and build a better front entrance on its University Street side. After its demise, the Metropolitan began receiving much media coverage.