On THURSDAY, March 1, 1928, a crisp afternoon under fair skies, a crowd of Seattleites began to gather on Pine Street. The mob of hats and topcoats soon grew a full block north, with another stretch snaking along Ninth Avenue toward Pike. Thousands of them. With thousands of additional onlookers watching curiously as a marching band accompanied by servicemen in formal dress paraded up from First Avenue to join the hubbub. When the sun set, two spotlights cut through the night sky, marking the spot just north of downtown where a new star would soon be born. Welcome to the grand opening of the Seattle Theatre, known today as the Paramount.
On May 21, 2018, the most opulent and storied venue in Seattle will throw another party, this one in celebration of its 90th anniversary: a fete that hopes to capture the spirit of opening night nearly a century ago.
“Rivaling the massive magnificence of the fabulous ‘pleasure dome’ of Kubla Khan,” The Seattle Daily Times raved about the new theater at the time. While nearby 5th Avenue Theatre boasted the pageantry of the stage, this latest enterprise offered a most glamorous venue to watch motion pictures; a little bit of Hollywood sprung up in this damp corner of the country.
This seemed to come as a surprise to the theater itself, operated along with many other such venues throughout the country by Los Angeles–based West Coast Theatres and New York’s Publix Theatre Corporation. On March 1, the management thought they’d open to a packed house, but not this sort of revelry, and arranged for no special amenities or considerations for what was expected to be a few thousand inaugural guests.
When they opened the doors that afternoon, they found 10,000 Seattleites queued up to purchase 60-cent tickets to one of the evening’s three performances, which included an organ act by the Ron and Don Trio, the road show musical A Merry Widow Revue, and the Bebe Daniels silent film Feel My Pulse. Even with little extra fanfare on the part of the managers, patrons fell immediately in love with the opulence of this new palace.
“As the visitors passed through the doorway a scene of artistic magnificence greeted them,” observed the Times. And the ushers, “skillfully trained in what one conceives to be the proper manner,” impressed simply because of their polite manner and uniforms.
Among these inaugural patrons was Bertha Landes, Seattle’s first female mayor, who purchased her ticket before a throng of flashbulbs alongside her political opponent, Frank E. Edwards. With a primary election just five days away, neither looked particularly friendly during the photo op. Edwards would go on to defeat Landes in a landslide.
Fitting, then, that 90 years later Seattle’s second female mayor, Jenny Durkan, proclaimed March 1, 2018, Paramount Theatre Day, honoring a venue that started out showing silent films and since then hosted the likes of Nirvana, Maya Angelou, president Barack Obama, and an opening production of this year’s Hamilton national tour.
March 1, 2018, might have been Paramount Theatre Day, but the celebration culminates on May 21 with a free event called Show Divine at Ninth and Pine—the same moniker used in advertisements to promote the 1928 opening. Audiences will be treated to popular songs from that year performed on the theater’s Mighty Wurlitzer organ, one of the only remaining such instruments still in its original theater location; a relic from a bygone era that, like the Paramount itself, remained stalwart through decades of change and upheaval in Seattle.