Jean Burch Falls, Theatre Originator

Jean Falls, 2016

Jean Burch Falls worked with her husband Gregory Falls (1922-1997) in the origination of ACTA Contemporary Theatre — in 1965.  ACT produced notable performances in the historic Redding Building, also known as Queen Anne Hall & more recently Behnke Center and home to On the Boards, at 100 West Roy.  Later ACT restored Eagles Auditorium, relocating to downtown Seattle in 1996.  ACT introduced to Seattle works by such contemporary playwrights as David Mamet, Sam Shepard, and Tom Stoppard, and cultivated a community of actors and theatre workers.

Born and raised in New York City, Jean Burch graduated from Manhattan’s Brearley School in 1942 after attending boarding schools in Virginia and Lausanne, Switzerland.  Despite her family’s objections, she studied drama in college, first at Bryn Mawr and then at Neighborhood Playhouse in New York.  In 1943, she started to fly planes, hoping to join the WASPs – Women’s Auxiliary Service Patrol.  However, the war in Europe ended before she reached the age when she could serve.  After a first marriage and the birth of two sons, she began pre-med studies at the University of Vermont – while also directing and acting in community theatre.  There she met and married Greg Falls, Director of the University of Vermont Drama Department, and her dramatic activities intensified.

In 1961, the University of Washington appointed Greg Falls as Executive Director of the School of Drama, and the Falls family – now including two daughters — moved to Seattle.  Jean performed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Green Lake Aqua Theatre.  After a couple of years, Jean and Greg began to look for a space to open a contemporary summer theatre, to complement the two-year-old Seattle Repertory Theatre that staged classic plays during the winter. This led to the 1965 opening of ACT at its original Queen Anne location on West Roy.  Jean notes that Jim Whittaker the first American to summit Mt. Everest and an originator of REI – had used the Redding Building as a staging area.

In 1974, Jean began to write lyrics, often in collaboration with composer Rob Duisberg. Her work has included lyrics for performances at ACT, Empty Space, and Issaquah’s Village Theatre.  In 1999, she performed her final stage role in a production of Margaret Edson’s WIT at Seattle Repertory Theatre.  She also travelled with the show to theatres in Houston, Phoenix, and Tucson.

Stewart Ballinger, Greg and Jean Falls at ACT’s 20th anniversary celebration in the Rainier Tower, May 1, 1984 (courtesy ACT)

Jean’s civic roles have included activism in the late-1960s fight to save the Pike Place Market, culminating in her service on the first Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority/PDA.  There she played an instrumental role in establishing the Pike Place Market Foundation, originated in 1981-82. In 1975-81, she served on the Seattle Center Advisory Commission.

Jean has resided on Queen Anne since 2007.

Storms

As the rains reappear in our skies, leaving pools, puddles and damp concrete, I remember all the great storms from my past here in Seattle. At only one time during my 50+ years of residence on Queen Anne Hill did our power fail. It all depended on which substation covered your residence. We had the one down on Sixth Avenue North near Denny Way. Another time the power failed on Thanksgiving, but it was during a storm on the north side of the Hill, not our side.

Those two lapses of power remind me that we were unusually lucky in the respect that the fierce storms of the 1940s-1960s were mostly rumbling of thunder and rarely lightning. The occasions when lightning appeared were few and far apart. …Continue reading “Storms”

Bleitz Funeral Home: Inside and Out.

The Landmarks Preservation Board (LPB) designated the Bleitz Funeral Home at 316 Florentia St. a city of Seattle landmark earlier this year. During the preparation of the nomination the developers supported the nomination of the 1921 portion of the building, hoping the LPB would not stand in the way of demolishing the 1989 west side addition. They succeeded there. Now they are faced with convincing the LPB of the need to replace most of the original windows.

The Queen Anne Historical Society’s Landmark Preservation Committee toured the building inside and out on Wednesday, November 22, 2017. The interiors have been completed gutted with the building stripped out on all floors to the concrete walls. Only the wooden floors and a north south row of studs on the first and second floors remain. As is often the case in buildings whose interiors haven’t been landmarked, the views are the interior’s most interesting features. To the north, the building hovers over the Lake Washington Ship Canal and the Ship Canal Trail that ends just below it at the Fremont Bridge. The view to the north includes the passing ships on the canal and the dramatic (soon-to-be-illuminated) opening and closing of the bridge. The view across the canal to historic (and modern) Fremont is also quite nice. To the east, the vista takes in the George Washington Memorial Bridge (Aurora Bridge) and sweeps across Lake Union, Capitol Hill and the University District. Jacob J. Bleitz showed prescience in siting his funeral home. He understood the value of a great location even in the business of dying. …Continue reading “Bleitz Funeral Home: Inside and Out.”