The Moore Theatre, originally a live-theatre venue, was a first-run house when converted to motion picture programming. Seattle organist Warren Wright performed at the Moore.
The Moore Theatre, housed within the Moore Hotel building, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, and has recently been restored by current owners, Seattle Theatre Group. The theater is currently a popular venue for musical and live-theatre performances.
Bruce Paddock: The Moore Theatre, believed to be one of the oldest continuously-operating theaters west of the Mississippi, was never intended to be a ‘movie theater.’ During the early 1970s I was employed part-time at the Moore Theatre. It was boasted that the theater was the only one west of Chicago that had a manually-operated stage curtain. Hardly something to brag about. One evening, when several members of the staff did not show up for work, I found myself selling tickets, closing the booth to sell candy and soda, then running down to the stage and pulling the curtains, then running back to the booth to sell more tickets to impatient patrons. Not as funny as it may sound!
It originally had a pit for an orchestra — it never had a pipe organ. The places on either side of the stage that look like they might have housed organ grills are instead boarded-up and plastered-over box seats. The configuration (several levels connected with stairways) still exist behind the false fronts, and there are even still (or were then) remnants of broken chairs, etc. and places where the original paint still exists — if one wishes to scale the walls and crawl through the small holes that make these now-secret rooms accessible. The two little ‘alcoves’ that remain are really no more than part of the halls that led to the stairs used to gain access to the actual box seats, which protruded out from the wall that exists now. So what is usually called the ‘box seat section’ was never ever used for spectators. You couldn’t see enough of the stage if you tried sitting in them. We used these spots as places to sit when we had rock concerts in the theatre — shining bright flashlights in the faces of anyone lighting cigarettes or reefers in the audience. The Seattle fire code only allowed a few such infractions before they closed a theatre for a period of several months. No company can afford to have such an interruption when they are paying to lease such an expensive building.
The reason for this unfortunate architectural change was when the Orpheum Circuit acquired the Moore Theatre during the 1920s, their plan was to reduce it from a first-class venue into a second-class theatre. The idea being that the Moore would be no competition for the newly-constructed Orpheum Theatre, which closely resembled the San Francisco Fox Theatre. This was an effective way of doing just that. The Moore, a very elegant and beautiful theatre (built I believe in 1906) was made far more plain. There was unusual foresight used, however, because plaster casts were made of everything that was removed at that time, and these casts were placed in the vacant space under the top balcony. This ‘cheap seat’ balcony — only accessible through a side entrance at the street level, and long ago condemned by the Seattle Building Department as a fire trap — is where the motion picture projection booth was added years after the theater was built. The ‘church pew’ style seats with their absolutely straight backs are still up there — or were at the time I was working there. (I have not been in the building since the 1970s.) This theater was originally never intended to be a movie theater and when pictures are projected down to the stage level, the angle of projection causes distortion of the picture (making the bottom wider than the top). It is a problem that cannot be overcome as long as the booth remains at the rear of the top balcony. Hanging black velvet draperies at either side of the screen — to artificially straighten out the sides of the picture did little good — focus was still a serious problem. The booth, which should have been located at the rear of the first balcony, is obviously an ‘add-on’ when viewed up close. The plaster casts were still under the top balcony in locked crawl spaces at the time I worked there. Only dishonest management would account for their not being there today — and they were such heavy pieces, I doubt anyone would have removed them for any reason. It is my belief, and hope, that they are still there and will be used in some future restoration.
When I worked at the Seattle Moore Theatre in the early 1970s, it was operated as the Moore Egyptian Theatre — the first [modern-day] reincarnation of an Egyptian Theatre in Seattle — and by the same business (Stagefright, Inc.) which moved the business to Capitol Hill into the ‘already-Egyptianesque’ former Masonic Auditorium. (One of the newspapers at the time proclaimed, “It’s too bad the Moore-Egyptian isn’t ‘less Egyptian.’”). The classical decor had been repainted with what was felt to be more ‘Egyptian’ colors and with some added designs. These embellishments have been since removed. What they didn’t take into account was the entire interior of the theater, save the ceiling, had been painted [light brown] when the road show production of Hair had played there. Bette Midler, then unknown, was a member of that production. She has made some spicy comments about her stay in Seattle since then.
Originally the auditorium was lighted by hundreds of carbon-filament bulbs arranged in patterns in the arches and around the proscenium. Hundreds of boxes that contained the original bulbs are strewn around the catwalks in the vast space above the auditorium and below the roof. Also, there were lighted stained glass pieces arranged in the fronts of the balconies and along the sides of the auditorium. Most of these lights were disconnected in the 1940s by the elderly gentleman who still owned the theater and its surrounding hotel in the 1970s. He then put up a large chandelier in the auditorium — which had an abundance of long-since-stolen glass prisms and glass fruit. He also added fixtures to the lobby. I believe some of the lighted arches have been restored more recently. At the time I was working there, the management decided to reactivate the lighted arches, in addition to the chandelier. Although they managed to do it (and also ran it that way) it is a wonder that the theater didn’t burn down. The enormous dimming device backstage, which was by then overloaded, would get so hot that it was very uncomfortable to stand within ten feet of it. I used to worry, but a fire in the Moore Theatre was not in the cards. Anyone who has seen both methods of lighting the theater would have to agree that the original architect was correct when he used the arches to light the auditorium instead of a chandelier. It is impossible to describe the beautiful effect the original lighting gave the theater. Funny how ‘added improvements’ rarely ever improve anything at all.
The Moore Theatre, with its near-perfect acoustics, is ideal for live entertainment. Legend has it that Caruso proclaimed it one of his favorite houses for performing because of these acoustics. Low voices engaged in conversation on stage are clearly audible at the rear of both balconies. The reverse is also true, and whispered comments in the audience can often be heard by the performers on stage. This I know from experience, as the managers had me play songs on the piano from Warner Brothers musicals the opening night of their Warner Brothers festival. Since I was the ‘box office boy,’ I was not paid to play and was therefore an ‘amateur performer’ — which sidestepped any Musician’s Union infractions. During my diligently-practiced performance I heard someone whisper, “I wish he would play a boogie.” So I looked at the audience and mugged, “I heard that,” and played one. Other acoustical phenomena abound. For example, whispering in parts of the first balcony is quite audible in the second balcony. The Seattle Moore Theatre is clearly no place to tell secrets.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show made its Seattle debut at the Moore Egyptian. They had all of the employees come down on a Sunday afternoon and preview it shortly before it opened. Everyone thought it was wonderful except me. I was adamant that no one would ever let their kids watch that “piece of cheese.” I was sure that I was right, but I was quite quite wrong. An undisputed hit, we ran the show for months, finally dropping it because everyone was sick to death of it. Another theater in the University District picked it up and ran it for several years and made a fortune. During this time, the Moore Egyptian ran many poorly-attended films and a had an occasional hit show. The managers deplored their decision to ever drop Rocky Horror at all. But the Seattle Moore Theatre survived — [nearly to] its 100th birthday!
References: FilmYearBook-1926 p. 590 : Moore Theatre website; Puget Sound Theatre Organ Society website : with additional information provided by Bruce Paddock.