Back to Archives

Best restored building in Tacoma

best of Tacoma 2007

Email Article Print Article Share on Facebook Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon

Ed. note: Best of Tacoma issue is inserted into all Weekly Volcano, Ranger and Northwerst Airlifter newspapers this week.  Pick one up, like, now.

Tacoma has rescued a number of beautiful buildings in the past year or so. We found a developer for the Elks building; the Union Bank of California Building is reportedly set to become offices and commercial space; even the Luzon is getting some love.

But the Pantages Theater, which was saved after being shuttered for code violations, is more than a building. As described by several Tacomans, the Pantages is the unofficial heart of Tacoma. It’s not just events, legendary architecture and gold-plated drinking fountains that raise the status of the structure — it’s what the building represents to the people that live here, say observers.

“From a community perspective, the Pantages has been the center of downtown,” says local monument watcher, community catalyst and blogger Derek Young. “If you look where people gathered in the city, it was right on that corner. When the city came together to celebrate or to mourn anything, it was at the Pantages.”

According to the Broadway Center for the Performing Art annals, construction of the Tacoma Pantages began in1918. Designed by Seattle architect B. Marcus Priteca after an ornate theater in the Palace of Versailles, the theater served as a live venue for eight years. At the time, the theater was part of the Pantages circuit of vaudeville houses, which were owned and operated by then Seattle vaudeville promoter Alexander Pantages. The plan was to extend the Pantages Theater circuit across the country and into Canada. Over time, as movie houses

become the center of the entertainment Universe, Pantages curtailed his plans and sold off a number of his theaters. The Tacoma Pantages was converted into a movie house and was sold to RKO, which changed the name of the community center to the Orpheum. In 1932, the theater was purchased by Tacoma resident Will Conner, who operated the space as the Roxy until the 1980s when it regained its original name. A proposal to restore the historic theater led to the Pantages’ first restoration, which began in 1978 after the City purchased it. On February 12, 1983, the theater celebrated its second grand reopening, making 2006 its 23rd anniversary season, and its 88th birthday. Last year, fire marshals temporarily closed the theater after an inspection found exposed wires and an inadequate fire curtain, among other, minor issues. City officials responsible for upkeep of facility quickly corrected the problems, but the closure fueled discussions about further renovations, which had been underway since long before the closure.

The lobby renovation became a joint project between the City of Tacoma and BCPA, and was designed to make long-needed changes and updates to the theater’s amenities. The City of Tacoma provided $1.3 million, with the remaining $3.8 million raised by BCPA through corporate, foundation and individual gifts.

Led by San Francisco-based architects Korth Sunseri Hagey, with local assistance from Grulich Architecture and Planning, the Pantages has since emerged like a Phoenix, doubling the size of its main lobby to more than 3,000 square feet, sporting everything from new stairs to gold-plated drinking fountains.

Six new, windowed double doors open to the spacious entryway, complete with ornate, stained-glass sky lights, a new, permanent concession stand and a relocated, grand, wrought iron staircase. Outside a clear rain awning provides shelter for patrons. On the second floor balcony are more mirrors and tall glazed doors with old paint and boarding ripped off to reveal carved openings that lead to Juliet balconies overlooking South Ninth Street.

A new box office now sports three windows designed to help diminish ticket lines, and walls are adorned with durable white trim, replacing rose-colored velour covering that children were apparently fond of writing their names in.

Lady patrons are pleased to find that women’s restrooms feature a large bank of stalls suitable for a large theater, while both ladies and mens rooms have been expanded and renovated, complete with slated mahogany stall doors and nearby gold-plated drinking fountains. All in all, the revitalization included more than 20,000 hours of labor to complete.

Fountains and all were celebrated by a slate of resident arts organizations that regularly perform on the stages of the three BCPA theaters including: Northwest Sinfonietta, Puget Sound Revels, Tacoma Actors Guild, Tacoma City Ballet, Tacoma Concert Band, Tacoma Philharmonic, Tacoma Opera, Tacoma Symphony Orchestra and Tacoma Youth Symphony Association. More than 400 artists converged to celebrate the re-opening.

What’s next

Broadway Center for the Performing Arts’ 2007-2008 Season marks the 24th year of presenting performing arts in Tacoma, and commemorates the 90th birthday of both the Pantages and Rialto Theaters. Opening night will feature Cirqueworks Birdhouse Factory, created by former stars of Cirque du Soleil, Pickle Family Circus and Moscow Circus performers. Cirqueworks will be followed by Dark Star Orchestra: Recreating the Grateful Dead Experience; and Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano, in honor of Mexican Independence Day. Other promises include CBS late-night talk show host Craig Ferguson, A Prairie Home Companions’ Garrison Keillor, former U.S. Poet-Laureate Billy Collins, comedian Josh Blue, Bobby McFerrin. After that, there are 40 more. Get out your calendars.

For more information on next season, call 253.591.5894

comments powered by Disqus