Working the Fifth Avenue

Working the Fifth Avenue

Collage made from photos on the Fifth Avenue website.

As I mentioned in my last Memories post, I left the UA Cinemas and began a job as assistant manager for Mann’s Fifth Avenue in Seattle. It wasn’t an exercise of my own will that I left the UA. I was dismissed. The Manager Bill Shonk was being promoted, so the company brought over the manager from their theater in Spokane as his replacement. Russ (a Danny DeVito look- and sound-alike) didn’t take a shine to me, so he fired me to bring on his assistant from Spokane. Actually as it turned out, he had other plans, he needed a confederate to facilitate his thievery. It is heartening to know that what is hidden does not stay that way, but in the fullness of time will be revealed.

Anyway, I was on to other pastures, and the Fifth Avenue theater was a fantastic “pasture,” or perhaps a better analogy would be “rice paddy.” The Fifth Avenue, as most of the “Pleasure Palaces” built in the 20s and 30s, was designed with a exotic theme. In this instance, Imperial China. Like Grauman’s Chinese theater in Hollywood, the movie goer was treated to sumptuous surroundings – from the entrance to the lobby to the auditorium. And many critics consider the Fifth Avenue theater in Seattle to have “out Chinesed” Grauman’s. A story circulated that the Chinese dignitaries at the opening in 1926 marveled at the authenticity of the decor.

(Aside – I have seen depictions of the court at the Forbidden Palace in some films, and I had “deja vu” for the lobby at the Fifth).

My new boss was Johnny Bretz, a movie theater veteran, who began his career back in the thirties. He had started out at the Egyptian theater as a doorman and moved over to the Neptune as assistant manager. Both theaters were in the University District (near the UW), and at that time (1974) were art houses. In the 1960s he was a purchasing agent and auditor for the Evergreen State Amusement Corporation (a subsidiary of 20th Century Fox) with 18 theaters in Oregon and Washington. He moved onto the Fifth Avenue after Mann Theaters of LA acquired the assets of National Theaters Corp (Fox West Coast).

My first day, Mr Bretz took me on a tour of the theater, showing me the lay out, where the doors were to check and lock at closing, and where the lights were to turn on and off, etc. He briefed me on details regarding the concession stand, which sat between the two main aisles into the theater from the lobby. Then into the theater proper, the decor inside was splashed in red and gold and green and blue. Coming out from underneath the cover of the mezzanine and upper balconies I saw the main lighting fixture, a golden dragon with an ornate lantern suspended from its teeth. A white globe was anchored beneath the lantern. Quite impressive. He explained that the globe, according to the Chinese motif (and legend) was a “pearl.” We went right down to the front of the auditorium and over to the left side, and climbed a short stair up to the stage. He brushed aside the curtain and led me back stage. As we went along that stage wing with all the paraphernalia of a theater stage – switches for stagelights, ropes and counterbalances, it reminded me of those old movies like “42nd Street” and “The Zeigfield Follies.” That notion was reinforced when he led me downstairs and through the dressing rooms and a chorus room. The picture would have been complete if a crusty old stage hand stood nearby puffing on a stogie. (Well, actually, I met that character later, only minus the stogie).

While downstairs, Mr. Bretz instructed me in the mechanics of the theater’s air conditioning system. It was a water cooled affair. By my spatial sense, I judged it to be under the center of the stage and running perpendicular to its longitudinal axis. A huge lever switch was thrown and a enormous drum at the back whirred and hummed to life. The movement of the air thus created was forced over and around some radiator like structures with cold water coursing through them. And the resultant cool air was propelled onward and upward in the ducts to their apertures in the auditorium.

On another occasion I visited another area of the structure. The theater itself is located inside the Skinner Building, an eight story office building. It comprises the first five floors. Office space fills up two of the floors above that, and another was given over to a ball room. It wasn’t Mr Bretz who took me up to the fifth floor, I believe that it was the afore-mentioned stage hand (more about him in future posts). He unlocked this most ordinary of doors and ushered me into a remarkable space. The fifth floor housed the magnificent terra cotta ceiling of the theater. It was not as beautiful as what could be seen from below. Lots of steel bars – horizontal and vertical – ran this way and that, around which and to which the terra cotta had been formed and fixed. You could make out the shapes of things, but they were in reverse. The biggest part of the structure was the dome section under which you knew the dragon lurked and from which the lantern hung. To see all this you tread a very narrow catwalk. Surprisingly there were holes in the terra cotta through which you could see the auditorium four stories below. It was a little unnerving, for that material seemed oh so fragile. Come time to retrace my steps, I remember with pleasure discovering an old poster resting on the terra cotta – too far out for me to reach, but close enough to admire – the image of a curly-topped Shirley Temple in “The Little Colonel” looked back at me. (I checked, the film did indeed play at the Fifth, opening on March 12, 1935).

The Fifth Avenue was a little farther away from our apartment than the UA, but at only six blocks there was still no need to fire up the Roadrunner.

