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picture 8 Balcony seating.

The Coliseum was a very early movie palace, possibly the first cinema ever constructed on such a grand scale. Although its design is largely derived from established theater, vaudeville, and opera house architecture, the Coliseum demonstrated how Priteca and other architects were experimenting with the demands of the new entertainment form. It was built for motion picture exhibition, and had special features, such as an elaborate electrical system and elevators.
picture 9 The Coliseum was a fairly shallow theatre, but designed to hold over 2,000 people with capacities of 980 filmgoers on the main floor, 132 in the loge seats, and 1020 people in the balcony. Because of the relatively small size of the mezzanine, much of the Coliseum's seating was in its main balcony, which extended from the back of the hall down to the edge of the proscenium arch at about a 30 angle. The Coliseum's balcony was quite intimidating - a steep incline of seats similar the slope of the upper seating in ballparks.
picture 10 Walkway leading to mezzanine.

In a ballpark, the incline of the seating doesn't seem too pronounced because of the considerable distance to the other side of the structure. But in the Coliseum, the movie screen is much closer, and on a level for viewing from the main floor or mezannine, so the steepness of the balcony seats was much more obvious. The Coliseum's balcony could easily create a sense of vertigo in someone unfamiliar with its design.
picture 11 View of mezzanine, with walkway to balcony to background.

Because of safety concerns (the fire code and such had changed quite a bit since 1916), the balcony was closed to the general public several years before the theatre closed. The Colesium had gone through a variety of changes between 1916 and 1990, notably during a major remodeling effort in 1950 that removed much of the elaborate interior decoration, and replaced the exterior cupola half-dome entrance with an more contemporary marquee.
picture 12 The loge seats.

Other original design elements that were lost before 1990 included elaborate patterns of tiny electrical lights (simulating starlight) in the underside of the balcony, and similar light fixtures in the building's exterior, which provided illumination for the carved "COLISEVM" lettering in the side of the building in the pre-neon era.
picture 13 Mezzanine level, walkway to balcony.

Mosaics, many incorporating Asian and Egyptian imagery and motifs, were removed or covered up in the 1950 remodeling. Also lost at some time were fountains by the orchestra pit, and birdcages which held 30 canaries in the walls of the upper foyer. Given the wide range of the interior decoration and design that remained after the changes and remodeling, it seems certain that the Colesium was one of the most eclectically-designed moviehouses ever built.
picture 14 Walkway to balcony.

This eclectic mix of motifs and elements in the Colesium was almost certainly a reflection of its experimental nature. The movie palace style of architecture was in its absolute infancy in 1916. By the 1920s, most elaborate movie houses were designed around a single central theme, such as a "Renaissance" decor or an "Egyptian" style. The exterior of the Coliseum is consistant in style, and Pritieca was able to present the various interior designs in a very effective manner.


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Copyright 1996 E.H. Larson.