5th Avenue Theatre

1308 5th Avenue,
Seattle, WA 98101

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Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on March 1, 2014 at 4:59 pm

Several photos available here: http://www.pstos.org/instruments/wa/seattle/5th-ave.htm

paulnelson
paulnelson on May 26, 2012 at 2:47 am

A masterpiece of theatre style that has been lovingly restored and maintained to this day. Historic to the max.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on March 22, 2012 at 1:52 am

Nice picture of the new vertical blade in the photos section.

When I visitd Seattle in 2005 I had the opportunity to visit this eye-popping gem. The manager let me in for a quick peek and it is breathtaking.

There is so much to see and feel… As Lucy Ricardo once said, it’s like a bad dream after eating too much Chinese food, only in this case in a good way. Every surface is covered in something ornate, but I was especially impressed by the auditorium dome, which features a huge golden dragon. Even my 13-month old daughter broke into a big grin when I had her look up at it.

I am so jealous that people once paid 25 cents to come see a regular movie show in this dizzy den. In a word, wow.

dickneeds111
dickneeds111 on March 21, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Back in the 60’s when I was stationed in Bremerton I visited the 5th Ave theatre many times. What a beautiful eddifice. Reminds me a lot of the RKO Memorial(now the Opera House) here in Boston. I believe the Boston theatre had more seats. At the 5th ave I remember seeing Dr. Doolittle(I should have saved my money) and other reserved seat 70mm presentations. My favorite film was when they showed a 70mm re-issue restored version of Gone With The Wind. My favorite theatre in Seattle for viewing was the Colisseum. Its ashame they didn’t preserve instead of turning it into the Banana Republic.

rivest266
rivest266 on January 20, 2012 at 9:02 pm

This opened on September 24th, 1926. Grand opening ad in the photo section.

sconn
sconn on October 24, 2011 at 7:36 am

The Chris Farley film “Black Sheep” had a scene shot here, and gives a pretty good sense of the grandeur of the lobby.

Homeboy
Homeboy on August 4, 2010 at 3:19 am

The following article appeared in the August 2010 issue of Signs of the Times.

“Fifth Avenue Style: CREO rejuvenates a landmark Seattle theatre with luminous signage”

In February 2008, Cathy Johnstone, the 5th Avenue Theatre’s (Seattle) director of facility operations, con-tacted us regarding a new exterior sign for the property. CREO (known as SignTech at that time) had fabricated its existing exterior signage back in the mid 1990s, and we participated in brainstorming discussions regarding a new, vertical marquee that we hoped to build when funding allowed.

She explained that a donor had expressed interest in funding a new marquee reminiscent of the vertical one that existed when the theater opened in 1926. Between February and July 2008, the theater’s management team invited CREO to preliminary discussions regarding various concepts for the new design. They wanted general guidelines regarding signage possibilities attainable with their available budget.

In July 2008, funding was secured, with the overwhelming majority derived from the donor’s contribution. That budget required proportional distribution between design and fabrication/installation. For the $300,000 allocated to the project, design, electrical work, structural testing and electric programming required $100,000; fabrication comprised the rest.

Design and fabrication decisions

The Seattle office of NBBJ, an architecture/environmental-graphics firm, designed its ideal sign based on client input and CREO’s general guidelines. Then, CREO analyzed that hypothetical sign’s cost relative to the available budget. Some sign elements were non-negotiable: size, function and materials. For other aspects, CREO specified options and corresponding costs for budget optimization. After three design revisions, the team selected a design that achieved both the desired aesthetics while respecting budgetary limits.

As NBBJ’s design intent unfolded, CREO provided material samples â€" painted aluminum, acrylic, screenprinted patterns, etc. â€" and general fabrication information to help focus design details. Once the design’s scale, color and function crystallized, CREO fabricated a full-size cabinet section (approximately 3 x 4 ft.) that included dimensional, layered materials with a few LED bulb options with differing colors, brightnesses and shapes.

The mockup also showed different animation options for the bulbs’ illumination, chasing and scintillating functions. To ensure optimal readability, we viewed the prototype in daylight and darkness.

Time to build

As fabrication began, we addressed programming the sign’s lighting. The sign required 12 different lighting regions, and the theater wanted maximum control and flexibility for illumination. The light show needed to vary for different theater events, which meant CREO had to deliver a fairly sophisticated, electrical-control assembly.

Consequently, CREO installed a subpanel that branches out all circuits and provides an astronomical timer control. The subpanel breaks the power into 12, 20A circuits. Eleven dictate the lighting scheme, and one manages the rotating “5” atop the sign.

The electronic clock controls each circuit individually â€" turning them on and off appropriately â€" per client programming. The job required five or six lighting variations. Yet, the sign only draws approximately 60A when fully engaged.

