Green Lake Theater: A Seattle Reminiscence by Dorothea Nordstrand

  • By Dorothea Nordstrand
  • Posted 10/30/2007
  • Essay 8346

 This reminiscence of Seattle's Green Lake Theater was written by Dorothea (Pfister) Nordstrand (1916-2011). Her family moved to the Green Lake neighborhood around 1919. In 2009 Dorothea Nordstrand was awarded AKCHO's (Association of King County Historical Organizations) Willard Jue Memorial Award for a Volunteer, for contributing these vivid reminiscences to various venues in our community, including's People's History library.

Green Lake Theater

The Green Lake  Theater, which served the neighborhood from 1914 until 1928, was on 72nd Street, between Woodlawn Avenue and E Green Lake Way. It had a Friday night special promotion called "Northwest Products Night."  Prizes were bags of groceries and household sundries donated to the theater by local companies to be distributed as door prizes.  Admission to the theater was a dime for kids (those under five getting in free).  This was a gamble our parents took every week, trying for a bag of groceries. Two dimes got two chances, so Jack and Florence got to go to the show.  Since I didn't cost anything extra, I went, too. Twice, we won a bag of groceries to take home.  

The pictures were  black and white and there was no sound track, but dialogue was printed on the screen and the actors were adept at showing their emotions, so it was easy to follow the story. An upright piano, at the right and below the stage, played music to intensify the mood and add to the drama.  We saw westerns and adventure stories, comedies and high drama, and sometimes a serial like The Perils of Pauline, which ran for several weeks, with each installment ending at a place in the story that made you want to come back the next week to see what happened next.

 We saw Tom Mix and William Boyd  in westerns, and the following day our play-time was full of cowboys and Indians. I felt sorry for the Indians, so usually chose to play one.  Besides, I thought I did a magnificent job of “pretend” dying.  

Other movies I remember are  Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan’s famous The Tramp” and Douglas Fairbanks in The Thief of Baghdad, one of many movies he made showing off his wonderful athletic ability -- swinging from ropes, climbing walls and dueling.  Then, of course, there was Rudolph Valentino with the smoldering eyes, playing a toreador in Blood and Sand. 

There were Mary Pickford, often called “America’s Sweetheart,” and Clara Bow,  known as the “It” girl, for what we now would call sex appeal.  Lon Chaney, “the man of a thousand faces” scared us half to death playing The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  We loved them all.

Sometimes, the theater had an extra attraction -- an amateur talent contest.  Patrons were invited to come up from the audience to compete for a special prize.  Winners were decided by applause from the rest of the audience.  I was four years old, so Florence and Jack decided I would have a special appeal.  Florence had always taught me songs and poems, so up onto the stage they lifted me.  I sang all the verses to a current song called "Twilight is Stealing" in my little, piping voice.  I remember the first verse and chorus of that song.  It went like this:          


Twilight is stealing over the sea

Shadows are falling dark on the lea.

Borne on the night winds, sounds as of yore

Come from that far-off shore.             


Far away, beyond the starlit sky

Where the love-lights never, never die

Dream of a mansion, filled with delight. 

Sweet happy home, so bright.

There were several more verses, each followed by the common chorus, and I sang them all.  When the Master of Ceremonies held his hand above my head, it was clear that I had won the BIG PRIZE, which, that week, was a red coaster wagon. 

That wagon was quickly pressed into service as delivery cart for Jack's job. Jack worked after school for a local Mom and Pop grocery store delivering groceries to local housewives who either telephoned in their orders or shopped in the store but needed someone to help get their groceries home.  He was usually paid for this work with groceries to help at home.  Having the wagon made it a lot easier and more efficient than just carrying a bag or two at a time.

So I proudly helped our needy family, too.   

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