Backstory: What's Really Inside the Downtown Seattle Banana Republic Store

A downtown retailer holds a secret from the golden age of cinema
  • Downtown Seattle's Banana Republic has a hidden theater

This article appears in print in the April 2019 issue. Click here to subscribe.

The Landmark: The Coliseum Theater
The Location: Downtown, 1512 Fifth Ave.
The Backstory: The Banana Republic store at the corner of Fifth and Pike in Seattle offers more than clothing and accessories. The building itself is a treasure from our city’s cultural heritage: Seattle’s first cinema. The Coliseum Theater opened as a lavish “photoplay palace” in 1916, boasting luxurious decor and amenities that included a smoking room, caged songbirds and an in-house orchestra. But by the 1980s, the single-screen theater had become an antique, shutting its doors in 1990; in 1994, Banana Republic became the building’s star tenant.

Yet some of the theater’s past remains, and you can see it if you ask store staff. Ascend a worn concrete stairwell behind a door on the store’s west side and you’ll arrive at what was once the theater’s balcony. The remnants of the building’s former life are still intact, from its sculptural plaster trim to the orderly rows of concrete that used to anchor its seats (which, along with other relics, such as neon signs, have been relocated to the basement).

Back on the retail floor, you may view the store’s decorative Greek reliefs in a new light, too—they are also artifacts from the theater, serving as subtle reminders of our city’s cinematic history, right in the middle of the bustling present.

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