Motion and light

The 10-ft.-tall rotating “5” â€" essentially a custom, 3-D aluminum cabinet â€" looms as the sign’s crowning glory. A Dynapac Model L-350 rotator, which turns the sign at 4 rpm, powers the cabinet. The motor is indexed to stop in the same position whenever the power is turned off. Designing the structural connection and support for the Dynapac rotator presented an initial challenge, but once we’d brought the engine in house, the plan unfolded fairly easily.

Expectedly, adhering to budget proved a consistent challenge. The LED S14-style, screw-in LED that provides chaser lighting provided the most significant budgetary hurdle. These were chosen because they mimic the incandescent bulbs often used for signage back in the ’40s and ’50s, but in a much more energy-efficient manner. The 1W bulbs will consume approximately 90% less energy than traditional, 11W incandescents.

The sign required nearly 2,000 of these bulbs, so they consumed a significant budget portion. This type of LED lamp, however, is relatively new. Finding an affordable solution with adequate testing and a good performance track record proved extremely difficult. After much research and analysis, the consultant team chose a foreign product. Unfortunately, we immediately encountered a larger-than-expected failure rate. We worked with the distributor, Action Lighting (Bozeman, MT), and received another batch of lamps just in time for completion. Despite the hassle, we met our client’s needs.

Installation

Sign installation was fairly involved as well. We first designed and engineered the sign’s attachment to the building. Finding accurate structural information about this nearly 100-year-old building proved challenging. Standards for building construction, materials and techniques differed a bit in the mid 1920s.

Ultimately, the main horizontal structural members, which run between vertical columns behind the building’s stone façade, proved substantial. A 5-ft.-tall, 2-ft.-deep, concrete structural skeleton supports each floor around the building’s full perimeter. A seismic structural review, which occurred here (and at many older buildings) after the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, strongly influenced our attachment design.

We core-drilled test holes through the building’s façade to verify the location of the structural beams and test the concrete’s condition. Luckily, everything proved compatible for our planned epoxy/stud anchoring system. After having determined the structure’s location in relation to the stone façade, we prepared three baseplates. We set each with 36, 1-in.-diameter, threaded rods, which we anchored with epoxy into the concrete building structure with Simpson Set XP epoxy. We welded the sign’s three, steel-tube supports to the plates.

We built and installed the sign in three pieces. We constructed the sign’s body in two segments, and the rotating numeral comprised the third. Because the theater resides on one of downtown Seattle’s busiest streets, all installation phases occurred at night and were coordinated around a busy performance schedule.

Also, the installation happened near the holidays, so lane closures during the busy shopping season limited our working window. Fortunately, we completed the bulk of the install before Thanksgiving, but we performed some final minor assembly and touchups after the street-use restrictions had begun. For those tasks, we hired a roped-access crew to rappel from the roof and complete this work that otherwise would’ve waited until after Christmas.

The result

The 60-ft.-tall sign’s 0.125-in. aluminum shell, built entirely around a 2-in., aluminum-square-tube frame, was finished with Matthews acrylic-polyurethane paint. CREO’s Gerber Sabre 408 router handled most of the flat-cut work. We finished the job’s more intricate cutting on a waterjet table.

The multiple lit regions include perimeter cove lighting that illuminates an ornately patterned face; halo-lit letters that spell “Avenue;” and separate detail cabinets at the top and bottom with push-through, acrylic copy. We illuminated all components with more than 2,000 Allanson Storm Tight LED modules in white and red. The LEDs are powered by 11 Sloan LED and 27 Advance Corp. 60W transformers.

We also populated the scintillating exposed lamps in the letters, and the two rows of perimeter chase lights, with more than 1,900, low-voltage, S-14, exposed-LED lamps. Design Specialties built the scintillation and chase units.

The rotating “5” features two rows of Sloan FlexiBRITE red, LED rope lighting that simulates neon border tubes, as well as LED lamps embed-ded inside the numeral’s outline.

Our work yielded a luminous, vertical marquee that attracts even greater attention to this historic theater.

bruceanthony
bruceanthony on April 21, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Im glad they finally after 30 years put a proper marquee back on the 5th Avenue. It seemed naked without a Marquee.This has made my day.brucec

Dav1dJeffers
Dav1dJeffers on November 29, 2009 at 3:25 am

After 30 years, Seattle’s 5th Avenue has a new vertical marquee.
http://www.siffblog.com//a_sign_a_sign_005283.html
View link

CSWalczak
CSWalczak on August 20, 2009 at 4:35 pm

The 1984 and 1986 pictures posted above on April 29, 2009 are not of the 5th Avenue. They are of the Music Hall (formerly Fox) Theater in Seattle that was demolished around 1991.

jflundy
jflundy on February 2, 2008 at 11:45 pm

Does anyone know if the Wilkes Theater in Seattle is listed under an other name or if it ever showed movies? See photo link:
View link

William
William on December 6, 2007 at 5:52 pm

When the theatre opened it was part of the Pacific Northwest Theatres Inc. chain, which would later becaome part of the Fox Theatres chain. (see my May 4th. 2006 post for the other chain names)

The theatre did a Full Dress Rehearsal and Pre-Performance on Thursday, Sept. 23rd 1926.

