Capitol Hill And the 1918 Flu Pandemic, Part 3: Cancel Culture

Updated: Oct 6, 2020


Photoshopped photograph of Society Theatre at Broadway and John circa 1920 made to look as it may have appeared on October 5, 1918. Original photo via Museum of History and Industry

"Don’t grumble because you can’t see a movie or play a game of billiards—

or because the schools and churches are closed.

The health of the city is more important than all else.

An ounce of prevention now is worth a thousand cures…"

After three deaths and hundreds of reported cases of the flu, all places of indoor public assembly such as schools, theatres, sports venues, churches, and dance halls were ordered closed at noon on Saturday, October 5, by Mayor Ole Hanson, and city health commissioner J.S. McBride. The next day they expanded the ban to include billiard halls, card rooms, and cabarets. Culture had no doubt been cancelled. Capitol Hill was the home of nearly every type of business and institution affected by the order. In this third part of our pandemic series, we'll look at the initial impact of the shutdown on some of these entities and some cancelled events.

Movie Theatres

In the weeks leading up to the shutdown, the movie industry was booming. According to Tom North, west coast executive of Pathe, a major film distributor at the time that had just expanded it's office in downtown Seattle, all of Seattle's "52 high-class theatres" were "doing tremendous business." The flu obviously put a halt to this. Specifically, just like today, theatres back in 1918 lost money on refunds for any advance ticket sales and advertising and billing costs for upcoming screenings.

Excerpt from a larger article in the Seattle Times Oct 6, 1918 p.10

Capitol Hill's three movie theatres: Society Theatre at 201 Broadway E (pictured above), Bungalow Theatre at 505 15th Ave E (not pictured), and Madison Theatre at 906 E Madison St (corner Broadway, pictured below) no doubt suffered from this same loss. However, a closer look at the lives of their owners reveals that there were more unique circumstances that would have made enduring the shutdown more or less challenging depending on the case.

Left: Madison Theatre, circa 1940 via Seattle Public Library | Right: Broadway Building circa 1905 via MOHAI