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picture 1 Seattle's Coliseum Theatre, located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Pike Street, opened on Jan. 8, 1916, and closed on the evening of March 11, 1990. Like most of the country's original large moviehouses, the Coliseum became a victim of changing audience and economic dynamics. It was built for the movie crowds of 1916, but by the 1980's only major blockbuster films could hope to fill the theatre to capacity, and those films were few and far between.
picture 2 At the time of its construction, the Coliseum retained the option of building a connecting backstage area on an adjoining lot for theater use, just in case movie-going turned out to be a fad. But by 1990, it was economically impractical to try to restore the Coliseum and use it for any entertainment purpose other than as a moviehouse. At the time, two other downtown theater spaces were struggling to stay open after such restoration, and one other landmark, The Music Hall, was being slated for demolition.
picture 3 The Coliseum closed without much fanfare. The last film shown at the theatre was Tremors, starring Fred Ward.
picture 4 In its last years, the Coliseum filled its between-blockbusters scedule with a mix of comedies, crime dramas and exploitation films, designed to try to attract a low-end urban audience. It was the closest thing 1980s' Seattle had to the fabled Times Square urban cinemas, and it filled an important cultural niche. It was sole surviving movie palace in downtown Seattle that still showed movies, and it had a small but loyal assortment of fans.
picture 5 The day after the Coliseum closed, one of the managers was kind enough to allow a 16mm camera and some lights inside the building to try to document the Coliseum's architecture. Because the Coliseum had been registered as a landmark, the building's exterior would likely be preserved from radical alteration or destruction. But the interior would almost certainly have to undergo major changes if the property was ever to see use again.

This if is a view of the movie screen from the main floor.
picture 6 And this is the view from the loge seats.

Loge seats are the front seats of a theatre mezzanine. In the case of the Coliseum, the mezzanine was small, so all of the mezzanine seats were loge seats. In addition to offering additional seating, the Colesium's mezzanine filled an acoustic "dead zone" between the balcony and main floor. The Coliseum was considered to be among the finest acoustically-designed theatres in the United States well into the 1930's.
picture 7 View from the back of the balcony.

The Coliseum was designed by B. Marcus Priteca, who is best known as the architect of the Pantages vaudeville theatres between 1911 and 1929. Based in Seattle, Priteca became one of the most renowned theatre architcts in the nation. In addition to his Pantages work, Priteca also designed the fondly-remembered grandstand at the Longacres race track in Auburn, Washington.


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Copyright 1996 E.H. Larson.