The opening feature was Cecil B. DeMille’s “Young April”.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on June 1, 2006 at 2:34 am

Here is a 2001 article from the Seattle Times about the 5th Avenue and other theaters:
http://tinyurl.com/ytlkp

William
William on May 4, 2006 at 10:59 pm

The Fifth Avenue Theatre was operated by the Evergreen State Amusement Corp., which was one of the subsidiaries Fox Theatres, National Theatres and later National General Theatres.

William
William on March 29, 2006 at 11:18 pm

The 5th Avenue Theatre opened on September 24th. 1926.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on December 30, 2005 at 2:02 am

There are some photos of this theater from 1926 on this site. Enter theaters as a search term and browse the photos:

View link

GWaterman
GWaterman on December 3, 2005 at 9:57 pm

The Fifth Avenue’s house and stage are not symmetrical, due to the fact that it’s shoe-horned into an office building. The walls of the auditorium angle at slightly different angles, and the back wall of the stage is not parallel to the proscenium.

This is a beautiful theatre. I worked there many times after it became a musical theatre house. The basement was given over to the Eddie Bauer store on the lower level, making it a little difficult to load heavy musical instruments into what is a truncated orchestra pit without a pit elevator.

Gooper
Gooper on October 19, 2005 at 2:55 pm

This theatre, to use Ben M. Hall’s immortal phrase, ‘out-Chinesed Grauman’s Chinese’. Long may it reign!
Amongst many highlights are the exit signs, beautifully done!

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on September 14, 2005 at 4:48 am

I am visiting Seattle this week and had the opportunity to visit this eye-popping gem. The manager let me in for a quick peek and it is breathtaking. There is so much to see and feel…As Lucy Ricardo once said, it’s like a bad dream after eating too much Chinese food, only in this case in a good way. Every surface is covered in something ornate, but I was especially impressed by the auditorium dome, which features a huge golden dragon. Even my 13-month old daughter broke into a big grin when I had her look up at it. I am so jealous that people once paid 25 cents to come see a regular movie show in this dizzy den. In a word, wow.

GWaterman
GWaterman on March 8, 2005 at 12:01 am

Sounds like the person asking about the movie theatre service cocktails and food is thinking of the old Music Hall, which at one point was the home to a dinner theatre, presented by Greg Thompson’s Follies. It reopened in the 80’s as the Emerald Palace, with a similar format. The Music Hall, which began as the Fox, was torn down in the early 90’s —– very sad.

absalonson
absalonson on October 17, 2004 at 2:57 am

Anyone out there know of a movie theatre my wife is thinking about that serves cocktails, serves food to you, has nice seating, etc…downtown seattle I guess….we’re new here.

JimRankin
JimRankin on March 25, 2004 at 3:33 pm

Theme theatres were a big part of the Movie Palace phenomenon, and the dazzling 5th AVENUE is certainly among the finest of its type in the nation, and especially since it is one of the few of its type surviving! It was/is so grand that the Theatre Historical Soc. of America sought to do an entire ANNUAL on it in 1984, and the resulting 46-page booklet with both vintage b/w photos as well as full color modern photos is a fitting tribute to this example of high Chinese art. It reveals that the auditorium was modeled upon the imperial throne room in the palace of the Forbidden City in Peking, but in a much larger scale. One has to see the photo of the enormous dragon “grasping for the pearl of perfection” (the white globe of the chandelier) to fully appreciate how vast and elaborate this ‘temple’ is. The booklet shows in a photo the unusual construction with the entire theatre inside the mass of an office building, thus having a special superstructure needed to hold up the floors of offices above the theatre. Enjoy this example of a fine ANNUAL reflecting one of America’s finest theatres.

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 the sidebar of 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 40 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 loan 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)

bruceanthony
bruceanthony on October 31, 2003 at 8:33 pm

The 5th Avenue is more ornate than the Chinese in Hollywood. I love both theatres. I wish someone would give this theatre a proper marquee. This theatre needs both a vertical and canopy marquee lit in neon. The front of this theatre is so boring without a proper marquee. The interior of the theatre is breathtaking. brucec

bruceanthony
bruceanthony on October 31, 2003 at 8:31 pm

The 5th Avenue is more ornate than the Chinese in Hollywood. I love both theatres. I wish someone would give this theatre a proper marquee. This theatre needs both a vertical and canopy marquee lit in neon. The front of this theatre is so boring with a proper marquee. The interior of the theatre is breath taking. brucec