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Seattle's Showbox: 'Emblematic Of Seattle As A Music City'

The Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board has designated The Showbox theater downtown as a landmark, a significant step in the nearly yearlong battle over the future of the music venue.
Ashley N.

The “Save the Showbox” campaign has picked up more momentum this week after the Seattle City Council voted to temporarily expand the boundaries of the Pike Place Market Historic District.

Tens of thousands of supporters also have signed a petition calling for the venue to receive landmark status.

The outcry over the potential demolition of the beloved building prompted KNKX Morning Edition producer Ariel Van Cleave to talk with Leonard Garfield, Museum of History and Industry executive director, about the history of the venue.

Interview highlights

Fixture of entertainment from the beginning: "Almost from its first day in 1939, the Showbox was a showcase of the best musical talent, and the city was excited about it. I mean, it regularly sold out. So think of names like Duke Ellington, or Louis Armstrong, or Sarah Vaughn. They all performed at the Showbox."

Breaking racial barriers: "Black performers could not perform before white audiences and black audiences could not go into 'white venues.' The Showbox played with that differently. They had black performers, and they had the best. And they had black musicians from the Seattle musician community. So, in decades before we saw true integration of entertainment venues, the Showbox began to bring those black performers to Seattle audiences. And that began to change the racial complexion of entertainment in Seattle."

Showbox 'emblematic of Seattle as a music city': "We think of ourselves as a high-tech city, as a plane manufacturing city, but our music history is so important. And it's not just that relatively slender slice of pop culture from recent decades. It goes all the way back to the 20s and 30s. And music is just one of those things that connects with people. Because, if you think about it, the Showbox was often the place where you saw something for the first time, or the only time, or the best time. And people remember those things, and the Showbox just stands in for all those great memories. But it really stands in for decades and decades of deeply rooted entertainment history and heritage in our community." 

Ariel first entered a public radio newsroom in 2004 while in school at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. It was love at first sight. After graduating from Bradley, she went on to earn a Master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. Ariel has lived in Indiana, Ohio and Alaska reporting on everything from salmon spawning to policy issues concerning education. She's been a host, a manager and now rides shotgun with Kirsten Kendrick as the Morning Edition producer at KNKX.

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