Coliseum Theater

500 Pike Street,
Seattle, WA 98101

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rcflax
rcflax on September 4, 2007 at 10:36 pm

I Was in Seattle a couple of weeks ago and lucky enough to get a tour of the remaining intact parts of the Coliseum Theatre.

Accessible only through a hidden door, then up a small circular staircase one arrives at a door leading to a hallway that would have been the far left aisle leading to the landing which runs the width of the theatre between the mezzanine and the balcony.

There is no architectural detail left in the hallway, but high up on the walls of the auditorium some of the elaborate design elements remain.

The top half of the Proscenium arch remains and the detail work forming an elaborate design framing the arch is largely intact, except for the far left side which has crumbled. I was told it fell during an earthquake a number of years ago.

A false ceiling begins at the front of the mezzanine then covers what would have been the orchestra seating, and cuts the proscenium in half. The plaster relief of Dionysus at the apex of the arch still looks out over what remains of his theater. The area below the false ceiling is the Banana Republic Store.

There is a large empty area above and behind where the screen would have been in back of the arch. As I understand it, this theatre did not have a stage so this was possibly the organ loft, but from where I was it did look sort of like a Stage House.

The upper walls of the auditorium are pretty much intact although lower down you can see where much of the ornamentation was removed, leaving some painted areas (a really horrible green color)and some areas with patterns where plaster or woodwork were originally.

The main aisle that would have led from the upper lobby and main staircase (from under the balcony) is walled off. Behind this wall is the high vaulted ceiling of the main store entry area.

The cement risers from the front of the mezzanine to the back of the balcony, which held each row of seats are all intact but there are no seats left. Some of the original Brass from stair handrails is still in place.

The store has used a number of original plaster elements from the theatre in it’s interior design.

The original theatre safe, which had been on display in the store, was recently sold and removed.

This theatre had an elevator, which apparently went from the basement to the balcony. The steel sliding gates to the elevator are still in the basement.

Also in the basement are large rooms where I think that the air handling system and blowers might have been and the entrances to the caves under the seating areas for the return air are intact.

The most wonderful thing down there are the huge neon letters, which used to stand above the marquee and spelled the name of the theatre: COLISEUM. I remember those letters shining brightly in front of the theatre many years ago. Some of the letters are used in the store’s Christmas display each year.

The building has apparently been sold recently, but Banana Republic has a very long term lease so it does not appear that any changes will be made any time soon.

The exterior of the building is nearly perfect, although the front where the marquee would have been was altered a great deal when the store was built inside.

The carved words COLISEUM are still standing tall at the top of the building façade facing the street on each side, although tall trees block most views and if you didn’t know that the lettering was up there you could easily miss it.

I took a few pictures of what is left in the upper reaches of the theatre but don’t know how to post them to this site.

In the entrance to one of the dressing rooms in the main store are framed pictures of the original theatre.

I remember seeing some films at this theatre in the 50’s and 60’s and was so excited that at least a portion of this magnificent Movie Palace still exists.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on August 3, 2007 at 11:41 am

Maybe the 1916 photo doesn’t narrow down the opening date. The PSTOS website claims that the Coliseum Theater opened in 1915. I don’t know if that is accurate or not but they do have a number of photos of the Coliseum Theater.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on August 3, 2007 at 11:17 am

Nice photo saps. That photo is dated February 1916 so that should narrow down the opening of the Coliseum Theater to January or February.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on August 3, 2007 at 10:21 am

This is vintage photo of the Coliseum Theater. The movie “Bulldog Drummond” would date this photo to around 1929.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on January 12, 2007 at 4:40 pm

dded to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975

Coliseum Theater *** (added 1975 – Building – #75001854)
5th Ave. and Pike St., Seattle
Historic Significance: Architecture/Engineering
Architect, builder, or engineer: Priteca,Marcus B.
Architectural Style: Other, Late 19th And 20th Century Revivals
Area of Significance: Architecture
Period of Significance: 1900-1924
Owner: Private
Historic Function: Recreation And Culture
Historic Sub-function: Theater
Current Function: Commerce/Trade, Recreation And Culture
Current Sub-function: Specialty Store, Sport Facility

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on May 31, 2006 at 7:20 pm

I recall exploring this building when I was in Seattle a few years ago. Even as a Banana Republic, the building is fascinating.

William
William on May 4, 2006 at 3:02 pm

The Coliseum Theatre Was once part of the Evergreen State Amusement Corp., which was one of the subsidiaries of Fox Theatres and later National General Theatres.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on January 28, 2006 at 5:26 pm

Here is another link with some photos:
View link

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on December 29, 2005 at 5:58 pm

There are some photos of the Coliseum on this site. Enter theaters as a search term and browse the photos:

View link

gsmurph
gsmurph on December 17, 2005 at 9:59 am

Uh, shouldn’t this theater’s status actually be “Closed” as a theater????

droben
droben on October 8, 2005 at 5:22 am

One can only imagine how beautiful this theater was before a “remodel” was done in 1949, which destroyed nearly all of the interior decorations noted above.

Saps brings up an interesting question, wondering how The Coliseum could deteriorate into a grindhouse, even with its enviable location in the middle of downtown Seattle’s retail core. When Tom Moyer’s Luxury Theaters of Portland Oregon took over operation in the late ‘70’s, the already deteriorating theater went into a steeper decline with minimal maintenance performed on it. Finding a seat that wasn’t broken became more difficult. The Coliseum even made the front pages of the daily newspapers when on the opening night of Seattle’s only presentation of “Dune” in 70mm, riots nearly broke out when the poorly maintained projection equipment broke down several times.

