The 5th Avenue Theater is a popular historical theater building that is located in Seattle, Washington. This building has hosted many theater productions and motion pictures since it was opened in 1926. It is owned by the University of Washington and it was actually once a part of the original campus. The theater, which is located at 1308 Fifth Avenue in the popular Skinner Building, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since the year 1978.
The theater has 2,130 seats and employs over 600 actors, directors, musicians, designers, choreographers, technicians, box office staff, stage hands and administrators. This makes it the largest theater employer in the region. This theater company is supported by corporate donations, individuals, government sources and box office ticket sales. The current subscriber season programming includes six to seven shows each year. It also hosts a number of special events and even offers a variety of education and outreach programs to school children and adults. These programs reach over 61,000 students, performers and audiences every year.
The theater is located in the Skinner Building which is a historic office block that ranges between 5 and 8 stories with several retail shops on ground level. This theater is surrounded on 3 sides, with its entrance facing its namesake avenue. Apart from the auditorium with an original seating capacity of 3,000, the theater also contains a grand entry hall and a mezzanine that at one time featured a tea room, a waiting room and a women’s lounge.
The interior architecture of this theater is a unique imitation of Chinese wooden temple construction. The 2 story rectangular lobby features some red stenciled columns that are wrapped in plaster rising to the timbered roof structure. Two male lion statues guard the stairway to the second level gallery that serves the theater balcony. Together the original statues, other light fixtures, furnishings, and decorations remain intact. Beyond the decorative features of this building, 5th Avenue Theater also contained unique technical features when originally built.
The president of Pacific Northwest Theaters, Inc, Mr. Harry Arthur believed Seattle to be a place of increasing importance in the motion picture industry in mid 1920’s. Arthur’s company decided to absorb a chain of 40 theaters by 1926. C. D. Stimson was a large holder of the theater company’s stock. He sat on the board of directors of Metropolitan Building Company and Pacific Northwest Theaters and developed what was later known as the Metropolitan Tract.
Stimson promoted establishment of a theater district similar to the one which had developed around a theater he built in California. The planned Skinner Building with theater owned by Arthur’s company would complete Stimson development project. Robert Reamer, an architect, joined the Metropolitan Building Company and designed the Skinner Building together with the 5th Avenue Theater. The construction started in October, 1925. The process took 11 months and cost about $ 1.5 million.
5th Avenue Theater celebrated its grand opening on September 24th, 1926. This opening program included silent film, “Young April,” “The Night Club” and several others. This night was also marked by festivities outside the theater with dance bands being placed to provide entertainment. A crowd of between 50, 000 and 100,000 people participated in the events.