Studio Theatre

249 W. Riverside Avenue,
Spokane, WA 99201

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In 1978 The Spokane Daily Chronicle looked back at some of the city’s theatres of the past. It was said that the Empress Theatre, built in about 1906, was “the Cinderella of the Spokane theatres,” which by 1932 had become rather shabby. Arthur J. Bishell then cleaned, fixed and dressed it up and started showing second-run pictures that had been successfully proven in Spokane’s first-run houses. Sometimes he could even find a good first-run picture that had been turned down by the downtown theatres. He turned the theatre around by charging a third of what the downtown locations had been getting. This economical policy made the theatre very popular and it started to attract the family trade. This success enabled Bishell to eventually lease the Granada Theatre downtown.

According to Chronicle ads, through much of the war years it was known as Pike’s Empress Theatre, “Open All Night” and finally becoming in 1946 a playhouse presenting legitimate plays.

On February 16, 1948 it became listed in the Chronicle as the Studio Theatre, playing B pictures but on October 19, 1949 the theatre was once again called the Empress Theatre. This time however in addition to a double feature patrons were treated to an “All-Girl Stage Revue.” It appears this policy may have been short-lived because in less than a year the Empress Theatre had dropped out of the theatre pages.

Still, the Studio Theatre was in the Film Daily Yearbook of 1951-53 with seating listed at 750 but no more mention was made of the Studio Theatre until 1961 when the news said that was it was being converted to a church. By 1982 the main part of the building had been demolished with the lobby still standing. On December 4 a fire reported in a nearby hotel finished off the remainder of the theatre. The site is now a parking lot.

This Studio Theatre should not be confused with a later 1970’s Studio Theatre that gained notoriety in Spokane by playing X-Rated movies. That Studio Theatre was located at 326 Riverside Avenue and was known earlier as the Empire Theatre, Rex Theatre, Nu-Rex Theatre and El Rey Theatre.

Contributed by Ron Pierce

Recent comments (view all 2 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on February 22, 2012 at 12:17 pm

This theater probably opened in late 1907 or early 1908 as the Washington Theatre, and was probably designed by local architect Alfred Jones. It was renamed the Empress Theatre in 1911.

The 1913 edition of Julius Cahn’s guide lists the Empress as a Sullivan & Considine vaudeville house, but provides no details. This page at BoxRec, the online boxing encyclopedia, cites a 1927 Spokane Spokesman Review item about fighter Young Stribling, which said that he had visited Spokane in 1911 as part of a family acrobatic troupe which appeared at Sullivan & Considine’s Empress Theatre, which had at that time been called the Washington Theatre.

A list of Sullivan & Considine houses at which Charles Chaplin appeared in 1911 (the text is mostly in German) has him appearing at the Washington Theatre in Spokane on April 24, 1911, and at the Empress Theatre in Spokane on September 24, 1911, so the name change took place between those dates.

A history of Spokane published in 1912 has the following information about local architect Alfred Jones:

“Mr. Jones also designed and was financially interested in the company that instituted the first moving picture showhouse in Spokane. They operated under the name of the Spokane Scenic Theater Company and opened the Scenic Theater at First avenue and Stevens street. Subsequently they built the Empress Theater. Mr. Jones was secretary and treasurer of the company and later promoted another organization known as the Arcade Amusement Company of which he was president. This company built the Arcade Theater on Riverside avenue.”
An item in the September 11, 1907, edition of the Spokane Evening Chronicle said that old buildings at a site on the north side of Riverside Avenue between Washington and Bernard were being razed in preparation for a new theater to be built by the Spokane Scenic Theatre Company. This must have been the Washington/Empress/Studio, which was on that block.

The opening name Washington Theatre was apparently moved to this house from another theater. A February 26, 1906, item in the Spokane Evening Chronicle said that John Considine and Timothy Sullivan were planning to visit Spokane, and said that their theater in that city was called the Washington. I don’t know the location of the first Washington Theatre, or what became of it after the name was moved, but it might not have been very old at the time. A Washington Theatre Company was incorporated at Spokane on May 15, 1905, with capital of $20,000.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on February 23, 2012 at 12:54 am

The Alfred Jones who designed this theater was not the Alfred E. Jones who remodeled the Theatre De Luxe in Dublin, Ireland, in 1936. The Spokane Jones was born in Chicago in 1872, while Alfred Edwin Jones of Dublin lived from 1894 to 1973.

Alfred Jones of Spokane formed a partnership with Joseph Levesque in early 1910, and a couple of years later moved to Arizona after contracting tuberculosis. He never returned to Spokane, and I’ve been unable to find any later information about him.

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