Danz Family Photograph Collection, 1890-1953

Overview of the Collection

Danz, Carolyn
Danz Family Photograph Collection
1890-1953 (inclusive)
1930-1953 (bulk)
53 photographic prints (1 box and 1 folder)
Collection Number
Photograph collection including photographs of Seattle movie theater owner John Danz and various classic Seattle movie theaters.
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections
Special Collections
University of Washington Libraries
Box 352900
Seattle, WA
Telephone: 2065431929
Fax: 2065431931
Access Restrictions

The collection is open to the public.

Additional Reference Guides


Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Starting with one movie theater as a side venture in 1913, pioneer motion picture exhibitor John Danz saw his company, Sterling Theatres (later Sterling Recreation Organization or SRO), grow into the largest independent theater circuit in the Pacific Northwest by the 1950s, with 25 theaters in the Seattle area. After his death in 1961, John Danz’s son, Fredric A. Danz, continued to build SRO until, at its height in the 1980s, it was showing first-run films on 116 movie screens, a distinction that made it the largest motion picture theater company in the state of Washington.

John Danz was born in Bronsk, Russia, on September 24, 1877, to Louis and Anna (Danofsky) Danz. John came to the United States with his family in about 1882, fleeing from religious persecution. He came to Portland, Oregon, by covered wagon with his father in 1889, transporting the household belongings and joining the rest of the family who had crossed the country by train. Danz worked as a stage driver in Elkland, Nevada, 1895-1896, and as a clerk in various haberdasheries in several western states. From 1903 to 1914 he was owner and manager of Sterling Men’s Wear on 2nd Avenue South in Seattle. When an adjacent storefront became vacant, Danz saw an opportunity to increase foot traffic to the clothing store by installing a nickelodeon; he started showing movies there in 1913-1914. The movie house soon became more profitable than the clothing store. People paid five cents admission and sat on hard benches. By 1914 Danz devoted all of his energy as president of his movie theater business, Sterling Theatre Company, named after his original haberdashery. His brothers Si (Simon) and Joseph worked with him in the business. When 2nd Avenue was widened and extended, the movie house lost its original location. In 1916 Danz bought the Star Theater and the following year the Colonial Theatre. He purchased land and built the Florence Theatre in 1920. Because movie producers had control of many theaters, Danz could only show “subsequent run” films at first. However, by maintaining clean theaters and low admission prices – 15 cents or less – his business steadily increased.

Over the years Danz continued to add theaters and led the way in rewriting state laws governing motion pictures. By 1936 Sterling had six movie houses and purchased the Pantages Theatre and Pantages Theatre Building in downtown Seattle, renaming it the Palomar Theatre Building after the Palomar Observatory in California. Danz ran Sterling Theatres from his office based in the Palomar Theatre Building from 1936 to 1961. He was notable for his determination, and he kept his theater business alive through the Depression and the advent of television. The company added bowling alleys in 1951, which were often located near the theaters. Danz was the first in the business to perceive the need for deluxe suburban motion picture houses and built the Admiral in West Seattle, the Magnolia, and the Northgate Theatres. Another suburban theater, the John Danz in Bellevue, completed just weeks after Danz’s death in 1961, was named to honor the theater pioneer.

Danz married Jessie Mohr of Staten Island, New York, on March 19, 1911. They had three children: Dorothy (Mrs. William R. Forman), William F., and Fredric A. Just prior to his death, Danz and his wife donated $330,000 to endow a lecture fund at the University of Washington, which has brought many distinguished scholars to the campus. Danz passed away on October 27, 1961, at the age of 84.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The collection features 22 photographs of exteriors of Seattle movie theaters from the 1930s, along with photos of theater employees from this time. In addition, there are portrait photographs of John Danz, president of Sterling Theatres (later Sterling Recreation Organization - SRO), and other images showing him at an award ceremony at the Northgate Theatre, visiting with his wife, Jessie, and on the set of the 1941 Republic Pictures motion picture Ice-Capades. There are also two photographs of Danz's family from the turn of the 20th century and photos of the Berkman family, relatives of Mrs. Carolyn Blumenthal Danz (daughter of Helen Berkman Blumenthal).

Other Descriptive InformationReturn to Top

Forms part of the repository's Jewish Archives.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Alternative Forms Available

View selections from the collection in digital format in the UW Libraries Seattle Photograph Collection . Search by theater name.

Restrictions on Use

Restrictions may exist on reproduction, quotation, or publication. Contact the repository for details.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top


Arranged in eight series: Movie Theaters, Theater Employees, Northgate Movie Theatre, John and Jessie Danz on Ice-Capades Movie Set, John Danz, Danz Family, Berkman Family, and Young Men's Hebrew Association.

