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Originally published Sunday, August 30, 2009 at 12:04 AM

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Now & Then

Seattle's Pantages Theatre was a palace for 'the king of vaudeville'

The Seattle Pantages Theatre was one jewel in the empire of Alexander Pantages, the "king of vaudeville." Pantages commissioned a young Benjamin Marcus Priteca to design the theater and liked his work so much he hired him to create many more. But the Pantages was eventually sold, turned into the Palomar and closed in 1965 as business dwindled. Today, the space is taken up by a parking garage.

AT THE NORTHEAST corner of Third Avenue and University Street, Alexander Pantages opened this terra-cotta landmark in 1915, a likely date for this view of it during late construction. The tall "Pantages" sign has not yet been attached to the corner.

Benjamin Marcus Priteca was a mere 23 when he took on the assignment to design the theater. Pantages so admired Priteca that "the vaudeville king" hired him to create scores more of his theaters across the continent.

Like this Seattle Pantages, and the surviving Pantages in Tacoma, many of the bigger theaters were fronted with office blocks. Because this was also the anchor for Pantages' chain of theaters, the grand promoter himself took many of these offices facing Third Avenue. By 1926 there were 72 theaters in the Pantages circuit, which meant that traveling stage acts could be contracted for more than a year of work, and deals could be made.

The standard fare was a mix of vaudeville and film, and some more famous performers like Al Jolson, Buster Keaton and Sophie Tucker appeared at the Pantages in both. After the Pantages became the Palomar in 1936, and then owned and operated by John Danz and his Sterling Theatre Co., film continued in a mix with stage acts, and Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Peggy Lee, and a fresh Frank Sinatra climbed to this stage.

The "Singing MC" Jerry Ross managed the Palomar from 1937 to '45, and for more years than those ran a theatrical booking agency out of the sixth floor. Ross was MC for the Pantages-Palomar's "Last Curtain Party" on May 2, 1965. A year later, the finishing touches were being bolted to the University Properties parking garage that took the place of the then merely 50-year-old classy landmark.

Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard's blog at www.pauldorpat.com.

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