Orpheum Theatre

3rd Avenue and Madison Street,
Seattle, WA 98104

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Orpheum Theatre

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This was Seattle’s second Orpheum Theatre. It was opened May 15, 1911 in the Mission Building. It was short lived as in 1916 Pantages Theatre opened and took away its business.

By 1918 it was operating as Levy’s Orpheum Theatre presenting movies. Over the next few years it alternated between live entertainment and movies. The Mission Building was demolished in 1949.

Contributed by Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 2 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 10, 2017 at 3:12 pm

I’ve come across a few references saying that, in its later years, this house operated for a while as the President Theatre. None of them reveal the years during which this name was used, but the name must have been changed by the time the new Orpheum Theatre was opened in 1927.

The name Orpheum has a rather convoluted history in Seattle. Prior to 1908, John Considine was operating an Orpheum Theatre in Seattle, but it did not present Orpehum Circuit vaudeville until that year, when Considine entered into a contract with Martin Beck, head of the circuit. Under that agreement, Sullivan & Considine, who operated their own low-priced vaudeville circuit in the region, would provide a theater in Seattle for the Orpheum Circuit, to be booked and managed by Orpheum, though Sullivan & Considine controlled 60% of the stock in the Seattle Orpheum Company.

Orpheum vaudeville was then presented at Considine’s Orpheum briefly, until the new Coliseum Theatre was opened in 1909. Orpheum Shows continued at the Coliseum until the Orpheum at Third and Madison opened. Not long after that event, the Sullivan & Considine circuit entered a period of turmoil, brought on by overextension and by the increasingly erratic behavior of the firm’s New York partner Timothy Sullivan, who was suffering from tertiary syphilis and was committed to a mental institution in 1912.

Sullivan’s death in 1913 was followed by legal wrangling over his estate, further weakening the Sullivan & Considine circuit, which soon collapsed. Considine’s 1908 agreement with Orpheum was ended in 1915, but a one-year contract with the newly-formed Orpheum Theatre & Realty Company allowed Orpheum Circuit shows to continue at the house into 1916. In that year the circuit’s shows in Seattle were moved to the Alhambra Theatre, and the following year to the Moore Theatre.

The Orpehum Theatre & Realty Company came under the control of the New York Life Insurance Company, and when the Orpheum Circuit attempted to use the Orpheum name at the Alhambra and then the Moore, the new owners of the Third and Madison house filed and won a lawsuit prohibiting the use of the name Orpheum at those or any other houses. The Orpheum Circuit did not regain control of its name in Seattle until the mid 1920s, at which time they built the final Seattle Orpheum, opened in 1927 on Fifth Avenue.

Interestingly, the first post-Orpheum tenant of the Third and Madison house in 1916, the Wilkes Players, a repertory company, moved to the Alhambra Theatre in 1917 when Orpheum vaudeville was moved to the Moore, and the Alhambra was then renamed the Wilkes Theatre.

The final use of the lavish 1911 Orpheum prior to its demolition in 1949 was as a storage warehouse. A photo of the auditorium taken during that period shows that architect William Kingsley’s ornate Renaissance-Baroque interior was still intact and appeared to be in good condition.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 15, 2017 at 11:22 am

An article about the conversion of the Orpheum Theatre to a first-rum moving picture house appeared in the June 8, 1918, issue of Motography (Google Books scan.) There is an interior photo, with an inset of the managing director Eugene Levy. The house was advertised during this period as Levy’s Orpheum Theatre, to differentiate it from the Orpheum vaudeville shows, which had been moved to the Moore Theatre.

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