Tacoma Historical Society’s summer exhibit dives into the heritage and history of the Theater District with “Showtime in Tacoma: Theaters and Performers.”
Developed by curators Deb Freedman and Brendan Balaam and designed by Chris Fiala Erlich, the exhibit runs through Sept. 9.
The anchor feature of the exhibit is a wall display of autographed photographs of 35 world-class artists who performed in Tacoma from 1904 through 1927, including Rachmaninoff, Kreisler, Sousa, Nijinsky, and the Ballet Russe, as collected by impresario Bernice E. Newell, who ran the Artists Course of Concerts from 1904 until 1927. Newell was the center of Tacoma's high-art scene by bringing world-class performers to the city and promoting the shows in her arts column in the Tacoma Daily Ledger to ensure the shows were well attended, often pleading to readers to support the arts.
Displays of Tacoma’s iconic theaters, namely the Pantages, The Showbox, the Blue Mouse, The Rialto, including the movies and act they hosted over the years, round out the museum space. But there’s more. Alongside the exhibits of all things high-brow, the society’s summer is also marking the publications of two books on the history, “Showtime in Tacoma,” by Blaine Johnson and Brian Kamens that includes essays by the late-great Historian Murray Morgan, and “In Search of Alexander Pantages, Head of the Vaudeville Circuit,” by the late Griselda “Babe” Lehrer.
“Showtime in Tacoma” covers the theaters, venues, performances and events that have attracted audiences to more than a century’s worth of memorable experiences at more than 150 theater names have operated through the years, and chronicled by Morgan before his death.
“We’re deeply indebted to Lane Morgan, daughter of Murray and Rosa,” said author Blaine Johnson, “for generously making available boxes of materials from Murray’s unfinished work. It is particularly satisfying that Murray’s rich storytelling about Tacoma’s historic theaters now becomes available to a new audience through these essays.”
“In Search of Alexander Pantages, Head of the Vaudeville Circuit” relates the saga of the theater mogul Alex Pantages – his personal life, his national theater empire and the cast of characters who shared his life and performed on his stages. The Lehrer Family Trust has finished the manuscript and research that was nearly completed by Lehrer, a well-known Tacoma businesswoman and philanthropist.
The museum is located in the historic Provident Building, at 919 Pacific Ave. and open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Admission is free. Visit tacomahistory.org for more information.