John W. Considine

John Considine
09/29/1868 - 02/11/1943

John W. Considine was a colorful figure in Seattle's theatre history; he abstained completely from any vice, yet was the boss of a small gambling empire, a pioneering theatre impresario, and a victor in both business competition with Wyatt Earp as well as drug-store shoot-outs. Born in Chicago and educated in Roman Catholic parochial schools, Considine briefly became a policeman before traveling to Seattle as an actor in 1889. By 1891, Considine had become the manager of his first Seattle theatre: the People's Theatre, a box-house near Pioneer Square. Considine initially prospered by hiring accomplished actresses to perform onstage, and allowing his waitresses to perform other duties for his patrons. However, the Panic of 1893, the resulting economic depression, and the election of an "anti-vice" squad in Seattle, put Considine's business to a momentary end. In 1889, the Tacoma City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting women from working in establishments that also sold liquor.

By 1895, the Tacoma Council had pushed the State Legislature to pass an identical act prohibiting women from working in saloons, regardless of whether they worked in the boxes, or onstage. The fine for breaking this law was $500 dollars. In response, Considine relocated his People's Theatre to the rougher city of Spokane, where his venue was more accepted, but still outside of the law. By August of 1895, Considine was arrested on a warrant issued by J.P. McCoombs. John Considine's Barmaid Case reached the Superior Court before ending in a hung jury. An immediate retrial, however, resulted in Considine's conviction, and the leveling of a fine of $500.

Considine severed public connection with his theatre and applied for a new license under the name of William Eickers. The courts refused Eickers a license, and he unsuccessfully sued the courts in response. The council then revoked the licenses of two dance halls and Considine's theatre. When the People's Theatre remained open, Eickers was arrested for operating without a license. When the hearing revealed that the act provided no power to revoke licenses, the council simply passed an ordinance granting themselves the power. Here, however, the city council's coup was brought to an end. The mayor, who had received many letters from citizens in defense of the theatres, vetoed the new ordinance and the People's Theatre operated unencumbered throughout the year.

As this was occurring, John Considine appealed unsuccessfully to the state supreme court and circuit court about the constitutionality of the Barmaid's Law. Considine would actually leave Seattle during the Gold Rush to travel to Alaska, returning once the influx of trade created by the Gold Rush revived Seattle's economy. The political winds also shifted along with the growing city, and Considine renewed his lease on the People's Theatre, voluntarily compensating its interim managers, the Millar Brothers and Mose Goldsmith, for the money they had spent in upkeep. Considine also began operating gambling houses, such as the Owl Club Rooms, above Billy the Mug's saloon at the corner of Washington and Second Street.

Around this time, Considine entered into something of a feud with Wyatt Earp, who in 1899 also moved from Alaska to Seattle looking to open a gambling house with Gold Rush money. Considine, however, had an advantage which Earp did not; he had made a deal with Police Chief C.S. Reed to look the other way where his gambling houses were concerned; gambling was, after all, illegal. Earp opened the Union Club gambling house and saloon in Pioneer Square, but by March of 1900, the State of Washington had filed charges against several gambling operations, Earp's included. His establishment was gutted and its furniture burned, and later that year Wyatt would return to Alaska.

As the frenzy of the Gold Rush began to wind down, Considine faced another challenge; popular opinion returned to an "anti vice" stance, and Considine's old deal with Police Chief C.S. Reed was not carried forward by the new Chief, William L. Meredith. Chief Meredith had once been Considine's employee, but after he returned to being a policeman, their relationship soured until Meredith and Considine found themselves on opposite sides of an anti-vice war. Things came to a head when a politician, John Wilson, accused Meredith of corruption and Considine presented evidence against Meredith which supported Wilson's claims. Meredith retaliated by claiming that Considine had had an affair with a young contortionist named Mamie Jenkins, and that Considine had paid to abort Jenkins' ensuing pregnancy. The City Council, however, chose to believe reports that Meredith was corrupt and forced his resignation. On June 25th, 1901, Meredith removed his firearms from his old police office and apparently went looking for Considine. Meredith ran into Considine and his brother Tom in G.O. Guy's Drug Store in Pioneer Square. Meredith shot several times at John Considine, clipping the back of his neck. Hearing gunshots from where he stood outside, John's brother, Tom, ran into the store behind Meredith and struck him on the head with the butt of his gun, whereupon John shot and killed him. The details of the shoot-out beyond these bare facts were the subject of much debate for several days in the Seattle Daily Times and the Post-Intelligencer. The Times sided with Meredith and published articles arguing "Tom Considine undoubtedly fired the first shot" and that "Meredith, loaded loaded down with packages, was about to board his car at 5:15 pm" and had not set out to get revenge on Considine. Regardless of the intent of those involved, eventually Considine was acquitted and free to continue his business interests.

