Tilikum Theatre opens in downtown Seattle on August 26, 1913.

  • By Eric Flom
  • Posted 5/10/2001
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3269
On August 26, 1913, the Tilikum Theatre, one of Seattle's many early motion picture houses, opens for business on Pike Street near 4th Avenue. The venue is quite small in comparison to more elaborate downtown houses such as the Clemmer or the Melbourne, and seats only a few hundred patrons on a single floor. Yet with a reasonable ticket price of 10 cents (5 cents for children), theaters such as the Tilikum provide a small and cozy alternative to Seattle's more grandiose movie palaces.

Simple, Yet Elegant

Adopting a colonial theme for its interior, the Tilikum drew raves for its "artistic and attractive entrance,” and for being “beautifully decorated inside and out." Much was made of the theater’s ventilation system, which was said to assure a complete change of air every three minutes. (For both coolant and sanitary reasons, early moviegoers often considered a theater’s ventilation system as important as its more luxurious amenities.) Also notable was the Tilikum’s concealed lighting scheme, providing ample illumination for audiences going in and out of the theater without detracting from the quality of the projected images, which ran continuously.

Although the Tilikum was modest in scale, the house offered patrons the whole moving picture experience. In addition to frequent bill changes (sometimes two or more per week), Hector Romano led a three-piece orchestra helping to interpret the pictures, and several area vocalists were hired to sing between film offerings.

With what he deemed to be the “best program in the city,” Tilikum manager A.B. Boyd opened his theater with The Skeleton in the Closet, a two-reel (roughly 20-minute) film from the Edison Company; a Vitagraph comedy starring John Bunny called When the Press Speaks; and a drama entitled The Work Habit. “[The Tilikum] is a very pretty house and this week’s program is very fine,” observed the Daily Times of the theater’s debut (“Tilikum Doing Well”).

A Short-Lived Triumph

Although opened as a first-run theater, the economics of competing against larger and more lavish downtown movie houses doomed many small theaters like the Tilikum. After a mere three years in operation, the Tilikum shut its doors in 1916 and the space was remodeled for other commercial uses.

The old Tilikum space was located on the Pike Street side of the then newly opened (now historic) Joshua Green Building on 4th Avenue. Until 2008, a Rite-Aid drugstore occupied the old Tilikum space. The site was seven floors directly below the original office (1998-2008) of this HistoryLink.org website. In 2009 the Joshua Green Building is closed for extensive renovations. 


Sources: “Tilikum Theatre Now Open,” Seattle Daily Times, August 26, 1913, p. 10; Advertisement, Tilikum Theatre, Seattle Daily Times, August 26, 1913, p. 10; “The Tilikum Opens Today,” Seattle Star, August 26, 1913, p. 3; “Tilikum Doing Well,” Seattle Daily Times, August 27, 1913, p. 13.
Note: This essay was updated on August 29, 2009.

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