Compiled by JORDAN LUSINK, Communications Coordinator
THIS FALL, THE 5TH CELEBRATES ITS 90TH BIRTHDAY. Since the beautiful, historic theater opened in 1926, The 5th has reinvented itself several times, leading the nation today as a home for musical theater.
Our historic location was modeled after three of Imperial China’s most spectacular architectural achievements: the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heavenly Peace and the Summer Palace. Designed and built a year before Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, The 5th has been called “the largest and most authentic example of traditional Chinese timber architecture and decoration outside of Asia.” From the lotus blossoms and phoenixes to the dragons featured throughout the interior—most notably the Great Dragon in the dome of the theater—The 5th has been celebrated for its exquisite design and authenticity.
Although The 5th was originally opened as a stop for vaudeville shows, it was not long before moving pictures became the public’s obsession, and so the theater was refashioned as Seattle’s premier movie palace. In those days, going to a movie was an experience similar to going to a Broadway musical today. Attending a picture at The 5th was a glamorous affair, with bevies of ushers outfitted in matching costumes greeting guests as they entered.
But by the late 1970s, movie palaces had lost their allure, and The 5th was forced to close its doors. The theater was in serious danger of being torn down when a group of forward-thinking and savvy business and community leaders came to its aid. They created the non-profit 5th Avenue Theatre Association, restored the building to its former glory and reopened the theater as a home for musicals.
In 1980, a refurbished and revitalized 5th Avenue Theatre reopened with a 10-week run of the biggest Broadway hit of the time—Annie. In 1989, The 5th transitioned away from showing touring musicals to presenting Broadway-caliber productions of our own with a more recent focus on the development of new works. In the past 15 years, we have premiered 17 new musicals, nine of which subsequently opened on Broadway, and have garnered 15 Tony Awards® among them.
In addition to serving as a cultural landmark throughout its 90 year history, The 5th has long been an integral part of the success of Downtown Seattle. A recent economic impact study showed that for every dollar spent on a ticket, our guests spend nearly 75 additional cents on parking, shopping, dinner and more. Additionally, The 5th engages local vendors and is recognized as the largest arts employer in the Pacific Northwest— we provide 800 jobs to performers, musicians, creative artists, technicians and arts professionals each season.
As we enter our tenth decade, now seems the perfect time to reinvest in our Theater. The 5th has had no major updates since 1980, with some systems even dating back to its 1926 opening. This summer launched the first of a multi-phase campaign: the installation of new lobby carpeting (a replication of the original carpet from the 1920s); a state-of-the-art digital sound system; and refurbished mezzanine-level restrooms.
The 5th looks forward to further improving the experience and facilities for our guests in the coming years, and continuing to honor our timeless Theater’s history in Seattle. Help celebrate the 90th birthday of The 5th Avenue Theatre by sharing your photos and experiences all year with the hashtag #5thAve90.