249 W. Riverside Avenue,
249 W. Riverside Avenue,Spokane, WA 99201
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Today the site is a sad, nondescript blacktop parking lot. But I remember the Empress Theater from my days kicking around downtown Spokane as a teen-ager — a long-shuttered movie theater that looked good enough on the outside that I wondered if someday it might be brought back to life. In the ‘70s, this was considered the seedy part of downtown, not far from the railroad tracks and the flophouses. The buildings themselves were magnificent but by that point many of them sat empty. About half of the buildings in this part of town have been demolished now, and have not been replaced — the Empress among them.
The Alfred Jones who designed this theater was not the Alfred E. Jones who remodeled the Theatre De Luxe in Dublin, Ireland, in 1936. The Spokane Jones was born in Chicago in 1872, while Alfred Edwin Jones of Dublin lived from 1894 to 1973.
Alfred Jones of Spokane formed a partnership with Joseph Levesque in early 1910, and a couple of years later moved to Arizona after contracting tuberculosis. He never returned to Spokane, and I’ve been unable to find any later information about him.
This theater probably opened in late 1907 or early 1908 as the Washington Theatre, and was probably designed by local architect Alfred Jones. It was renamed the Empress Theatre in 1911.
The 1913 edition of Julius Cahn’s guide lists the Empress as a Sullivan & Considine vaudeville house, but provides no details. This page at BoxRec, the online boxing encyclopedia, cites a 1927 Spokane Spokesman Review item about fighter Young Stribling, which said that he had visited Spokane in 1911 as part of a family acrobatic troupe which appeared at Sullivan & Considine’s Empress Theatre, which had at that time been called the Washington Theatre.
A list of Sullivan & Considine houses at which Charles Chaplin appeared in 1911 (the text is mostly in German) has him appearing at the Washington Theatre in Spokane on April 24, 1911, and at the Empress Theatre in Spokane on September 24, 1911, so the name change took place between those dates.
A history of Spokane published in 1912 has the following information about local architect Alfred Jones:An item in the September 11, 1907, edition of the Spokane Evening Chronicle said that old buildings at a site on the north side of Riverside Avenue between Washington and Bernard were being razed in preparation for a new theater to be built by the Spokane Scenic Theatre Company. This must have been the Washington/Empress/Studio, which was on that block.
The opening name Washington Theatre was apparently moved to this house from another theater. A February 26, 1906, item in the Spokane Evening Chronicle said that John Considine and Timothy Sullivan were planning to visit Spokane, and said that their theater in that city was called the Washington. I don’t know the location of the first Washington Theatre, or what became of it after the name was moved, but it might not have been very old at the time. A Washington Theatre Company was incorporated at Spokane on May 15, 1905, with capital of $20,000.