Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A New Sign of Life Downtown!

5th Avenue Theatre gets a new marquee, invites the public to its illumination

SEATTLE, WA On Thursday December 3 The 5th Avenue Theatre kicks off its upcoming 30th Anniversary Celebration with the lighting of their brand new vertical marquee. Inspired by both the Theatre’s original sign that hung at the entrance to the theatre at its 1926 opening as well as its famous Chinese-inspired interior, the new marquee was designed by Eric Levine and Yusuke Ito of NBBJ and built by CREO Industrial Arts in Everett. Featuring an aluminum frame that weighs a remarkably light 5500 lbs. and energy-efficient LED illumination of approximately 2,000 lights, the sign nearly reaches to the 8th floor of the Skinner building, home of The 5th Avenue. It is state-of-the-art yet respectful of our illustrious history.

The sign was made possible thanks to a generous gift from Christabel Gough, the daughter of founding Unico chairman and legendary Broadway producer Roger L. Stevens. Stevens’ illustrious career included bringing such shows as West Side Story, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Annie to Broadway, founding the Kennedy Center, serving as the first Chairman of the NEA, and brokering famous property deals such as the purchase of the Empire State Building in 1951. The sign honors both Stevens and his good friend James M. Ryan, CEO of Unico Properties, who spearheaded the renovation efforts that saved The 5th Avenue and transformed it into Seattle’s premier home of musical theater.

When the renovations of The 5th Avenue Theatre began in 1979, the community leaders who’d raised the $2.6 million to make it possible knew that not all of their plans would come to fruition. One change that couldn’t take place was replacing The Theatre’s aged vertical marquee (the second of two which had held that position), which had fallen into disrepair and was removed as part of the renovations to the theatre.

Then two years ago Gough contacted The 5th Avenue. A patron of the theatrical arts like her father, she wanted to memorialize him and James M. Ryan, and suggested that a great way to do so was to complete the Theatre’s renovation by underwriting the cost of a new vertical marquee. “Going to opening nights with my father is such a lovely memory for me,” recalls Gough. “It was like Christmas and New Year’s all rolled into one, and the bright lights of the theatres were such a big part of that.”

“We started with a white canvas, no clue what to do,” says NBBJ’s Yusuke Ito, who assisted architect Eric Levine on the design of the sign. “The initial thing we did was say ‘let’s not think about the marquee, let’s think about the history and aesthetics of The 5th and its interior design.’ When we eventually looked at photos of the 1926 marquee, we had many ideas, but that was such an amazing design we wanted to bring elements of that in too.” And one last touch makes the sign particularly special: the “5th” at its summit rotates. “I’m honored to have worked on this,” says Ito. “I’ve seen a lot of shows at the Theatre in the last couple of years, and now it suddenly feels like it’s my first time up on a stage. I’m excited to hear what people think!”

“We were thrilled when we were asked to participate in the production of such an iconic piece for the historic 5th Avenue Theatre,” said Jeff Braaten, CREO’s Account Executive on the project. “CREO does work throughout the country and around the world, but it’s always more rewarding when you can participate in such a notable project right in your own backyard. It took extensive collaboration between the Theatre, NBBJ and CREO to produce the sign, and we can only hope that the public is as pleased with the end result as we are.”

“As we head into our 30th Anniversary as Seattle’s premier home for musical theater,” says The 5th’s Managing Director Marilynn Sheldon, “we’re proud to do so with a brand new marquee that reaffirms downtown as a great destination and pays homage to our lively past. Now, because of a daughter’s love for a father who was a theatrical visionary, there is a new and literal ‘sign of life’ downtown, reminding people that during good times and tough times, The 5th remains a great place for a great time.”

Details on the sign:

Designed by: NBBJ, architects Eric Levine and Yusuke Ito

Built by: Everett’s CREO Industrial Arts

Height: 57’ 6”

Weight: 5,500 lbs

Illumination: Approximately 2,000 energy-efficient LED bulbs powered by 72 amps

Cost: $300,000, generously underwritten by Christabel Gough in memory of her father and his friend James Ryan

Details on the marquee lighting event, which will run from 6:30 to the official illumination at 7:15 on December 3, will be forthcoming. You can also check out our website for the event at TK.

The 5th Avenue’s revival of White Christmas, which sold out three years ago, begins previews on November 28 and opens December 3, running till December 30. Tickets and multi-show subscriptions are available over the phone by calling 206-625-1900 / toll-free 888-5TH-4TIX (584-4849), online at or in person at the box office at 1308 5th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101.

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