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The U District's Neptune Theatre turns 100 years old

Almost panoramic shot of the Neptune Theatre, with a concert on stage and blue and green lights on the stage and ceiling.
Christopher Nelson
/
Seattle Theatre Group
A concert by Mark Lanegan, the lead singer of the Screaming Trees, opened the restored Neptune Theatre in 2011.

100 years ago, the Neptune Theatre opened as a movie house. Today, it's a live music venue owned by the original family but run by Seattle Theatre Group, which works to maintain and preserve local historic theaters.

In constantly changing Seattle, a centennial of any kind is worth celebrating. And Tuesday night, the U District’s Neptune Theatre is marking 100 years in business.

The Neptune Theatre originally opened as a picture house on Nov. 16, 1921, and is still owned by the same family. But it didn’t become a live music venue until 2011.

"Craig Thompson, the head of the family, tells the story about how he really only saw a few people coming in and out here and there," Angela Neubauer, Seattle Theatre Group's donor relations manager, said. "I think the last night they had a film, maybe 15 people came, and that broke his heart to see so few people getting to enjoy this historic theater."

A bust of Neptune is mounted on the wall of the theater.
Christopher Nelson
/
Seattle Theatre Group
A bust of Neptune watches over the Seattle theater bearing his name.

After seven months of renovations, the theater reopened. There are several "Easter eggs" visitors might notice in the theater, including the wall sconces in the shape of Neptune's head with eyes that can emit light in different colors. Another fun hidden gem is that there is a wooden piece attached to the bar counter that was taken from the Moore Theatre's fly rail system. According to Neubauer, the theater manager didn't want to see it go to waste when they updated the system to be automatic, so they saved it and put it in the Neptune.

Since then, Seattle Theatre Group estimates they’ve seen over a million people pass through its doors, checking out acts like Lizzo, Japanese Breakfast, Neutral Milk Hotel, as well as local musicians like Tomo Nakayama. He actually worked at the Neptune as a student at the University of Washington when it was still showing movies. Nakayama headlined the venue this past September.

"It was the culmination of 20 years of making music and working up the ladder. It felt like coming home," Nakayama said. "And I’m grateful to still have that home around."

Jared Cortese is a member of the local band Warren Dunes, which also headlined a show at the Neptune this past summer. For Cortese, the Neptune is testament to how Seattle values its arts scene.

"It's just so cool that Seattle has places like the Neptune to symbolize that we do care about more than just [money]. We care about the health of our souls," Cortese said. "The Neptune is just one of those venues that really supports the idea that we value music in this town, and this is an iconic place that kind of symbolizes how seriously we appreciated."

If you have a memory of the Neptune, you can share it by visiting Seattle Theatre Group’s website.

View of the stage from by the sound/lighting console.
Grace Madigan
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The Neptune Theatre used to show movies, but after Seattle Theatre Group took over operations and renovated the space, it became a venue for live performances, including concerts and comedy shows.

Updated: November 16, 2021 at 3:40 PM PST
New photos added to the story.
Raised in Western Washington, Grace Madigan has contributed to the International Examiner, KEXP, and Sip Northwest. She previously served as director for The Evergrey, a newsletter for Seattle locals. She likes to play and watch soccer, cook dumplings and create playlists.