AKA: Seattle Center, McCaw, Marion Oliver, Hall, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - performing arts structures - opera houses

Designers: Loschky Marquardt and Nesholm (LMN), Architects (firm); Priteca and Chiarelli, Architects (firm); James Joseph Chiarelli (architect); Lloyd Wallace Johnson (building contractor); George Henry Loschky (architect); Judsen Robert Marquardt (architect); John Frank Nesholm (architect); Barnet Marcus Priteca (architect)

Dates: constructed 1960-1962

2 stories

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321 Mercer Street
Seattle Center, Seattle, WA 98109

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A capacious civic auditorium for cultural events has stood on this property since the 1929. Originally known as the Seattle Civic Auditorium, this venue had its facade removed (and structural supports retained) and rebuilt according to the plans of James Chiarelli (1908-1990) and B. Marcus Priteca (1889-1971) to create the Seattle Opera House (renovated in conjunction with the Seattle World's Fair of 1962). LMN Architects renovated and updated the 1962 Opera House to create McCaw Hall, a venue used by the Seattle Opera and Northwest Ballet.

Building History

Bond issues in 1956 and 1959 provided money to renovate the Seattle Civic Auditorium into the Opera House in time for the Seattle World's Fair. Historian Cathy Wickwire noted in her history of the Seattle World's Fair Playhouse: "In November 1956, the City held a special municipal election to approve a $7,500,000 bond issue to fund the acquisition of a site for a Civic Center development, the construction of a concert and convention hall and multi-purpose auditorium, and the modernization and remodeling of the Civic Auditorium. The City planned these improvements with the idea that the new Civic Center could also be used for the proposed Seattle World’s Fair along with nearby property acquired by the State. However, the following year, the fair’s Design Standards Advisory Board, a volunteer group of seven architects charged with making recommendations on site and design issues, proposed an alternative to building a new Opera House. Detroit architect Minoru Yamasaki suggested that a new Opera House could be constructed within a remodeled Civic Auditorium, which would save money and solve the problem of what to do with a building considered ugly but useful. A smaller playhouse would also be constructed nearby. While the city embraced the plan, the public clamored for a new Opera House as promised in the bond issue. In a lawsuit filed against the city, a Superior Court judge ruled that funds assigned for the construction of a new Opera House could not be used for the conversion of the Civic Auditorium. The matter was not settled until a second special election was held in September 1959, which approved the modified civic center plan." (See Cathy Wickwire, "Historical Sites Summary for 201 Mercer ST,"Accessed 09/13/2011.) The Opera House was dedicated by Mayor Gordon Clinton (1920-2011) on 04/09/1962.


Later donations by the McCaw Family, Nesholm Family and others funded a recent renovation of the Opera House into the Marion Oliver McCall Hall, home of the Seattle Opera. LMN Architects designed alterations to the Opera House (2001-2003) that removed most of the previous building efforts on the site. The Seattle Opera noted on its web site: "The dramatic transformation was visible from the street, and opera and ballet patrons on their way to the temporary Mercer Arts Arena could watch as the outer shells of the original 1962 and 1927 buildings were stripped away and replaced with a gleaming glass curtain wall. More than 70% of the old building was replaced by the new construction. Behind the façade, exciting changes took place. A new auditorium, lobbies, backstage, orchestra pit, and café were created. Wiring, plumbing, and HVAC systems—some dating back to 1927—were replaced. And a new lecture hall was added, as were additional restrooms, a coat check, and Amusements, a gift shop." The new facility opened on 06/28/2003. Other participants in this reconstruction effort between 12/2001 and 06/2003 included Deborah Sussman (b. 1931) of Los Angeles-based Sussman/Prejza and Company, Incorporated, (interior design/graphics), Leni Schwendinger (artworks), and Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, Limited, (landscape architecture).

PCAD id: 19510