Although it is true that the current Banana Republic could be gutted and The Coliseum could rise once again, this is very doubtful. At least the exterior is preserved and looks as if it had just been built.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on September 13, 2005 at 9:04 pm

Visited the Coliseum today, and while the outside is stunning — the terra cotta seems to gleam a bright white and the name “COLISEVM” is clearly visible at the top of both sides the facade — the interior is not recognizable as a theater. There are about a dozen pieces of ornate plasterwork artfully displayed throughout the store, but since none of them are the traditional masks of comedy/tragedy, they don’t seem especially theatrical. I actually stumbled across this building a couple of days ago was very impressed, not even realizing that it had once been a theater, until I noticed the plaque on Pike Street. It really does stand out, and it’s hard to imagine this ornate monument had once deteriorated into a grindhouse, especially since the neighborhood seems like a real silk stocking district.

kateymac01
kateymac01 on May 4, 2005 at 3:59 pm

Here is a great Web site with photos and history of the Coliseum …

http://www.nwlink.com/~erick/coliseum/col-a-4.html

dirkee
dirkee on April 2, 2005 at 6:13 pm

I was assistant manager at the Coliseum Theatre for about 6 months in 1987. It was run by Luxury Theatres at the time. It was in pretty sad shape, but you could tell what a grand theatre it used to be. The balconies were closed, but people still would sneak up there once in awhile and we had to chase them out. We ran 3 shows a night and got about 30 people per show on average. We got a lot of drunks and had to wake them up after the show. Not a great era for the old theatre…

JimRankin
JimRankin on May 27, 2004 at 3:37 am

This theatre is one of some 200 that could be described as “Skouras-ized For Showmanship” which is the title of the ANNUAL of 1987 of the Theatre Historical Soc. of America. In the late 1930s through the 1950s, there occurred on the west coast of the United States a phenomenon known as the ‘Skouras style’ in recognition of the oversight of the Skouras brothers in their management of several cinema chains. They employed a designer by the name of Carl G. Moeller to render their cinemas/theatres in a new style best described as ‘Art Moderne meets Streamlined Rococo.’ The then new availability of aluminum sheeting at low cost was the principal material difference to this style allowing for sweeping, 3-dimensional shapes of scrolls to adorn walls and facades in an expression that would have been much more expensive and not at all the same in plaster. With the use of hand tinted and etched aluminum forms, the designers could make ornaments in mass production that allowed much greater economies of scale. The ANNUAL also shows in its 44 pages how some 20 theatres were good examples of this combining of aluminum forms with sweeping draperies heavily hung with large tassels, and with box offices and facades richly treated with neon within the aluminum forms. Few of these examples survive today, but it was a glorious era while it lasted, and this collection of crisp b/w photos is a fitting epitaph by the late Preston Kaufmann.
PHOTOS AVAILABLE:
To obtain any available Back Issue of either “Marquee” or of its ANNUALS, simply go to the web site of the THEATRE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA at:
www.HistoricTheatres.org
and notice on their first page the link “PUBLICATIONS: Back Issues List” and click on that and you will be taken to their listing where they also give ordering details. The “Marquee” magazine is 8-1/2x11 inches tall (‘portrait’) format, and the ANNUALS are also soft cover in the same size, but in the long (‘landscape’) format, and are anywhere from 26 to 44 pages. Should they indicate that a publication is Out Of Print, then it may still be possible to view it via Inter-Library Loan where you go to the librarian at any public or school library and ask them to locate which library has the item by using the Union List of Serials, and your library can then ask the other library to lend it to them for you to read or photocopy. [Photocopies of most THSA publications are available from University Microforms International (UMI), but their prices are exorbitant.]

Note: Most any photo in any of their publications may be had in large size by purchase; see their ARCHIVE link. You should realize that there was no color still photography in the 1920s, so few theatres were seen in color at that time except by means of hand tinted renderings or post cards, thus all the antique photos from the Society will be in black and white, but it is quite possible that the Society has later color images available; it is best to inquire of them.

Should you not be able to contact them via their web site, you may also contact their Executive Director via E-mail at:
Or you may reach them via phone or snail mail at:
Theatre Historical Soc. of America
152 N. York, 2nd Floor York Theatre Bldg.
Elmhurst, ILL. 60126-2806 (they are about 15 miles west of Chicago)

Phone: 630-782-1800 or via FAX at: 630-782-1802 (Monday through Friday, 9AM—4PM, CT)

Orlando
Orlando on March 9, 2004 at 1:50 pm

The theatre was not completely gutted, the balcony without seats and some ornate plasterwork still exist above the Banana Republic ceiling. The upper portion of the proscenium is also partially intact. The original theatre safe is also on display. I believe the rake on the orchestra floor is still there even though it has been leveled to street level. It could be put together again if it needed to be a theatre again.

Herb
Herb on February 17, 2003 at 9:12 pm

The Coliseum was open til the late 80’s. i wanna say “89”. I went there a few times when i was a kid. One particular time when I was 10, I went there with my older sister & her boyfriend to see “Brainstorm” & we sat on the balcony next to the projection room. The projectionist came out right before show time & asked me if I wanted to start it. ABSOLUTLEY!!! One of the best movie going experiences ever!!!! I was soooo nervous, all I really remember is flickering 1 or 2 buttons, and the red curtain (most the interior i remember was red) went up and the lights went down, & i heard the movie start!! I am disappointed it is now a “Banana Republic” but i read somewhere it could easily be converted back to a movie palace.