AKA: Beede's Madison Street Theatre, Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA; Cordray's New Theatre, Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - stores; built works - performing arts structures - theatres

Designers: [unspecified]

Dates: constructed 1889-1890, demolished 1907

2 stories

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3rd Avenue and Madison Street
Downtown, Seattle, WA 98154

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This building, erected as a temporary location for the Toklas, Singerman and Company menswear store after the Great Fire of 06/06/1889, became a succession of theatres, including Beede's Madison Street Theatre, Cordray's New Theatre, and the 3rd Avenue Theatre. Under Cordray's ownership, the theatre building was heavily promoted in its advertising. A large image of it appeared in a full-page advertisement in R.L. Polk Seattle Directoty Company's Seattle City Directory 1895, (p. 914) and on the cover of Cordray's theatre programs. The building lasted about 18 years, before it was razed during the City of Seattle's regrading of 3rd Avenue.

Building History

According to theatre historians Howard Grant and Ethel Austin Grant, "After the fire, Toklas and Singerman, forerunners of the present firm of MacDougal [sic] and Southwick, constructed a building on the northeast corner of Third and Madison as a temporary store. Later, after they built their new store, Mr. Beede remodelled this building into the Madison Street Theater." (See Howard F. Grant and Ethel Austin Grant, Story of Seattle’s Early Theatres, [Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1934], p. 36.) Merchants Ferdinand Toklas (1845-1924) and Paul Singerman (1847-1915) operated the most fashionable dry goods and menswear store in Seattle in 1889. The Great Fire of 06/06/1889 destroyed their store on the southwestern corner of Front Street (1st Avenue) and Columbia Street; to make due. They erected this wood-frame building for a short time, which restaurateur and theatre owner George K. Beede bought in 09/1890 to create his "Madison Street Theatre."

A month later, John F. Cordray (born 03/17/1851-died 1937) of Portland, OR, took the building over and remodeled it into a 1,172-seat house, at a cost of $20,000. Cordray, a native of OH, got into theatre management at a young age, becoming the manager of the Opera House in Somerset, OH, at the age of 22. He subsequently managed theatres in New Orelans, LA, and Denver, CO, before settling in Portland, OR. (See John F. Cordray, Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections, accessed 02/02/2015.) Along the way, he invented a sophisticated electric clock that made him wealthy. According to historian Eric Flom, Cordray was significant in the Pacific Northwest theatre scene because he introduced "stock theatre" to Seattle, that is, he created a resident acting troupe for his own venue. His troupe produced clean "family-style" shows that pleased civic reformers of the day. He also maintained an alcohol- and peanut-free facility in contrast to the rowdy and filthy box-houses, (saloons with live entertainment) prevalent before 1890. (See Eric L. Flom. Silent Film Stars on the Stages of Seattle, [Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Incorporated, 2009], p. 22.)

Cordray operated it for six years (1890-1896), the last three following the Panic of 1893 were disastrous for him and his peers, driving most of them out of business and some out of the city. Cordray, by now greatly in debt, operated the theatre intermittently in 1896, before selling it to Charles Baker.

Baker changed its name to the "3rd Avenue Theatre," managed in the beginning by William Russell and Edward Drew. According to Henry Broderick in his book, Early Seattle Profiles, "The 3rd Avenue Theatre at the northeast corner of Third and Madison, operated by Russell and Drew, presented melodrama for the family trade. In this cozy little theatre, free lemonade was dispensed up and down the aisles during intermission." (See Henry Broderick, Early Seattle Profiles, [Seattle, WA: Dogwood Press, 1959], p. 30.)

In 1903, William Russell operated the Third Avenue Theatre by himself. At this time, Seattle had three large theatres staging live dramatic and vaudeville performances: the Third Avenue, the Seattle Theatre, managed by J.P. Howe, and the Grand Opera House, operated by John Cort. In addition, there were smaller, more ephemeral venues that showed popular vaudeville acts, such as the People's Theatre (121 South 2nd Avenue) and the Theatre Comique (410 South 5th Avenue). The Third Avenue Theatre operated until 1907, when it was demolished during a regrading project on 3rd Avenue.

Building Notes

When George Beede obtained the building in the summer of 1890, he embarked on a complete remodeling. It is not clear what the exterior of Beede's Madison Street Theatre looked like; it does seem to have been divided into two venues: a smaller space, later called the "musee," that hosted vaudeville troupes, and a larger theatre, that accommodated full-scale operatic or dramatic groups. Separate admissions were charged for both spaces. The building originally had a wood-frame, and was probably about two stories in height. Theatre historian Howard F. Grant wrote of Beede's alterations: "He tore out the old interior and constructed a stage 72 feet by 32 feet with a proscenium arch 25 feet high and 28 feet wide. He also put in a gallery which seated 450 persons. The main floor seated 722. Opera chairs were installed and the auditorium was lighted by 350 incandescent lamps. There were boxes on each side of the stage. The interior of this theater was decorated by Mr. Buchan, a Chicago artist, who also decorated John Cort's Standard." (See Howard F. Grant and Ethel Austin Grant, Story of Seattle’s Early Theatres, [Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1934], p. 36.)

Beede sold the theatre very shortly after altering it, to Cordray, who also made significant changes. The Seattle Telegraph wrote in its edition of 10/19/1890: "The front elevation extends 127 feet along Madison street and will be elegantly finished in a very taking style, with a handsome large tower on the corner. The side on Third, also 127 feet, will be finished in a style similar to the front. The grand entrance will be under the tower, with the box office to the left of the door. The entrance will be lighted with arc lights. From the vestibule there will be a stairway leading to the musee. The auditorium is 50 x 100 with a 26 foot ceiling, and seats 1,000. Here will be produced the cream of all specialties. From the musee there is an entrance into the theater where performances will be given nightly witho ne of the fines orchestras on the coast. The cost of remodeling will be $20,000. The floor will be lowered in front, arches put in, and the old gallery replaced with a symmetrical one in the shape of a horseshoe. The theater will be seated at a cost of $5,000 with blue plush automatic folding opera chairs and lighted by 500 lights. It will be carpeted, steam heated and will seat 1,400 persons. The state 35 feet deep and 80 feet wide will be adapted to present any opera or spectacular play. The latest electrical appliances for regulating lights for tableaux will be provided. A New York artist is painting a drop curtain which as a Moorish design. This artist will be regularly employed and new scenery will be made for every show." (See Howard F. Grant and Ethel Austin Grant, Story of Seattle’s Early Theatres, [Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1934], p. 37.) The most notable exterior feature of Cordray's theatre was its corner entrance tower crowned by a hexagonal cupola.


This building was torn down during one of City Engineer R.H. Thomson's regrading projects, this one on 3rd Avenue in 1907. (See pauldorpat.com, "Seattle Now and Then: 3rd and Spring Regrade," published 09/17/2011, accessed 01/12/2021.)

PCAD id: 17350