Downtown Historic Theatre District (Seattle) Tour

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 8/29/2012
  • Essay 10149
Paramount Theatre Moore Theatre ACT Theatre 5th Avenue Theatre Town Hall

This is a tour of Seattle's Downtown Historic Theatre District as it existed at the time of its designation on December 6, 2011. The Downtown Historic Theatre District was created to support the preservation, promotion, and maintenance of Seattle's downtown historic theaters.  Five venues are included in the district: Town Hall Seattle (formerly the Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist), the 5th Avenue Theatre, A Contemporary Theatre ACT/Eagles Auditorium, the Paramount Theatre, and the Moore Theatre. This tour was written and curated by Paula Becker.  Map by Marie McCaffrey. Preparation of this feature was made possible by the Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, and 4Culture King County lodging tax.

The five designated theaters were constructed between 1907 and 1928. All serve as important physical and cultural landmarks and venues for artistic expression. These theaters have played this role for many decades, longer by far than most of their audience members have been alive. Three of the venues were designed with great opulence, intended to provide escape and respite from the harsh wider world. The other two venues originally served a different, but no less theatrical, purpose, one as a gathering place for religious services, the other as an expansive home for a large fraternal organization. 

These theaters are an important factor in Seattle's economy. In 2010, for example, the five venues presented more than 1,000 performances, providing more than 2000 local jobs and generating more than $15 million in income.  About 75 percent of the total audience population at the five theaters comes from outside Seattle, making them a valuable tourism incentive. "The creation of this district will recognize, protect, and build upon the collective contribution of these theaters to our economy and our cultural destiny," said Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn (b. 1959). "We're highlighting one of the things that makes Seattle special." 

All the designated theaters experienced periods during which their very existence was severely threatened. All were saved thanks to the commitment and activism of community leaders and generous outpourings of public and corporate support. All are survivors, reminders that Seattle's robust stock of early twentieth century theaters has been winnowed by economic factors that made them worth more dead than alive -- as noted by a member of Seattle's Allied Arts (an advocacy group that fought fiercely for preservation).  All underwent preservation and restoration to varying degrees, thanks to the extensive efforts of public and private donors. All are thus able to contribute to Seattle's economic well being, along with serving as important landmarks in the city's built environment. Seattle's historic downtown theaters have proven -- and continue to prove -- their multifaceted great worth. 

In order to be eligible for inclusion in the historic district, venues must have been built before 1930, be located in downtown Seattle, produce and/or present live performances, and operate as not-for-profit organizations.

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