Councilmember Godden left office on January 1, 2016.
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Backstage at Seattle’s Oldest Theater

The Moore Theatre, Seattle’s oldest remaining theater, is still one of the most popular of Seattle’s entertainment venues. It’s especially popular with young people, who flock here to see the latest acts and the most heralded entertainers.

Pictured next to the firm’s properties is J.A. Moore, perhaps best known for originally developing most of Capitol Hill. In July of 1900, he paid $225,000 for 160 acres of what would become the hill.

But the Moore also has its secrets.  Built in 1907, the Moore was created by James A. Moore, a flamboyant developer who was responsible for many of the early homes and structures in Seattle’s downtown.  J. A. had the Moore built as one of the first structures erected in the newly regraded Second Avenue neighborhood.

The Moore, as it turns out, was not only an early-day theater, but it also served the city as a hotel and spa.

A spa? That’s right. In an era of exciting theater and vaudeville, the Moore had a niche as a theater home for those who appeared on its stage and as a health spa for those who could afford its diversions.

On Monday, Aug. 23, my staff and I met Josh LaBelle, executive director of the Seattle Theater Group, responsible for both the Moore and the Paramount, for a tour of the premises. With little preamble, Josh and his co-worker Brian Layton, director of venue for the Seattle Theater Group,  led us into the main lobby of the Moore with its dated grandeur: mosaic floors, marble, onyx, carved wood, stained glass and elegant ceiling frescos.

Swimming pool at The Moore Theatre in Seattle during its heyday.

The olympic sized swimming pool in the basement of The Moore Theatre back in its heyday.

After a peek at the main stage, framed with 1,400 seats, LaBelle and his French bulldog Lois, led us down a flight of well-worn stairs to the “underground,” area where the rich and famous once played. There, to our surprise, is an abandoned swimming pool, an Olympic-sized structure that once held seawater piped from Puget Sound. It was here that Johnny Weissmuller, the Olympic champion-turned movie star, once practiced his strokes.

Beyond the swimming pool enclosure are small cubicles, now stacked with seats, where there once were claw-footed tubs. It was here that Seattleites and Seattle visitors would have had the treatments that health spas delivered to their clients.

Mud baths? Oatmeal baths? Hydrotherapy? I don’t know, but I do know that the imagination can conjure up a scenario of well-appointed servants waiting on the rich and famous.

“It’s almost like the Pioneer Square Underground,” said LaBelle. ”Except that the Pioneer Square Underground has more of a walkway. “ Here things have been left helter skelter. But, nevertheless, the former spa is fascinating for its long history and for the tales, oft told, of a Ghost at the Moore.

If nothing else there are the ghosts of the distinguished European and American singers and musicians, people like Sarah Bernhardt, Lily Langtry, the Barrymores and Anna Pavalova who appeared in the early days. Later the Moore would play host to those who, like Elvis Presley, came to the World’s Fair in 1962.

View from the stage looking toward the balconies of the Moore Theatre.

Looking into the balconies from the stage of The Moore Theatre.

After the trip through the underground, Josh and Brian led us unto the stage at the Moore, a broad and deep stage, tread by many famous performers. More recently it was Pearl Jam and “The Vagina Monologues.” But the echoes of more than a 100 years of entertainers can be detected by the more sensitive among us.

From the stage it was possible to reach the Green Room with its tiny kitchenette and the dressing rooms of stars, past and present.

“Here’s where they brought the scenery into the house,” LaBelle explained, pointing to a steep ramp outside one of the backstage areas.

The Moore has been well-loved over the years. And still attracts many devoted theater goers. LaBelle and crew are working to raise a few million dollars to install a modern HVAC system and restore some of its early grandeur all while keeping the Moore an active venue, ghost or no ghost.


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Comment from Mike @ Megamind
Time November 1, 2010 at 6:04 pm

This post is truly amazing, It’s really interesting to think of what life would have been like if you were one of the elite back in the good ol’ days.

Thanks for sharing this, it is very informative and well written.