Jewel Box Theatre

2316 2nd Ave

Jewelbox Theater entrance, Courtesy Jewelbox Theater
B. F. Shearer Building, Seattle, May 27, 2020, HistoryLink photo by David Koch
Jewelbox Theater stage, Seattle, 2013, Photo by Colin Bishop
Jewelbox Theater History Cabaret, Courtesy The Jewelbox Theater
Poster for first film shown at the Jewelbox Theater, Robinson Crusoe
B. F. Shearer Building (Rendezvous Cafe left, Jewelbox Theatre center), Seattle, 1937, Courtesy Puget Sound Regional Archives

2316 2nd Ave

As new-fangled loudspeaker systems first emerged in the mid-1920s, the silent movie era quickly morphed into the “talkie” era of films with soundtracks — and the theater industry boomed. It was 1926 when B.F. Shearer founded his namesake B.F. Shearer Company in Seattle in order to supply theaters with furnishings including carpets, seats, drapes, stage curtains and lighting. Shearer’s office was in a new building at 2318 2nd Avenue, right at the center of Seattle’s “Film Row” district. His factory — which included a wood-shop, electrical shop, research library, and a multi-story tower for manufacturing stage curtains — took up much of the rest of the 2300 block of Film Row. The Seattle Times reported that Shearer built up a workforce that included “artists, designers, cabinetmakers, scenery painters, upholsterers, architectural decorators, precision mechanics, seamstresses, [and] drapers.”

By this time the entire Film Row area was a beehive of entertainment industry activity – with much of it buzzing around two businesses located adjacent to the factory. One was Shearer’s own Jewel Box Theater at 2316 Second Avenue, which was designed by noted Seattle architect Bjorn Moe. It was a charming little 70-seat Art Deco gem that featured a state-of-the-art sound-system when it opened in 1932. Similar in function to the numerous other private screening rooms along Film Row — as run by various Hollywood film companies — such venues were where film distributors could preview new movies for theater managers. But with Prohibition still underway, it didn’t hurt matters that the Jewel Box purportedly featured a popular illicit speakeasy in the basement.

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