AKA: Seattle Fox Theater, Downtown, Seattle, WA; Jack McGovern's Music Hall Theatre, Downtown, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - performing arts structures - theatres

Designers: Ford, Sherwood D., Architect (firm); Sherwood Diemer Ford (architect)

Dates: constructed 1928-1929, demolished 1992

7th Avenue and Olive Street
Downtown, Seattle, WA 98101

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Building History

Like many buildings popular in Southern California, this theatre was designed for the Los Angeles-based Fox chain in the Spanish Baroque Style. Due to an anti-trust suit against owner William Fox (forcing him to divest himself of his exhibition chain), Seattle exhibitors, Claude Jensen and John von Herberg, took the theatre over during the depths of the Depression, 1933, and rechristened the venue, "the Roxy." Another theatre, at 2042 Market Street in Ballard, was known as "The Roxy" by 1935. See R.L. Polk and Company's Seattle, Washington, City Directory, 1935, p. 1300.) Pacific Northwest vaudeville impresario and movie exhibitor John Hamrick (1875–1956), purchased the former Seattle Fox Theatre c. 1934 and renamed it, "Hamrick's Music Hall." At the time, Hamrick owned three theatres in Seattle: the Music Hall, Hamrick's Blue Mouse (1419 5th Avenue) and Hamrick's Music Box (1414 5th Avenue). (See See R.L. Polk and Company's Seattle, Washington, City Directory, 1935, p. 669.)

The Clise Family, prominent local landowners, purchased the theatre in 1936, and shortened the name to the Music Hall, by which it was known into the 1980s. Its last operators renamed it the Emerald Palace. Because of its location outside of the downtown movie theatre district, the Music Hall Theatre was not a huge moneymaker for the Clises. By the mid-1970s, suburban multi-plex cinemas had siphoned off most of the business for single-screen theatres located in downtown areas. At this time, a number of Seattle movie palaces were either threatened or torn down. To prevent another movie palace's destruction, an activist Landmarks Board of the City of Seattle landmarked the Music Hall in 1977; the Clise Family argued in front of Seattle's City Hearing Examiner, Merideth Getches, that the designation created an undue financial burden on the property's owners. The Hearing Examiner sided with the Clises, an old Seattle family that had extensive holdings of Downtown property. Despite the ruling, the owners did not knock the building down immediately, but tried to lease or sell it until the late 1980s. In 1988, the Clise Family made public its plans to raze the theatre and build a new tower on the site, initially slated to be a hotel. Led by the Allied Arts group, preservationists became hopeful at this time, when the Seattle Symphony considered using the Music Hall as its performance hall. The symphony, however, decided in 1989 to reject the 1920s palace in favor of a new building funded by another local developer, Jack Benaroya (b. 1921). In 07/1991, the Seattle City Council upheld the Hearing Examiner's decision, and the Fox was torn down in 01/1992.

Although theatres hold a strong sentimental attachment for many people, most mid-sized American cities can support only one or two restored large-scale movie palaces. Some are re-used as performing arts centers. After this, adaptive reuse of other theatres becomes more problematic. The Clise Case proved to be very important for Seattle developers who could argue henceforth that property owners' financial hardship trumped community interests. It was not the only Seattle City Historic Landmark demolished after it had been designated; the Manning's Restaurant in Ballard was leveled under comparable circumstances on 06/24/2008. Ironically, Jack Benaroya's son, Larry, owned this piece of real estate and was responsible for its demolition.

Building Notes

This Fox Theatre opened on 04/19/1929 and could hold 2,600 patrons; it was known subsequently by a number of different names: the Roxy (1933), Hamrick's Music Hall (1934), the Music Hall (c. 1962), 7th Avenue Theatre (c. 1967), Jack McGovern’s Music Hall (c. 1978-early 1980s) and, finally, the Emerald Palace Dinner Theatre (c. 1987).


Two urns from the Music Hall Theatre were transported to Clearview Nursery and Stone in Snohomish, WA.

Seattle Historic Landmark: 1977

PCAD id: 10936