AKA: Cort's Second Standard Theater, Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - performing arts structures - theatres

Designers: [unspecified]

Dates: constructed 1888, demolished 1889

2 stories

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Occidental Avenue South and South Main Street
Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA 98104

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Southwest corner of Occidental Street and Main Street


Barkeeper, box-house owner and eventual impresario John Cort (1859-1929) opened this short-lived theatre to cater to wider audiences than the randy male crowds patronizing his saloons. Cort tried to overcome his shady past promoting box-house entertainment--essentially taverns with music hall entertainment and private booths for after-show shenanigans--and metamorphosize into a respectable theatre owner. He reached this pinnacle in 1900, when he opened the culturally successful Grand Opera House on Cherry Street.

Building History

Cort opened his second theatre in Seattle, WA, the "New Standard," on the southeast corner of Occidental Street and Washington Street in 1888. Unlike the first Standard, lit by gas jets that often caused serious fires, Cort's second venue was the first in the city to be lit by Edison's electric incandescent bulbs. John Cort was also an innovator when it came to supplying his box-houses, and later legitimate theatres, with talent. Eric Flom has written of him: "Even while a box-house manager, John Cort recognized that organization was the key to expanding and thriving in the theatrical business. By the late 1880s, he had spearheaded efforts to coordinate booking of talent with other Northwest box-houses, a significant factor in his ability to draw acts from outside the region. Even prior to the Seattle fire of 1889, through connections forged with other West Coast theatres, Cort could book acts for a guaranteed run of 16 weeks, traveling a route that took them to major cities such as San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle, followed by an eastern swing through Spokane to Butte, Montana, hitting smaller towns all along the way. Cort's regional 'circuit' positioned him nicely with syndicate forces a decade later. By purchasing or forging business ties with theatres all along the Pacific Coast (he controlled 37 outright by 1903), Cort made himself a key figure to reckon with when the Eastern interest looked to expand into the Pacific Northwest." (See Eric L. Flom, Silent Stars on the Stages of Seattle, [Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Incorporated, 2009], p. 19.) Cort opened the Grand Opera House in 1900, his successful foray into staging "legitimate" theatrical productions. Just before its opening, Cort had signed a contract with the Klaw and Erlanger syndicate, the most powerful New York-based theatrical booking agents in the country, to supply the Grand with first-rate talent. This, overnight, made him the leading impresario in Seattle at that time.

Building Notes

Cort's Standard Theatre #2 was a non-descript, wood-frame building, lit by standard double-hung windows and located on the southeast corner of Occidental Avenue South and South Washington Street, according to Eugene C. Elliott in History of Variety-Vaudeville in Seattle, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1944), plate opposite page 19. This box house had a corner, first-floor entrance and a cantilevered second floor jutting out over the front facade. A part of the cantilevered second floor was open creating a small corner porch above the main entrance, a spot where passersby could be cajoled by barkers or serenaded by house bands. The porch featured turned balusters, about the only ornamental element on the facade. The Standard stood above the ground level on tall pilings, protecting the wood frame from the high water table of its former tide lands site. An enormous sign, with the words "Standard Theatre.," straddled the street, its weight carried by two large log poles on either end.

Demolished; the Standard #2 burned in the Seattle Fire of 06/06/1889 that charred a 20-block perimeter of the city.

PCAD id: 14675