Rebel Treasure fifty third post

Rebel Treasure fifty third post

INT. BASEMENT OF THE OTHER GUARD HOUSE
All the third soldier can see through the basement windows are his comrades exchanging automatic gunfire with the Gatling gun in the tower next door.

BEN (ON THE TUBE)
Hello! Is there anyone there?

SOLDIER THREE
(picking up the speaker tube)
Hello! Mr. Slidell?

ON THE IRONCLAD BRIDGE
Ben slams the speaker tube back down.

BEN
Sorry, wrong number!

And picks up the next one, as Abigail pops up onto the bridge.

ABIGAIL
Those pollsters can find you anywhere.

He smiles and motions her to join him.

BEN (ON THE TUBE)
Is anyone there?

GUARDHOUSE

AGENT HOWIE
Boss, someone’s talking on this tube thingy.

The agent passes him the speaker tube.

RILEY
Let me have that!

BEN (O.S.)
Is anyone up there?

RILEY
Ben! It’s me, Riley!

BEN (O.S.)
Are you okay?

RILEY
Just fine. I’ve recruited some help. Sadusky and his crew. Is Abigail with you?

BEN (O.S.)
Yes. Can you get us back up there?

RILEY
Uh. I think we may be wanting to come down to where you are.

BEN (O.S.)
What?

RILEY
(to Sadusky)
How much time we got?

SADUSKY
The order should have been issued three minutes ago. It’s on the way. Say seven or eight minutes.

ON THE IRONCLAD BRIDGE

Ben and Abigail hold the speaker tube between them, both straining to hear.

RILEY (O.S.)
We’ve got a little situation. According to Sadusky, the whole mountain top is about to come down on top of us, courtesy of the US Government.

BEN
That’s extreme prejudice.

RILEY (O.S.)
Don’t take it personal. They don’t know we’re here.

BEN
Listen. The mechanism for raising the entrance is in the basement of the guardhouse across from the one with the ladder to the lower area.

RILEY (O.S.)
Gotcha. We’ll see what we can do.

BACK ON THE CATWALK
The Slidell boys clench each other, neither one strong enough to overpower the other, nor willing to back down. Rance charges up, kicking and screaming.

RANCE
We have no time for this!

In their blind fury they ignore him. Rance takes out his hand gun and fires once into the air. Horatio and Morgan break apart and scramble away from Rance.

RANCE (CONT’D)
Neither of you are worthy to lead the cause.

[next pt 54]

Rebel Treasure fifty first post

Rebel Treasure fifty first post

VIEW FROM ABOVE THE IRONCLAD
The ship nestles down into a web of catwalks at the center of the silos.

CATWALK
One by one they spill out of a gunport onto the catwalk, Mrs. Slidell first. One of the silos overflows with gold dust, which catches Mrs. Slidell’s eye. Rance, though, doesn’t seem interested in any of it. He stands staring intently at the entrance far above them.

MORGAN
What’s the matter?

RANCE
I don’t know, and I hate that feeling.

In the b.g., Mrs. Slidell kicks off her shoes and steps off of the catwalk and over the rim of the silo onto the “golden sands.” Morgan turns from Rance in time to see his mother beginning to climb the mound of gold dust.

MORGAN
Ma! NO!! Come back!

His cry rivets all eyes in her direction. She stops to look back at her son, and plummets from sight.

HORATIO
Ma!

The three conspirators rush towards the silo where she disappeared. Ben seizes the moment and Abigail’s arm.

ABIGAIL
What’s happened?

BEN
Later!

He hurls her back into the ship and follows after her.

DECK OF THE IRONCLAD

BEN
She’s made a fatal mistake.

ABIGAIL
She’s dead?

BEN
Almost certainly. Remember what happened to that boy fooling around on top of that grain elevator?

ABIGAIL
Straight to the bottom?

Ben nods grimly.

ON THE CATWALK
Morgan charges his brother and slams him to the catwalk grate. Horatio looks up, stunned.

HORATIO
What are you doing?

MORGAN
You let her go out there!

Rance watches their exchange in hypnotic fascination. Horatio rises and kicks his brother’s feet from beneath him, then dives on top of him and they thrash about on the catwalk. Rance looks beyond them and catches sight of a safe like structure beyond the last of the silos. He leaves the two battling brothers and moves off to investigate.

DECK OF THE IRONCLAD
Ben and Abigail leapfrog from gunport to gunport locking them down. Between each one Ben casts about looking for something in particular.

ABIGAIL
How are we going to get her back up?

BEN
I’m working on that.
(pause)
I’m wondering if Riley might be up there with reinforcements.

ABIGAIL
You’re thinking the soldiers closed the entrance as a defense?

BEN
Yup.

He spots what he was looking for.

BEN (CONT’D)
You finish off securing the gunports. I think I found what I was looking for.

He pulls on a rope hanging from the ceiling and a collapsible ladder unfolds to the deck. No sooner does it touch down than he bounds up into the opening above.

[next pt 52]