AKA: Fifth Avenue Theater, Metropolitan Tract, Downtown, Seattle, WA; Fox Fifth Avenue Theatre, Downtown, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - performing arts structures - theatres

Designers: Liljestrom, Gustav F., Interior Designer (firm); Reamer, Robert C., Architect (firm); Unico Properties, LLC (firm); Gustav F. Liljestrom (artist/interior designer); Robert Chambers Reamer (architect)

Dates: constructed 1925-1926

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1308 5th Avenue
Downtown, Seattle, WA 98101-2602

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Alternate address 1526 5th Avenue.

Building History

Planning began in 1924 for the Skinner Building/5th Avenue Theatre development, one of the last buildings erected by the Metropolitan Building Company in the Metropolitan Tract, the former site of the University of Washington. Construction on the theatre began in 10/1925, supposedly with a budget of $1.5 million; published amounts for movie theatre decor were often inflated by exhibitors to impress customers.

Washington State Theatres, a subsidiary of the Los Angeles-based Motion Picture Capital Corporation (a finance company organized by Frank R. White in 1923), leased the 5th Avenue initially. The Motion Picture Capital Corporation's stockholders included, Wilson, Cecil B. DeMille (1881–1959, famed film director and producer), Jeremiah Millbank (1887–1972, investment banker), John T. Pratt (d. 1927, a NY attorney and Standard Oil Company executive), Charles H.V. Christie (1880-1955, owner of Los Angeles's Christie Film Company), Theodore Schultz, D.A. Blodgett, Jr., (born 1896. a Grand Rapids, MI, lumber company executive) and Thomas Lamont (Partner in NY-based J.P. Morgan and Company investment firm). The Fifth Avenue opened 09/24/1926 and, for a time in the 1930s, it operated as part of William Fox's (1879-1952) Los Angeles-based exhibition chain. The 5th Avenue closed in 1978 as a film venue. It reopened in the 1980s as a stage for live theatrical productions.

Building Notes

The opulent 5th Avenue Theatre was located within the sedate Skinner Building; the theatre was planned to accommodate "unit programs," combined movie exhibitions and live stage shows run 12 hours a day. (See Eric Flom, "Fifth (5th) Avenue Theatre (Seattle)" written 04/21/2002Accessed 11/02/2009.) The vaudeville production company, Fanchon and Marco Company, active in cities on the West Coast, produced many of the performances. Seattle architect Robert Chambers Reamer (1873-1938) collaborated with Gustav Liljestrom (1880-1958), an interior designer of San Francisco, CA on the Chinese-themed auditorium. The Cinema Treasures web site has called the 5th Avenue theatre "one of the most celebrated movie palaces ever built...." (SeeAccessed 02/24/2010.) A contemporary newspaper article said of the Fifth Avenue's remarkable interior in 1926: "The big theatre's interior is decorated exclusively in Chinese style, patterned after and adapted from the three leading palaces of China by Gustave Libjestrom [sic], consultant decorator to Architect Robert C. Reamer." (See "168 Chinese Students Reach Seattle," Seattle Times, 09-07-1926, p. 14.)

Movie theatre historian David Naylor, an expert on movie palaces, the giant, often fantastically themed movie theatres of the 1910s-1930s, has called R.C. Reamer and Liljestrom's design "...the most exacting replication of all the movie palaces. The highly ornate auditorium is a near-perfect duplicate, at twice the original scale, of the throne room of the Imperial Palace in Peking's Forbidden City." (See David Naylor, American Picture Palaces The Architecture of Fantasy, [New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold: 1981], p. 88.) The Forbidden City complex was erected primarily during the Ming Dynasty, between 1406-1420. Naylor noted that the 5th Avenue seated 2,439 patrons originally. Liljestrom, born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1882, migrated to the US when he was 20. He enrolled in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he studied Asian painting and sculpture. The artist then came west to San Francisco, CA, where he worked for the department store, Gump's, noted for its fine Asian artifacts.

Alteration

It was remodeled in the 1980s and is now re-opened as a venue for musical theatre; a new blade sign, patterned on the original, was hung from the exterior of the 5th Avenue Theatre on 11/12/2009.

Seattle Historic Landmark: ID n/a

National Register of Historic Places (November 28, 1978): 78002756 NRHP Images (pdf) NHRP Registration Form (pdf)

PCAD id: 5086