Cameo Theater

1128 Pacific Avenue,
Tacoma, WA

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From my research, I’ve found that the Cameo was alive and well in the 1940s and 1950s.

The building had been the Palace Theater in the 1920s.

I have no idea how long the building was the Cameo and how long it was the Palace.

I know that at one point, the Cameo was managed by Harry ‘Red Carnation’ Switzer, who had also managed the Colonial and Rialto theaters.

There was a fire in the building that housed the Cameo on May 16, 1957, but news reports say there was no damage to the Cameo (which was showing “Night Runner” and “Five Guns West” at the time) or the men’s department store next door. Damage, it seems, was confined to the upper units of the building.

Contributed by KatieMac

Recent comments (view all 7 comments)

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on May 3, 2005 at 8:05 am

There is no listing for either of these theatre names in the 1941 Film Daily Yearbook, but in the 1943 and 1950 editions of F.D.Y. the Cameo is listed with 340 seats.

decoteau
decoteau on June 18, 2007 at 2:47 pm

I knew a man who rented this theatre and showed public domain movies and midnight movies and did quite well because it is near a college. This would of been in the late 70’s early 80s.

JCL
JCL on August 23, 2007 at 1:22 pm

Nostalgia trip…I was in theatre management and assigned to re-open the Cameo in 1970 area. The theatre chain showed fairly tame adult films, catering largely to the military from Ft. Lewis. I was there till about 1976.

Correct at about 300 seats. A very small front and lobby area that went directly center in auditorium. A mens restroom was located way down in front, left of screen. A very small ladies room was in the lobby. The projection booth was accessed on the street up a staircase. The second floor housed the office. Also on second floor was a Chinese restaurant which had a entrance on the street above Pacific as well.

Trivia: The theatre and Greyhound bus depot,(across street) were used in some scenes from Cinderella Liberty w/James Caan, (also locations in Seattle).

Noted by DeCoteau: I did start a small (50) seat theatre for classics and foreign films several miles from downtown, it was near a college. Maybe this was a recollection of DeCouteau? Altho the Cameo may have converted to classics after 1976.

decoteau
decoteau on March 4, 2008 at 9:56 pm

I was mistaken. My buddy had managed a 50 seater in Bellingham not Tacoma.

glteam01
glteam01 on December 16, 2008 at 11:20 am

Below is a December 6, 2008 article from the Tacoma News Tribune that provides some history of the Cameo Theatre:

The Cameo Theatre began as a Turkish bath belonging to two of Tacoma’s most notorious vice kingpins â€" Peter Sandberg and Vito Cuttone â€" during different generations.

Sandberg from the early days and Cuttone, who ran the Italian mob after the (second) world. Sandberg ran Tacoma’s prostitution business around the turn of the century. His payoffs of police and elected leaders eventually won passage of a City Council ordinance requiring the cops to round up prostitutes from the nice areas of downtown and segregate them in Sandberg’s properties between Pacific Avenue and A Street at South 14th Street, according to Sullivan and news accounts. Sandberg bought Tacoma Baths in 1901, added three floors and reopened in 1902 to much civic fanfare as The Kentucky Liquor Co. His full-page newspaper advertisements boasted “the largest, finest and most complete assortment of the best known brands of Wines, Liquors and Cigars ever offered on Puget Sound.”

By 1920, however, a morals movement and the U.S. period of alcohol prohibition, hit Sandberg hard. He died destitute in 1931 â€" about the time of the rise of Vito Cuttone’s influence.

Cuttone bought Sandberg’s old address in 1940 and rebuilt it into the 400-seat Cameo Theater. The theater’s inaugural motion picture, “Hard Guy,” starred Jack La Rue as a racketeer who ran a nightclub where the working girls married the rich blueblood customers, then blackmailed them into annulments and cash settlements.

Cuttone, meanwhile, ran a protection racket for a range of illegal operations, Sullivan said. If you wanted Tacoma’s cops to avoid your illegal gambling operation, you rented a pinball machine from Cuttone’s company.

“You might make $100 a month on the pinball machine, but you had to pay Cuttone $300 a month to rent it. For that money, Cuttone’s people would come by and make sure the cops did not break you up,” Sullivan said.

Cuttone’s control of Tacoma’s commissioner for public safety eventually inspired citizens in 1952 to throw out their form of government in favor of the council-manager form.

By 1960, the City of Tacoma bought Cuttone’s abandoned Cameo Theater building, tore it down and built the nation’s first moving sidewalk between Pacific Avenue and Commerce Street. The Escalade won Tacoma a national award for urban progress.

JCL
JCL on April 14, 2009 at 10:15 am

Re: posting by giteam and Tacoma News article.

My posting, 8-23-07 above: Tacoma News is inaccurate, or maybe discussing another ‘Cameo’ earlier years?

As stated I was operating the Cameo on Pacific into 1972. I had remodeled the entire front entrance, boxoffice and poster cases, and it was still standing a few years after ‘72. The owner of the property at the time was a local businessman, who lived in Tacoma. I cannot honestly remember his proper name,(forgive my memory) Mr.
Risotto or Rizzio? He and wife were very nice and gracious people.
JCL

JCL
JCL on April 24, 2009 at 9:42 am

Thanks, once again to ‘lost memory’ for having the Cameo Theatre
pics of 1980’s, showing ‘yes indeed’ it still was operating, contrary to erroneous dating of the Tacoma News Tribune story noted
as published 12-6-08 and submitted by ‘giteam’ 12-16-08.

Photo also shows,(on right) the streetside doors that lead to the proj booth and office area above…which in turn on next level was back entrance to a great little Chinese restaurant, that had the front entrance on the above Pacific street,(forget the street name).
On the left side of photo notes part of the Turnpike cafe which was family run and had a “great breakfast” selection and a “killer
tasting” cheeseburger.

Sad to say that over the years, I have lost all my pics of the Cameo. JCL

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