The Seattle Coliseum Theatre

The 3rd Balcony

The Coliseum Theatre opened in 1916 and had it’s final movie showing in 1990.It was always one of my favourite structures in Seattle and, as a kid, I saw many movies there. The very first James Bond movie I ever saw in a theatre, The Spy who Loved Me (1977) was in the Coliseum. I saw Fast Times at Ridgemont High there as well.

The Coliseum in 1916

The Coliseum closed it doors in 1990 and was later converted to a Banana Republic.

I was visiting some friends in Seattle in 2008 and we were walking around downtown commenting on how much it had changed since I left in the early 90’s. We walked by the Banana Republic and I wanted to go in and see how they changed it.  It was sad to see this wonderful theatre converted to a bland clothes store – but it is better than the entire structure meeting a wreaking ball. In the defense of the Banana Republic, they have done a wonderful job cleaning, restoring and maintaining the outside of the building. When they gutted the inside they salvaged some of the plaster reliefs and display them through the store. They also have some of the original theatre seats scattered around.

Detail of the exterior in 2008
Detail of the exterior in 2008
Detail of the exterior in 2008

I spoke with the manager and she told me parts of the theatre were still there,.. hiding above the ceiling. Forgotten and hidden from sight.

With a small amount of begging, she took me and my friends up.

The Last Movie Showing – 1990:

I was in the Coliseum the night of the very last movie – Tremors with Kevin Bacon. I had a friend who worked for the theatre so I had full access to the building after the movie ended (I only wish I still had the film I took that night).

I was given a complete tour of the space including a visit to the revolving sign out front – which I stood on. Somewhere there is a picture floating around with me standing on it.

I climbed behind the screen to the roof and we wandered around in the basement. The basement still had the remains of the Civil Defense era which included boxes containing 7 pound tins of  “Civil Defense All Purpose Survival Crackers” (aka Saltines), containers to fill with water and about 10 SK  Sanitation Kits (aka, a barrel to poop in). The civil defense storage area was behind the lower level bathrooms.The theatre allowed me to take a couple tins of the Survival Crackers and I kept them for many years – I even opened one of the tins. I was too afraid to eat one though.

This is not one of the tins I had, but it was just like it.
Barrels of Civil Defense fun.

Also in the basement in the far north end (under the screen on the right side) were the remains of a makeshift office. It was explained to me  this was the accounting office area in the 1920-30’s. Because of robberies, all the money was taken to this hard to get place in the theatre for counting. A single bare bulb light hung from the ceiling in this space.

I was told that night the third balcony (then closed due to safety concerns) was “coloured seating”. There is a very thin stairwell to the left of the entrance doors which takes you to the third balcony. This was the “black stairwell”.

I don’t recall when they closed the third balcony (the 1980’s I think) but I watched the end of Tremors from the front row third balcony seats and helped dump balloons when the movie ended on the 100 or so people who were on the ground level. The seats were small and uncomfortable and the stairs were steep and rather thin (not wide enough for a complete foot). It was quite unsettling to be up there.

The Theatre Today:

During the conversion to a Banana Republic, all the seats were removed from third balcony – but it appears to be mostly complete. I do not know the state of the second balcony, projection room and second balcony bathrooms. I get the impression they may have been removed.

The third balcony, minus the seats and carpet, is just how is was that last night as a theatre (with some added dirt and age). They have walled in a few places with drywall and run electrical and utility wires around. There is some damage to the plaster arch over the screen area – which I was told happened during the 2001 earthquake. The ramps in the middle of the third balcony and sides which went to the second balcony have been walled off. 80% of the brass railings are still in place.

The "black" stairwell
Brian and Elizabeth in the stairwell.
The 3rd Balcony
The lower seating area of the 3rd balcony.
Looking across the 3rd balcony. The ramp which went to the 2nd balcony (middle of the picture) has been walled off.
Some of the plaster.
Looking across the ductwork and new ceiling for the Banana Republic. A tip of the archway over the old screen area is still visible.
Another shot of the screen archway
Another shot of the screen archway with the original brass railing in the foreground.
Detail work above the screen archway.
Damage from the 2001 earthquake.

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