Thursday, November 15, 2007
Washington Hall - Seattle Venue For 100 Years
"We played the Washington Hall that night with the Dils, the Dishrags, China Comidas, and Blow Up. It was a good show, and it started a good thing between D.O.A. and Seattle, a great city." -Joey Shithead from DOA, recalling his band's first Seattle show in 1979 in his book "I, Shithead"
Washington Hall opened in Seattle Central District 1908 on the corner of 14th and Fir. It was built by the Danish Brotherhood Society who operated it until they sold it to The Sons of Haiti, a Masonic group, in 1965. Currently the building is in disrepair and for sale by the Masons. In all likelihood it will be torn down and condos will be erected in it's place with all the other gentrification and rebuilding that's been going on in the CD. But there is hope, although there have been developer offers, The Stranger has reported The Annex Theater is looking at it as a possible new home and King County has apparently made an offer on the building. I really hope Washington Hall is saved, not only is it a beautiful old building, but it's history is forever entwined with Seattle's music scene.
While in it's early years the only type of concerts Washington Hall hosted were Danish musicians and dance groups, the Danish Brotherhood Society began renting out it's concert space to the local black community for events, which included over the years musicians like Billie Holiday, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Big Mama Thornton, as well as speakers like Martin Luther King Jr. In the 1960's Jimi Hendrix played his first show at the hall.
In 1978 the theater group On The Boards leased Washington Hall from the current owners The Sons of Haiti, and to make ends meet, they occasionally rented out the space for early punk shows featuring bands like The Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Subhumans, Dils, Vains, and DOA. Apparently there was a riot at a 1980 Black flag show that Paul Solger booked. On the Boards theater director Robert McGinley recalled in Seattle Times article from 06/11/2007, "We'd be up until the wee hours of the morning cleaning after the shows... people were urinating, swinging from the (stage) curtain." Ha ha ha!
My first show at Washington Hall was when I was still in highschool, I think it was Agent Orange in 1985. I remember being totally wowed by the number of kids hanging outside, although I don't really recall much of the show beyond hanging out, drinking and talking to people a lot. From 1986 to 1990 I remember going to punk, underground rock and grunge shows there fairly often. Seeing bands like Cat Butt, The Gits, Green River, Christ on a Crutch, Gas Huffer, Subvert, Seaweed, The Jesters of Chaos, My Eye, Resolution and plenty of others. The shows were usually run by kids that started their own production groups like The Milkbone Collective and Dirthead. It was a great venue for all-ages shows because it was located within the city, cheap to rent, had a good sized space that could fit at least 200 kids, and was in a neighborhood that was tolerant of rock shows. I probably saw 20-25 great shows there that I fondly remember.
Photos of Washington Hall today are here.