Uptown Theatre

Uptown Theatre, Seattle, WA in 1926
The property at 511 Queen Anne Avenue North, now housing SIFF Cinema Uptown, originally opened May 26, 1926 as a single-screen movie house known as Hamrick’s Uptown Theatre, developed by John Hamrick who originated several theatres in Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland.  Architect Victor Voorhees designed the building, as well as the nearby MarQueen Apartments (originally the Seattle Engineering School).  The theatre had 750 seats and a tiny Wurlitzer pipe organ.
The Uptown Theater in 1937, long before the owners added the distinctive marquee. The theater has always been a focal point of the community.  Photos courtesy of the Queen Anne Historical Society

As Michael Herschensohn’s 2011 Queen Anne News article details, in 1947 and again in 1953, its owners hired architect B. Marcus Priteca to design updates to the building, including adding the current marquee.
The Uptown in 1954, with the year-old marquee. The theater would face a major renovation in 1984 when two additonal theaters were added. Photos Courtesy of the Queen Anne Historical Society

In 1984, the theatre annexed  two adjacent properties south of the original venue, tearing down one of them which had housed a restaurant.  The remodel preserved the original ornamented brick façade while constructing a concrete block structure inside of it.  Now the theatre had three screens plus an expanded lobby.  The updated original auditorium seats 450, and the additions seat 250 and 150.
SIFF Cinema Uptown in Seattle, WA - Cinema Treasures
In November 2010, theatre operator AMC announced it would close the property.
In 2011 Seattle International Film Festival  / SIFF acquired the theatre and reopened it as an “art house cinema.”
SIFF Cinema Uptown

Many people enjoy visiting Dick’s Drive-In — right across the street — before or after their movie experience.
Note:  Over the course of its history, the building has used the titles ‘theatre’ and ‘theater’ interchangeably.
*”SIFF to reopen Uptown as art-house theater,” by Moira McDonald, The Seattle Times 8/6/2011
*”Historic Seattle Uptown Theater is back and better than everBusinesswire 10/20/2011
*”Queen Anne’s Uptown Theater has always been a marquee location,” by Michael Herschensohn, Queen Anne News 11/10/2011
*”Seattle Uptown got a new name, but a historic landmark shines on,” by Gabriel Campanario, The Seattle Times 7/18/2021
*City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Historical Sites

Queen Anne Yesterday & Today

Looking west: W. Olympic Place, May 4, 1903. Seattle Municipal Archives: Item#172604 

This historic view along West Olympic Place at 7th Avenue West was captured on May 4, 1903 during field work for a city-commissioned parks report by John Charles Olmsted (1852-1920) who, with his brother Frederick Jr. (1870-1957), was a partner in the office founded by their father, famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903).  This was the first of several visits by Olmsted, whose recommendations served as a blueprint for Seattle’s parks-and-boulevard system maintenance and expansion in the early 20th century.  Olmsted’s impression of the park was largely positive, recommending minor improvements.  But some vocal Queen Anne women would force the plans for Olympic Place to be scaled back a bit — 18 inches, to be exact.

The split-rail fence on the left of the 1903 image marked the upper edge of 14-acre Kinnear Park, one of Seattle’s earliest public parks.  Across the street from the park, Olympic Place was lined with stately mansions, including the home of Dr. Frederick A. Churchill (1856-1937) and his family, whose 1889 home at 608 W Olympic Place was among the first constructed on Queen Anne.  Dr. Churchill called himself the “Father of Kinnear Park” in a 1936 Seattle Daily Times interview, saying that he urged George Kinnear to donate the land for the park and then pushed the city to fund its development.

In 1906, the Olmsted Brothers were again engaged to design the grounds for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYP), and the city was moving quickly to implement their previously recommended boulevard improvements ahead of the exposition, including at Olympic Place.   Meanwhile, developers constructed luxury apartments near streetcar lines through the city to be used as hotels during the AYP.  These apartments  included the Chelsea Apartments at 620 West Olympic Place and The Kinnear at 905 West Olympic Place, both built in 1907.

Per plans drawn up by the Olmsted Brothers, the grade of Olympic Place in front of the park was to be lowered as much as eight feet, necessitating a concrete retaining wall that was proposed to rise four-and one-half feet along the roadway.  The wall proposal proved problematic to the residents of homes in the vicinity of the park, including Dr. and Mrs. Churchill.

Olmsted Brothers Section drawing of proposed boundary wall, dated March 22, 1909. Seattle Municipal Archives. Archives:#2372

On April 28, 1909, The Seattle Daily Times reported that 40 women led by Mrs. Churchill “besieged” the Park Board superintendent when he arrived to oversee construction of the wall, which they felt would destroy the scenic beauty of the entire street. Their protest immediately halted construction while the Board of Park commissioners considered their demands for a gentle sloping of the park property from the street rather than a wall.  On May 4, 1909, six years to the day from when the historic image was taken, The Seattle Daily Times reported that in response to “strenuous objections” the Park Board compromised that the wall will be no more than three feet high.  This concession satisfied the protesters, and the work was completed in time for the June 1st opening of the AYP — but perhaps more importantly for the Churchills, it was done in time for their niece’s wedding, which took place at their home on May 31, 1909.

The construction of the Chelsea and The Kinnear Apartments marked an early shift toward the multi-family housing that continued throughout the 20th century and that characterizes West Olympic Place today.  As for the Churchill’s house, Dr. Churchill lived there until his death in 1937; it was torn down in the 1950s for construction of the Skyline House apartments (1956).

W. Olympic Place. May 2021. Photo: Maureen Elenga

Reference:  Dorpat & Sherrard, The Seattle Times 6/21/2014:  Seattle Now & Then:  Kinnear Park

Historic Name Change

On April 12, 2021, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution that recognizes ‘Uptown’ as the correct name for the neighborhood many refer to as “Lower Queen Anne.”
District 7 Councilmember Andrew J. Lewis — who resides in a historic Uptown building — sponsored the bill.
Among supporters of the bill:  Uptown Alliance

A front-page article in the Queen Anne & Magnolia News  of April 21, 2021 cites Queen Anne Historical Society President Michael Herschensohn, noting
Herschensohn said he didn’t used to buy into the insistence by Uptown Alliance founders that the neighborhood should be called Uptown, rather than Lower Queen Anne.  In retrospect, however, he believes it just makes sense.  First, the name Uptown was used in the names of various businesses and buildings for quite some time.  The Uptown Theatre, now the SIFF Cinema Uptown, was built in 1926, and played an integral part of the community’s history, Herschensohn said. 

Plus, Herschensohn said the name Uptown has been used in many cities as an opposite of downtown, which was the case in Seattle. ‘It makes sense to call it Uptown.'”