Musings & Meditations

This Was Seattle Burlesque: The Palace Hip

Posted in Art & Society, Sexuality and Culture, Travel by Pam Keesey on February 21, 2009

Cynthia and I decided we needed a little adventure. Nothing too far, nothing too expensive. So we hightailed it to Portland for the weekend to see what there is to be seen. She and I have both been through Portland, stopping long enough to perhaps eat something, but the chance to explore had escaped us both until now.

We stayed in a hostel in the northwest part of the city which was right near a bohemian arts and shopping area that we knew nothing about until the friendly staff at the pointed us in the right direction. And there we found such treasures!

Before I get too far ahead of myself, Cynthia and I both love burlesque, and we’ve both relished the resurgence of burlesque as an art form. So we were absolutely delighted to find vintage burlesque items in the nooks and crannies of different stores throughout the neighborhood.

One of the stores we stumbled upon was a little boutique full of vintage ephemera. “All things lovely and strange” it said on the sign outside the door, and we found it to be quite true. Upon entering, I spotted an old photograph propped up in a 1950s chair along with some other unrelated items. Very 1920s in style and quite worn, the photograph was of a woman — yes, a dancer — in a faux Chinese sleeveless jacket with unattached kimono-style sleeves, holding a large Chinese style fan above her head. Posed beautifully, it was quite clear that she was one of the star attractions of a long forgotten show.

“How much for this photograph,” I asked one of the clerks.

“Both items go together,” he said. “I can’t sell them separately.”

“Both items?” I asked.

“The fabric on the chair,” he said. “It’s the jacket she’s wearing in the photograph.”

I picked up the fabric and unfolded it. Torn in places, quite threadbare in others, it was most certainly the very same jacket she was wearing. There were a few other delightful items — a 1964 paperback entitled The History of Burlesque which I found propped up next to a statue of the Pope, and a July 1951 issue of Eve: The Woman’s Magazine for Men, part cheesecake, part women’s fashion and feminine culture, but distinctly targeting a male audience. But it was really the photograph with the matching burlesque costume that was the exceptional find.

In looking more closely, I saw the imprint “Anderson/Seattle.” This photograph had been taken in Seattle. I asked the clerk what she knew. “The owner went to a big sale in Seattle back in the 80s. They were tearing down a theater, and she bought lots, brought them back to Portland, and bit by bit has been offering pieces for sale.” I asked her the name of the theater. “The Palace Hip.”

Palace Hip, Seattle, 1921

Palace Hip, Seattle, 1921 (from the Webster & Stevens Collection, MOHAI, Seattle; used with permission and available for purchase directly from MOHAI)

The Palace Hip, it turns out, was the Palace Hippodrome, part of the Ackerman and Harris circuit. It was located on 2nd Avenue and Spring Street in downtown Seattle. The Palace Hip was the most popular vaudeville theater in Seattle, and hosted performers who would later become some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry. Designed as a multipurpose theater, the Palace Hip was also a first-run movie theater in its time. But it was primarily known for its cabaret acts.

Chorus Girls at the Palace Hip, Seattle, 1922

Chorus Girls at the Palace Hip, Seattle, 1922 (from the Webster & Stevens Collection, MOHAI, Seattle; used with permission and available for purchase directly from MOHAI)

These two pieces are now among my favorite possessions. They are both great reminders of burlesque — and Seattle — days of yore. At the same time, I’m disappointed that I’ll never be able to visit the Palace Hippodrome. The theater was torn down in 1981 to make room for a new parking garage. Then again, if the theater hadn’t been torn down, these two items might be, to this day, sitting in a box somewhere in the storage rooms of the once famous Palace Hip.

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Change

Posted in Travel by Pam Keesey on August 19, 2008

To insist that diligent thought brings an understanding of change is to limit life to the comprehensible.

— William Least Heat-Moon, Blue Highways

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Highways & Byways

Posted in Travel by Pam Keesey on May 29, 2008

When my plans for Memorial Day weekend disintegrated, I knew I had to do something, but I wasn’t sure what. A quick internet search turned up a cheap ticket to Phoenix….

Phoenix? What was I going to do in Phoenix? A few internet searches later, I found inspiration by way of Route 66, and a plan suddenly began to fall into place.

In trying to make sense of the emotions with which I’ve been flooded on a daily basis since Jenny’s death, I’ve renewed and more seriously pursued my interest in Buddhist meditation. As a part of that journey, I’ve also been feeling a pull to get out on my own, to get into the out of doors, and to clear my mind to the best of my ability. (If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend Awake in the Wild: Mindfulness in Nature as a Path of Self-Discovery by Mark Coleman.) I thought the woods was my calling, but I was suddenly overcome with the desire to be in the desert, to be out in the dry heat and blazing sun, to be alone with my thoughts with nothing to concern me or distract me but the open road ahead.

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Communing

Posted in Travel by Pam Keesey on May 27, 2008

Day 4: Photostream
By the time 5:15 Tuesday morning arrived, I was awake, but just wasn’t quite ready to get up. “I’ll just rest for a few more minutes,” I thought. Next thing I knew, it was 7 a.m. I quickly got ready and left the hotel only to find myself stuck going the wrong direction due to construction that closed all the exits for 10 miles out. Frustrated that I got to such a late start, I was hoping I’d be able to make up for lost time at some point throughout the day.

I finally arrived at my first destination, San Xavier del Bac Mission south of Tucson. There are times when the obstacles of the day turn into a gift, and this was one of those days. As I entered the mission, mass was just starting, and I realized I was meant to be there in that moment. I quietly took a seat in one of the pews.

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Yesterday’s Gone

Posted in Travel by Pam Keesey on May 26, 2008

Day 3: Photostream
I finally got to meet my hosts at the Blue Swallow Motel on Monday morning when I prepared to check out. Terri and Bill bought the motel, originally built in 1939, several years ago and restored every inch of it with love and care. Every Memorial Day weekend for the last several years, a group of bikers have come from Louisiana to spend the holiday at the Blue Swallow. As it turns out, I missed the biker wedding the night before. The celebratory nature of the evening carried over into the morning. One of the bikers came into the office as I was checking out to get his morning coffee, and shared tales of the wedding and showed me the dance a six-year-old girl taught him the night before. Everyone bemoaned the fact that I had missed the celebration and wished me well on my journey.

As I headed out of town, I took a few quick snapshots of classic Route 66 signs — although I missed La Cita — and then headed back toward Santa Rosa.

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