AKA: Cort Grand Theatre, Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA; Cherry Street Parking Garage, Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - performing arts structures - concert halls; built works - performing arts structures - opera houses; built works - performing arts structures - theatres

Designers: Houghton, Edwin W., Architect (firm); Schack, Young and Myers, Architects and Engineers (firm); Edwin Walker Houghton (architect); David John Myers (architect); James Hansen Schack Sr. (architect); Arrigo Mazzucato Young (civil engineer/mechanical engineer)

Dates: constructed 1898-1900

4 stories, total floor area: 54,960 sq. ft.

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213 Cherry Street
Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA 98104

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The Grand Opera House stood at 213-217 Cherry Street.


The 2,200-seat Grand Opera House's opening was a bold symbol of Seattle's resurgent prosperity following the Klondike Gold Rush (1896-1899) and during the Nome Gold Rush (1899-1909). Seattle's economy experienced doldrums during the 1893-1897 period, but the influx of gold and eager miners into the city, jump-started the city's fortunes. Seattle entertainment spots wilted during the Depression of 1893-1896, only to be refreshed by the new wealth transfer brought here by trainloads and shiploads of new visitors.

Building History

John Cort (1859-1929), developer of the first vaudeville circuit in the US, the Northwestern Theatrical Circuit, opened the Grand Opera House in 1900, its first performance starring the actor, Richard Carle (1871–1941). Construction of the opera house took two years and cost $75,000. During construction between 1898-1900, the Palm Gardens, a live theatre/beer hall, operated in the Grand Opera House's basement, but closed after completion. This beer hall brought in needed revenue for Cort, who required two years to accumulate the necessary capital to complete the theatre.

Cort, a native New Yorker, first appeared in Seattle by 1888. He made a fortune as a Seattle theatre box-house and legitimate theatre operator, went broke during the Depression of 1893, and left the city, returning East. When he returned amidst the Klondike prosperity of 1898, Cort retained Seattle architect Edwin W. Houghton (1856-1927) to design the 2,200-seat theatre. (Cort commissioned Houghton to design several other theatres for him, including the Cort Theatre in Chicago, IL, [1908-1909, demolished c. 1964].) According to a Seattle Times article of 09/09/1970 by Dorothy Brant Brazier, the facility operated from 1900-1917. (See Dorothy Brant Frazier, “213 Cherry Street and Theaters Past,” Seattle Times, 09/09/1970.) Cort relocated back to his hometown, New York, NY, by about 1910, (this time for good), where he opened the prestigious Cort Theatre on 12/20/1912. (The New York Cort Theatre's current owners, the Schubert Organization, Incorporated, bought it from its namesake in 1927.)

After Cort left in 1910, the name of the theatre changed from the "Grand Opera House" to the Grand Theatre, c. 1911. It became known as the "Hippodrome Theatre" for a very short time, between 12/1915 and 06/1916. Seattle's Empress Theatre became rechristened the "Palace Hippodrome Theatre" after 06/1916. The name was then changed back to the Grand Theatre for its last year of operation.

During its 17-year run, the Grand hosted many musical performances, operas (i.e., Rigoletto on 02/09/1906), high drama (such as “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” on 10/27/1904 and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in 06/1907), and popular theatrical productions, (including "Sherlock Holmes" on 10/18/1903, "The Wizard of Oz” on 10/16/1904, “Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch” on 09/17/1905, and "Ben Hur" on 10/09/1905). By the 1910s, it had suffered from accidents, neglect and cut-throat competition for consumers' entertainment dollar. Film exhibition made significant inroads into the popularity of live performance by 1917. Other performance venues also gained favor with the public for dramatic entertainment, including the Metropolitan Theatre and Moore Theatre, the latter operated by the Cort Theatrical Circuit. (The Moore became Cort's prime Seattle venue after 11/28/1907.) Fires also plagued the Grand Opera House, with damaging blazes occurring on 11/24/1906 and a more serious one on 01/20/1917. Between 01/20/1917-03/1923, the venue was vacant.

For economic reasons, owners Victor Elfendal and W.W. Scrubby decided to remodel it into a parking garage in 03/1923. With the proliferation of the Ford Model T and other cars during the 1910s-1920s, parking became increasingly scarce in dense urban neighborhoods, making a garage a very profitable undertaking. The Cherry Street Garage was one of Seattle's earliest remodeling efforts of an older commercial building into a parking facility; the Butler Building (1889-1890) was also another notable example, altered in the late 1930s.

On 06/27/1989, Byron R. Meyer sold the Cherry Street Garage to Josef Diamond's (1907-2007) Diamond Parking, Incorporated, for $2.4 million. Diamond, in 2010, was a major landowner in the Pioneer Square District.

Building Notes

William T. Dickey worked as the advertising manager of the Grand Opera House in 1901. (See (See R.L. Polk and Company’s Seattle City Directory, 1901, p. 404.)

In 2010, the Cherry Street Garage had an assessed value of $3,665,000; it covered a 9,160 square-foot (0.21 acre) lot. Henry Broderick in his book, Early Seattle Profiles noted of the Grand Theatre: "On Cherry Street between Second and Third Avenues, the Grand Theatre housed the top dramas and musical comedies, with a change of bill fifty-two weeks in the year, all with casts of nationally known people of the stage." (See Henry Broderick, Early Seattle Profiles, [Seattle, WA: Dogwood Press, 1959], p. 29-30.)


Several fires over the years damaged the Grand Opera House's interior, but the worst came in 1917, charring the auditorium and stage. As a result, the onetime jewel of Seattle theatre was gutted in 03/1923 and became the Cherry Street Parking Garage, a multi-story facility. The Seattle architecture firm, Schack, Young and Myers, designed the garage and supervised its construction.


Partially demolished; the Romanesque facade was retained, but the interior removed.