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Alaska Theatre opens in Seattle on May 12, 1914.

HistoryLink.org Essay 3426 : Printer-Friendly Format

On May 12, 1914, the Alaska Theatre, a motion picture house on 2nd Avenue between Spring and Seneca streets in Seattle, opens for business. With management trumpeting the house as nothing less than “Seattle’s Photoplay Palace,” the venue opens with a potboiler appropriately entitled The Alaska Interlude, an Edison drama called The Unopened Letter, the John Bunny/Flora Finch comedy Bunko Bill’s Return, and an edition of the Hearst-Selig weekly newsreel. Mademoiselle La Barraque, “the wonderful blind soloist,” offers popular song selections between motion pictures.

The Alaska, at 1114 2nd Avenue, was one of several early movie theaters to have occupied that particular location. In 1909, the Ideal Theatre opened at that same address and ran until 1911, when the house was renamed The Black Cat. By 1914 the space had been extensively remodeled and rechristened the Alaska Theatre. Barely 18 months later, the Alaska itself would be made over and become known as the Strand. With the new name apparently came some stability -- the Strand Theatre operated at 1114 2nd Avenue well into the 1930s.

The Alaska had a seating capacity of nearly 1,100. Press notices from the opening gave varying construction costs for the venue, ranging from $100,000 to $120,000. Boasting a gleaming white terra cotta exterior offset with stained glass windows, the lobby was done in onyx and marble. Frederick & Nelson, the department store, had been contracted to furnish and decorate the interior of the Alaska.

A Skinner (Opus No. 217) pipe organ, costing some $9,000, had been ordered for the theater, although it had not yet been installed by opening day. Instead, the Alaska Theatre Orchestra, under the direction of Harry Aronson, provided musical accompaniment. Later, in 1931, long after the house had been wired for sound pictures, the unused organ was sold to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Bellingham.

“[The Alaska] is one of the most beautiful photoplay houses in Western America,” gushed the Daily Times, “and still another proof of the advanced stand that the motion picture has taken in the amusement life of the country” (“Alaska Theatre Opens Its Doors”).

Advertisement, Seattle Star, May 11, 1914, p. 3; “New Theatre Opens,” Ibid.; “Alaska Theatre is Open,” Seattle Daily Times, May 12, 1914, p. 13; “Alaska Theatre Filled First Day,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 13, 1914, p. 10; advertisement, Seattle Star, May 13, 1914, p. 5; “Hundreds Visit Beautiful New Second Avenue Photo Playhouse Just Thrown Open to Public,” Seattle Daily Times, May 13, 1914, p. 7; “Alaska Theatre Opens Its Doors,” Seattle Daily Times, May 13, 1914, p. 12; “Alaska (Strand) Theatre – 3/23 Skinner,” "Northwest Instruments," Puget Sound Pipeline website (www.pstos.org); Information on Seattle theaters compiled by Eric L. Flom from Seattle City Directories (1900-1930) and the theater index of the J. Willis Sayre Collection, Manuscripts, University Archives and Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries, Seattle, Washington.

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