Seattle's Venetian Theater reopens on February 11, 1927.

  • By Eric L. Flom
  • Posted 2/25/2006
  • Essay 7581
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On February 11, 1927, the Venetian Theater in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood is given a formal reopening to the public. This “debut number two” is undertaken after the Venetian, sold to new ownership in late January, was closed briefly for remodeling. The house originally opened three months earlier, in November 1926.

The Return

The reopening of the Venetian was engineered by the Seattle exhibition firm of Jensen & von Herberg, back in the moving picture business after selling off its Pacific Northwest holdings only a few months previous.  Early in 1926 the firm, owned by Claude Jensen and John von Herberg (1880-1947), was in negotiations with North American Theatres, Inc. to sell off most of its theater holdings in Washington state, along with houses in and around the Portland area (“Jensen-Von Herberg Sale Announced”).  The deal -- announced in March but completed in July -- involved more than 35 theaters, including Seattle’s Coliseum at 5th and Pike and the Liberty across from the Pike Place Market.  The deal netted Jensen & von Herberg approximately $3 million, and brought the total number of theaters under the North American umbrella to 120 (“$3,000,000 Cash”).

But the sale of Jensen & von Herberg’s major holdings did not find them leaving the exhibition business.  Rather, the firm embarked on an entirely new business plan focused on establishing a network of smaller second-run theaters in Seattle’s growing neighborhoods.  To this end, by November 1926 Jensen & von Herberg had snapped up the Empress and Majestic theaters in Ballard, and had already begun work on the new Baghdad Theater in the same neighborhood, which eventually opened in May 1927 (“Jensen-von Herberg Again in Exhibition Field”).

With business efforts thus far confined to Ballard, Jensen & von Herberg moved into Capitol Hill with the purchase of the Venetian early in 1927.  Although reportedly built for $150,000, the house was sold to Jensen & von Herberg for “consideration in excess of $50,000” according to a report in the trade magazine Motion Picture News.

"It's Déjà Vu All Over Again!"

The Venetian, which seated around 800, had been hailed as one of the city’s finest neighborhood houses when it debuted to the public in November 1926.  Undeterred by this previous event, Jensen & von Herberg staged their own grand ceremony on February 11, 1927.

Much more so than its original opening, the Venetian’s rededication was designed as a neighborhood spectacle.  Near the theater, the cross streets of 15th Avenue and E Pine were decorated with festoons and large banners heralding the arrival of Capitol Hill’s “new” movie house.  Festivities began at 6 p.m., with the intersection lit by special lights so a street dance could kick off the evening.  (This street dance idea was probably lifted from the opening of the 5th Avenue Theater six months previous, when much of street in front of the venue was shut down for a public dance and sing-along -- with lyrics projected onto the sides of nearby buildings.)

While there was plenty of excitement to be had outside the theater, there was a fairly good show going on inside the Venetian as well -- Jensen & von Herberg’s motto was “Every Show a DeLuxe Show.”  The bill started off with a song and dance review of 1927 performed by the Douglas Teenie Weenies -- fairly ironic, given that 1927 was all of six weeks old at the time.  The Teenie Weenies were a local troupe of child performers between 2½ to 5 years of age; all told, 15 kids appeared nightly at the Venetian.  This was followed by the feature film, Three Bad Men (Fox, 1926), an early western by director John Ford (1894-1973) that starred George O’Brien and Olive Borden.  The evening ended with a few numbers from the house band, the Venetian Syncopators, who were billed as having “tons of pep” (Advertisement -- Venetian Theater).  The Venetian, being a second run theater, was playing Three Bad Men after the film had already shown the previous week at John Hamrick’s Egyptian Theater in the University District.

A Neighborhood Fixture

After its grand reopening, the Venetian continued to play to Capitol Hill audiences until December 31, 1958, when the venue finally closed for good.  In July 1989, the building was razed to make way for a supermarket.

Sources: “Jensen-Von Herberg Sale Announced,” Motion Picture News, March 20, 1926, p. 1281; “Seattle,” Motion Picture News, April 3, 1926, p. 1517; “New Palace for Bellingham, Wash.,” Moving Picture World, April 10, 1926, p. 433; “$3,000,000 Cash for J. & H. Circuit,” Motion Picture News, August 7, 1926, p. 480; “Moore Buys Four Washington Theatres,” Moving Picture World, September 4, 1926, p. 50; “Jensen-Von Herberg Again in Exhibition Field,” Motion Picture News, November 27, 1926, p. 2037 (article reprinted in Motion Picture News on December 4, 1926, p. 2147); Advertisement -- Egyptian Theatre, Seattle Daily Times, February 6, 1927, p. 20; “Venetian Opens Friday,” Seattle Star, February 10, 1927, p. 8; “Von Herberg to Open New Theatre Tomorrow,” Seattle Daily Times, February 10, 1927, p. 14; “Venetian Theater Opens Friday,” Seattle Star, February 11, 1927, p. 11; “Street Dance to Open New Venetian Theatre,” Seattle Daily Times, February 11, 1927, p. 14; Advertisement -- Venetian Theatre, Ibid; “Seattle,” Motion Picture News, February 25, 1927, p. 685; “Northwest,” Moving Picture World, March 5, 1927, p. 48; “Seattle,” Motion Picture News, March 18, 1927, p. 977; “Theatre Building Brisk in Northwest Territory,” Motion Picture News, April 1, 1927, p. 1162; “Northwest,” Moving Picture World, April 9, 1927, p. 578.

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