Considine thenceforth began cultivating a more respectable reputation as a theatre impresario. Considine bought into Seattle's first modern movie theatre, the Edison Unique Theatre, and established one of the first vaudeville circuits on the west coast in order to ensure a fresh supply of professional acts for his venues. Along with John Cort; Charlie Watkins; H. L. Leavitt; and his own brother, Tom, Considine founded an organization called the Independent Order of Good Things. The organization's original aim was to create a united front of theatre managers in the face of the musician strikes of 1908. Eventually the club would evolve into a fraternal organization with 40,000 members called the Fraternal Order of Eagles.

In New York City in 1906 on Fraternal Order of Eagles business, Considine met Big Tim Sullivan, with whom he established the Sullivan-Considine vaudeville circuit and booking agency. With the backing of his new partner, Considine established a nation-wide circuit of 21 theatres, including his own two Seattle theatres, the Star and the Orpheum. In 1907, Considine leased the Coliseum, which had initially been built as a skating rink, and remodeled it into the largest theatre west of Chicago, seating 2,600 patrons (Elliot 55). The structure itself was notable for its steep mansard roof, and initially bore the name "Coliseum" painted in large font under the roof beams along its side.. The Coliseum would that year change its name to the Orpheum Theatre, thus becoming one of seven theatrical venues (the Moore Theatre included) to bear that name in Seattle between the years of 1885 and 1927. By 1911 the Coliseum Theatre would be demolished. It is important to note that Considine's Coliseum bears no connection to the Coliseum Theatre, a Seattle Historic Landmark, designed by Seattle Architect B. Marcus Priteca, built on the corner of Northeast 5th Avenue and Pike Street in 1915, and the first theatre in the world built exclusively to screen films. In August of 1909, Considine opened the Majestic, which hosted the acts which had formerly performed at the Orpheum, which had been torn down and replaced with an office building.

Eventually the Considine-Sullivan circuit surpassed even the Orpheum circuit in size, claiming thirty-seven houses and circuit runs of seventy weeks. In addition to his genius for expansion and organization, Considine is also credited with one of the first attempts at air-conditioning performance houses, having placed blocks of ice in the ventilation systems of his theatres (Elliot 57). Eventually, however, the speed of the theatre business and the relative insecurity of its profits led Considine to look for a way out of the business. At this time, Considine's biggest business rival was Alexander Pantages, who seemed to have a better sense of public interest in his booking practices. After Sullivan was declared insane in 1913, Considine's business and vaudeville circuit began to fall apart. On March 27, 1914, Considine and Sullivan's heirs sold the remains of the circuit to Marcus Loew, Jones, Linick, and Schafer. Considine retained his franchise in Spokane, Butte, Seattle, Vancouver, Tacoma, and Portland. Surprisingly, this would prove to be a mistake.

As the first World War erupted, it proved difficult once more to make money in vaudeville, and Considine found himself liable for personal and business debts of $830,000. In 1916, the New York Life Insurance Company foreclosed on the Orpheum theatre, and Considine was forced to sell off his circuit. Pantages purchased the pieces, and Considine moved to Los Angeles, where he began again in the film industry. Later Considine's son, John Considine Jr., became a film producer for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and married Pantages' daughter Carmen. Their sons John and Tim would also make their living in show business, on film and television.

Gender: 
Male
Cultural Identity: 
Alternate Name: 
Performing Art Group Affiliations: 
Sources: 
"Coliseum Theatre #1, Downtown, Seattle, WA". Pacific Coast Architecture Database. 2015. Web. Dougherty, Phil, "G.O. Guy Drugs" Historylink.org, 10 Mar. 2014, HistoryLink.org Essay 10753. Elliot, Eugene C. A History of Variety-Vaudeville in Seattle from the Beginning. Seattle : University of Washington Press, 1944. Print., Seattle Daily Times, 19 June 1901, p.5, Seattle Daily Times, 28 June, 1901, p.1, Seattle Daily Times, 28 June, 1901, p.6, The Seattle Daily Times, 12 Feb. 1943, p.10