Taking Center Stage: Seattle’s Moore Theater

Theaters have long been locations of architectural intrigue and extravagance. The marquis alone at theaters like the Chicago Theater and Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall are iconic (a boy at my college had the Portland marquis tattooed on his arm!). The Moore Theater may be less noticeable from the exterior (the white-glazed terra cotta siding is amazing, however, if you look closely!), it’s interior is jaw-dropping. The ceiling, with its delicate patterns, green glass, and chandelier, has a glittering jewell-box effect. The intimate boxes with arched windows and the windows to the hallways that lead to the second balcony are eye-catching and provide picture-perfect frames of exploring theater-goers prior to performances.

The jewel-box ceiling of the Moore Theater.

The Moore Theater was constructed in 1907 in conjunction with a hotel (the Moore Hotel). It was designed in part to accommodate and welcome the crowds anticipated for the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition of 1909 (whose Olmsted-designed grounds became the University of Washington). Built by James Moore, the theater cost $350,000 at the time, a grand $40,000 of which went to the onyx and marble lobby and foyer.

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A second-level walkway provides views into the more intimate lobby.

The theater, designed by E. W. Houghton, was one of the largest of its time. It seated over 2,000 people in its original configuration, and features two balconies supported by steel girders, eliminating the necessity for columns. Due to the theater’s location on a downtown block, the interior layout is complex but compact: upon entering the lobby, the theater, itself, is to one side rather than directly in front of the visitor.

The Moore Theater has had ups and downs over the years (in the 1970s the word “Egyptian” was tagged onto the name in a vague attempt to connect it to the popular Egyptian theaters) but recently was the focus of restoration efforts and now features a variety of concerts and productions. The restoration has revealed a stunning space (minus, perhaps, the carpets in the second floor hallways!), and it is worth the trip just for a chance to gaze up at the enchanting and intricately detailed ceiling.

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You have to crane your neck to see the ceiling above the third balcony but it’s just as eye-catching as the rest of the space.

References and further reading:

The Moore Theater is a Seattle Landmark; you can read the designation papers here.

James Moore’s house is also a Seattle Landmark! The Moore Mansion.

You can read more about the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition (with pictures) here.




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