1883-1889

Seattle’s theatrical fortunes received a boost in 1883 when the Northern Pacific Railway completed a line into Seattle. The line provided a new route for touring companies and eliminated the need to double back on their route. Seattle was now much more accessible to shows that originated in the East and were sent on the road to major cities, often with the original actors accompanied by elaborate sets.

Lydia Thompson
Lydia Thompson

With the closing of the Squire’s Opera House in 1882, Yesler’s Hall served as the one theatre where such touring companies could perform. Unfortunately, the theatre was less than adequate causing one newspaper to lament the “wretched facilities afforded by the stage and hall”  (Seattle P-I January 27 1884). In an effort to provide a theatre better able to accommodate road shows, J.P. Howe leased and renovated the Alhambra Theatre and renamed it the Standard Theatre. It opened on June 17, 1884 with a presentation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by the Boston Original Mamouth Uncle Tom’s Cabin Company. The new theatre also attracted other touring stars including Shakespearan actor Daniel Bandmann who performed in Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Richard III at the Standard in July 1884.

The Standard Theatre was soon joined by Frye’s Opera House which opened on the northeast corner of Front Street (now 1st Avenue) and Marion on December 1, 1884. Nellie Boyd and her company opened the theatre with a production of Forget-Me-Not. The theatre had seating for over 1,000 and modern gas lighting fixtures. Seattle could now lay claim to having a first class theatre to accommodate touring companies. Over the next few years, a host of actors appeared at the theatre including Katie Putnam, Fanny Janauschek, Georgia Woodthrope, Frederick Warde, George Miln, Edwin Thorne, Effie Ellsler and Sol Smith Russell.

Minstrel shows were also presented in Seattle during the these years, including Howe’s Consolidated Kentucky Jubilee Singers and Colored Minstrels at Yesler’s Hall in 1883 and Happy Cal Wagner’s Minstrels at Frye’s Opera House in 1886. Likewise, variety and vaudeville performers such as Lydia Thompson’s Burlesque Company and Professor Norris’ Education Dog Show were seen by Seattle audiences throughout the 1880’s.

Disaster struck Seattle's growing theatrical scene on June 6, 1889 when a fire started at the corner of Front Street (now 1st Avenue) and Madison. The fire burned 29 square city blocks, destroying most of the business district. Frye's Opera House fell victim to the fire. Although the theatre had a brick exterior, all of its structural framing was wood and could not withstand the flames. 

Photo of the ruins of Frye's Opera House
Photo of the ruins of Frye's Opera House