Photo Credit: Bob Cerelli
Built in 1907, the Moore Theatre is the oldest remaining theatre in Seattle. The original owner, James A. Moore, was a flamboyant developer responsible for many of the early homes and structures in downtown Seattle and Capitol Hill. The first building on the regraded Second Avenue, the Moore created a general shift away from Pioneer Square as the central business district while firmly establishing Second Avenue as the "film/theatre district" for Seattle. Architect E.W. Houghton gave the theatre a simple exterior with Italian and Byzantine terra-cotta details, while focusing much of the visual beauty on an opulent interior. Hailed as one of the most beautiful and completely equipped playhouses in the United States, the Moore boasted a grand lobby with mosaic floors, marble, onyx, carved wood, stained glass, and metal. There was also a ceiling fresco in old rose, cream and gold. Beams were supported by Muses representing Drama and Music. The theatre interior was resplendent with clusters of lights, rich hangings, and stained-glass paneling.
Twenty-five hundred enthusiastic Seattleites arrived for the opening night celebration. The program featured a locally written and produced comic-opera entitled "The Alaskan" which went on to a successful Broadway run. Throughout the first ten years the new Moore Theatre presented stage plays, operas, symphonies, and musicals.
For the next decade the Moore was host to the famous Orpheum vaudeville circuit. The largest of its kind in North America, all the legends and wonders of American vaudeville played the Moore stage. In fact, the Moore was also home to "The Negro Ensemble," a popular local group of vaudevillians. However, while the Moore Theatre certainly has a history of diverse programming, receptivity to diverse audiences has not always been the case. Built into the theatre was a separate side entrance leading directly to the top balcony. Despite being the home to many, many black performers, African-Americans were not allowed entry into the theatre except through this "back door" to the balcony. When the Orpheum Theatre was built in 1927, the Moore's vaudeville contract came to an end.
The Great Depression was, ironically, perhaps the most active and exciting time at the Moore. Due to the leadership of Cecilia Schultz, one of the great pioneers of the arts in Seattle, the Moore presented many of the most distinguished European and American singers, musicians, and dancers. Sarah Bernhardt, Lily Langtry, the Barrymores, Marie Dressier, and Anna Pavlova were just a few of the first-class performers seen at the Moore throughout the thirties.
The following decades at the Moore were rather unstable; programming at the Moore was less established as the theatre searched for a niche in an ever-changing market. After a three-year lease between 1949-51 in which the Moore was used as a revival house, the theatre became strictly a rental house. Throughout the 50's and 60's road shows, boxing matches, travel-films and special events were the mainstay of the Moore.
After re-modeling in 1955, the Moore re-opened with a season featuring local "artists-in-residence" such as the Amusa Kabuki troupe. Other local visual artists were featured in the newly converted mezzanine art gallery. Among those presented in the first exhibit were Mark Tobey, George Tsutakawa, Guy Anderson, June Nye, and Kenneth Callahan.
In 1974 the Moore Theatre was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This status, however, did not guarantee financial or artistic stability as the theatre struggled to remain open. One year later two local film connoisseurs leased the theatre and after several months of cleaning and slight remodeling the theatre re-opened as the "Moore-Egyptian"--this time a foreign and "revival" movie theater. Home to the first Seattle International Film Festival, the Moore returned to stage arts when the pair lost the lease after five years and went on to open the Egyptian on Capitol Hill.
In the last twenty years the Moore has defined itself as a venue for both local community events, such as lectures, beauty pageants, and local dance or musical groups, and as a home for more "alternative" touring musicians and theatre. Virtually every musical genre, from the most hard-core punk to flashy funk, has had a place on the Moore stage in recent years.
-- Sean McIntyre