What exactly does it mean to offer your theater to ‘legitimate shows’? According to Mr. Webster the definition of ‘legitimate’ that applies to this context is “relating to plays acted by professional actors but not including revues, burlesques, or some forms of musical comedy”.
Now why did this matter?
I’m not sure if this sign was part of the original Moore Theatre’s design or added at some point during the theatre’s 108-year history but in 1907, when the Moore opened, theatre did not always have the best of reputations. While being one of the main forms of public entertainment there were many types of shows performed on stages and some were less respectable than others. Bawdy comedies, vaudeville performances, burlesques (at this point in history more song-and-dance shows then the strip teases they became), and dance hall performances painted a wide and varied picture of the ‘stage’ in many peoples minds. Some legitimate theatres, eager to distance themselves from these scandalous groups, actually advertised themselves more as lecture halls then performance venues. To that end they could calm the fears of the more reserved and conservatives members of society which would ensure that they stayed in business.
The Moore is the oldest still-operating theatre in Seattle. As the sign promises it does offer real stage shows along with the mentioned concerts and other types of entertainment. When it opened it catered to Seattle’s elite though, like many theatre venues, it was sorely hit by the changing times and almost closed its doors permanently during the 1970s before a huge innovation saved it…but more on that turn of events in a moment.
The Moore had a long and (rather) glorious run before the 1970s came about. In its first decade it was the home of the Seattle Symphony, and such performers as Ethel Barrymore, and the Marx Brothers graced their stage along with presentations of several Shakespeare plays and “Madame Butterfly”.
The Moore was bought by the Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit right after the first World War ended. They kept it as their main base until 1927. That was when they built their own theatre (now closed) several blocks away. At that point the Moore went up for lease and it was rented by Cecilia Schultz, a premotor of different arts in Seattle. She used the theater for a wide variety of events ranging from musical performances to lectures by Robert Ripley. After she retired in 1949 the Moore was rented mainly by different religious revivals and other smaller events.
Another short run of glory began in 1954 when Hugh Becket, the manager of the freshly-closed Seattle Metropolitan Theatre, took over the Moore and continued his business of booking and hosting plays and performances. Still it did not last long and The Moore was back to renting itself out and struggling to stay ahead of newer theatres and the afore-mentioned rise of the cinema within a few years. By the 1970s the theatre was on the ropes even though it had been added to the historic registry of Seattle in 1974.
As they say though adaptation is the key to survival.
In 1975 two Canadians, Darryl MacDonald and Dan Ireland, took on the theatre and transformed it into a cinema house. They meant to use it as a home for Hollywood revivals and foreign films but in 1976 the Moore, now called the Moore Egyptian, became the home to the first annual Seattle International Film Festival. As SIFF went on to become one of the most successful film festivals in America it moved its headquarters first to a theatre on Capital Hill and then to another building at City Center in Seattle. Ten years later the Moore (dropping “Egyptian” from the title as that went to the new SIFF theatre In Capital Hill) was again without tenants and reverted to being an event-to-event rental again.
In 1992 Ida Cole, an alumna of Microsoft, and her non-profit organization, The Seattle Landmark Association (Which would later become the Seattle Theatre Group), leased the property from its long-time owner George Toulouse. His ownership was the main reason behind the theatre surviving so long with its historical architecture mainly intact.
Now the Moore Theatre, the Seattle Theatre Group still leasing it from the Toulouse family, has returned to its roots as a venue for dynamic entertainment. They have incorporated all of the new additions that have been added over the years which allows which allows them to use the space for all kinds of events, from bands giving concerts to dance troupes and stage actors performing on stage along with using it as a movie theatre.
The Moore Theatre is a true survivor story. In an era when cities across the United States are losing so many of their historic buildings it’s comforting to know that a few of them manage to hang on through dedicated supporters and sheer persistence. Let’s hope we start hearing more success stories like the Moore in the years to come!
Dictionary cited from: www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/legtimate