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5th Avenue Theatre - 4/18 Wurlitzer, 4M "Special"
Seattle, Washington
1308 5th Ave, between Union & University
Organ installation timeframe: 1926 - 1969
 
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The 5th Avenue opened on September 23, 1926 and was one of the first theatres designed in an Asian motif. Architect Robert C. Reamer skillfully modeled the interior after three of ancient China's most significant architectural achievements: The Forbidden City, The Temple of Heaven and The Summer Palace. Reamer possessed such a genuine concern for authenticity that he employed the famous Gustav F. Liljestrom, chief designer for S & G Gump's of San Francisco, a decor firm famous for its hotel and theatre interiors.
 
Opening night September 24, 1926

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The 5th Avenue Theatre originally had a Wurlitzer four-manual, 18 rank "Special" (opus 1388) installed in 1926. The console was the standard panel-style. The only decoration was a very subdued Asian design painted on the sides. It was located on a hydraulic lift in the center of the orchestra pit.
 
The theatre had many organists including Berthold Lindgren and Betty S. Hilton in 1927.
 
In the late 1960's, PSTOS members were hopeful that they would be able to begin restoring the instrument, but on March 1, 1969 the University of Washington Board of Regents announced that it had been sold to Bill Breuer of Palo Alto, California.
 
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This created a stir on the part of Seattle theatre organ enthusiasts, led by ATOE's former president, Dick Schrum. Dick stated that the Puget Sound Chapter had a contract with Fox-Evergreen Theatres to restore the organ, and that the chapter was not given the opportunity to bid on the instrument. A spokesman for the Regents said that it was not necessary to solicit bids to dispose of the instrument, valued at $10,000 by Sandy Balcom who had maintained the organ for several years.
 
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Ticket booth
 
Bill Breuer, who operated the pipe organ-equipped "Cap'ns Galley" restaurant in Santa Clara California, removed the instrument and it was stored for several months before being installed at the new Redwood City Cap'ns Galley Pizza & Pipes restaurant. As of 2001, the organ is still installed at the restaurant, but the current owner Randy Blair has expressed interest in getting appraisals of the instrument's worth.
 
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Entrance
 
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Incredibly ornate auditorium with elaborate painted wood and plaster.
 
When originally constructed, the theatre seated 2,349.
 
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the theatre interior is the nearly exact replica of the dome from the throne room of the imperial palace in The Forbidden City. The magnificent chandelier, located in the center of the ceiling is twice the scale of the original.
 
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View of auditorium from stage
 
The 5th Avenue has always provided top-flight entertainment. In the 1920's, the showmanship and keen business-sense of famous theatre-man James Q. Clemmer helped the propel the 5th Avenue into the national spotlight. As an added touch, ushers wore costumes in keeping with the theme of the current film - sometimes as swashbuckling pirates, sometimes as swaggering cowboys.
 
In 1978, The 5th Avenue closed its doors and seemed destined for the same fate as some of Seattle other magnificent theatres: to be torn down and replaced with new construction or, even worse, a parking lot.
 
In 1980, a group of business leaders set the stage for the rebirth of the 5th Avenue Theatre.
 
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House right organ grill
 
They formed the 5th Avenue Theatre Association, a non-profit organization responsible for restoration of the theatre and its operation as a successful arts venue.
 
Today, the 5th Avenue Theatre is Seattle's premier house for national touring Broadway shows and other productions. A healthy subscriber base ensures its continued survival.
 
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View from the balcony, c.1926



Street scene from a postcard, looking North on 5th Ave, c.1940
 
Ads from the Seattle Post Intelligencer, c.1926. Her Big Night with Laura La Plante & Einar Hanson. Synchopating Sue with Corinne Griffith & Tom Moore. Flaming Forest with Antonio Moreno & Renée Adorée.
 

 
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5th Avenue Theatre building, 2003
 


Search Underway to Locate Style 260 Wurlitzer or Comparable Organ for Installation in Seattle House
 
Excerpt from The Console magazine, January 1980 (v18, No 1, pp1):
 
A search is underway to locate a theatre pipe organ for installation in the Seattle 5th Avenue Theatre, it was announced this month. The lavish Chinese-style movie palace is being refurbished and will be used for a variety of attractions, according to Don Myers, Seattle organman.
 
It is planned to erect a Style 260 Wurlitzer or another instrument of comparable size. The 4/17 Wurlitzer that was originally in the theatre is now in the Redwood City, Calif. Capn's Galley.
 
Discussion is being held regarding relocation of the Publix No. 1 4/20 Wurlitzer in Seattle's Paramount Theatre in the 5th Avenue. Talks are also scheduled with Bonnie Carette and Marian Cook about the instruments they own.
 
Anyone having knowledge of available pipe organs of this size are urged to contact Bill Bunch at Balcom and Vaughan Pipe Organs, Inc. in Seattle.
 

5th Avenue Theatre program, c.1920's


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