AKA: University of Washington, Seattle, Hughes Penthouse Theater, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - performing arts structures - theatres; built works - public buildings - schools - university buildings

Designers: Bebb and Gould, Architects (firm); Charles Herbert Bebb ; Carl Freylinghausen Gould Sr. (architect)

Dates: constructed 1938-1940

1 story

Seattle, WA

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Done in the Streamline Moderne Style, the Penthouse Theatre was the earliest theatre-in-the-round in the US. UW Department of Drama Professor Glenn Hughes (1894-1964), who became renowned across the US for his student productions and his development of arena theatres, opened two new theatrical venues, the Showboat Theatre (opened in 09/1938) and the Penthouse Theatre #2 (opened in 05/1940), greatly expanding the capacity of the Drama Department to put on shows. Hughes had a fierce feud with the founders of the Seattle Repertory Playhouse, Burton W. (1888-1951) and Florence Bean James (1892-1988) beginning in 1932, and he made efforts to create student performance spaces independent of their Repertory Playhouse (opened in 1930), which the Drama Division of the UW had leased for student productions between 1930-1932. UW drama professors Hughes and John Conway created the Penthouse Theatre's ground-breaking interior design. They collaborated with the UW Civil Engineering Professors Charles C. May (then the Campus Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds) and Sergius Sergev who designed the wood glue-laminated arches that provided a large clear span and the venerable Seattle architecture firm of Bebb and Gould on the project; this was the last building on the University of Washington Campus designed by Bebb and Gould, who had been the architects of record for at least 25 other UW buildings since the mid-1910s.

This 172-seat theatre-in-the-round had the Streamline Moderne styling typical of the 1930s; the Penthouse Theatre #2 consisted of a circular stage covered by a low dome, encircled by a round lobby. Two rectangular wings were appended to the circle on the east and west, the former containing an office and storage rooms, the latter mens' and womens' rest rooms. It was built using funding from the UW Division of Drama and labor supplied by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), (renamed the "Work Projects Administration" in 1939).


Changes were made to the Hughes Penthouse Theatre's lighting system in 1965.

The Hughes Penthouse Theatre originally stood on the northeast corner of 15th Avenue NE and NE Pacific Street, where the Physics Astronomy Building was erected in the mid-1990s. UW Facilities administrators, realizing the historical importance of the building, moved two of three pieces up 15th Avenue NE to a site on the north perimeter of the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1991. The third wing of the building was rebuilt on its new site.

PCAD id: 7874