Acquisition Information

Donor: Carolyn Danz; received in 1977, November 1978, and December 1993.

Processing Note

Processed by Linda Corets, 2005.

The photographs were relocated from the Danz Family Papers, Accession 2688-001 and Accession 2688-002, in the repository in 2005.

Related Materials

See also PH Coll 650 - Washington State Jewish Archives Photograph Collection.

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top


Movie TheatersReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Folder item
1 1
Bruen's Arabian Theatre, 7610 Woodland Park Avenue North, showing Gary Cooper in The Texan
Woodland Park Avenue North became Aurora Avenue North after 1931.
circa 1930
1 2 circa 1932
1 3 circa 1930
1 4
Capitol Theatre, 1508 3rd Avenue, showing Test Pilot and Her Jungle Love
Roger Dudley, Seattle, Washington (photographer)
circa 1938
1 5 circa 1932
1 6
Colonial Theatre, 1515 4th Avenue, near Pike Street
Roy M. Peak Photography (photographer)
circa 1932
1 7 circa 1932
1 8
Madrona Garden Theatre, 2815 East Cherry Street, with marquee promoting Mary Astor in Ladies Love Brutes
circa 1930
1 9
Mission Theatre, 5627 Duwamish Avenue South
circa 1930
2 10
New Rex Theatre, 1300 3rd Avenue
The building had previously housed the Pantages Theatre (1915-1935) and later was home to the Palomar Theatre, named in honor of the world's largest reflecting telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California. From 1936-1960s, the Palomar Theatre Building was the headquarters of Sterling Theatres Inc.
circa 1930-1935
2 11
Palomar Theatre, 1300 3rd Avenue
Asahel Curtis, Seattle, Washington (photographer)
Photograph is stamped with "Roger Dudley, Commercial Photographer, Seattle" but original photo is by Curtis.
circa 1938
2 12 circa 1930
2 13 circa 1932
2 14 circa 1930
2 15 circa 1941
2 16
Lukan's Roycroft Theatre, 708 19th Avenue East
Roy M. Peak Photography (photographer)
circa 1932
2 17 circa 1932
2 18 circa 1941
2 19 circa 1932

Theater EmployeesReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Folder item
3 20 circa 1920
3 21
Cashiers and staff of Winter Garden Theatre outside of the Republic Building, 1511 3rd Avenue
Roy M. Peak Photography (photographer)
circa 1920-1935
3 22
Probably movie theater employees
Roy M. Peak Photography (photographer)

Northgate Movie TheatreReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Northgate Gala Preview for Grand Opening
Folder item
4 23
John Danz (2nd from left) and wife Jessie Danz (3rd from left) with others in the Northgate Theatre lobby
circa 1952-1953
4 24
John Danz (back row, 3rd from right) and wife Jessie Danz (front, center) with others in the Northgate Theatre lobby
Martin Moyer, Seattle (photographer)
Left to right: Z.M. Volcheck, city manager, Sterling Theatres; A.B. Heinzberger, decorator; James B. Douglas, president, Northgate Company; Rex Allison, vice president, Allied Stores Corp.; John Graham, Jr., architect; John Danz, president, Sterling Theatres; Fredric Danz, vice president, Sterling Theatres; Ben B. Ehrlichman, chairman of the board, Northgate Company. Seated: Mrs. John Graham, Mrs. A.B. Heinzberger, Mrs. James B. Douglas, Jessie Danz (Mrs. John Danz), Mrs. Rex Allison, Mrs. Fredric Danz, and Mrs. Z.M. Volcheck.
circa 1952-1953
4 25
John Danz (left) with another man in the Northgate Theatre lobby
circa 1952-1953
4 26
John Danz (center) with two men in the Northgate Theatre lobby
circa 1952-1953
4 27
John Danz (center) receiving motion picture theater industry merit award, possibly at the grand opening of the Northgate Theatre
Martin Moyer Photography, Seattle (photographer)
circa 1952-1953
4 28-29
John Danz (right) receiving motion picture theater industry Merit Award, possibly at the grand opening of the Northgate Theatre
Martin Moyer Photography, Seattle (photographer)
circa 1952-1953
4 30
John Danz speaking at podium at Northgate Theatre, possibly at the grand opening of the theater
circa 1952-1953
Folder item
5 31
Theater lobby
circa 1950-1955
5 32
Water fountain and bathrooms
circa 1950-1955
5 33
Sculpture of Native Americans with harpoons in canoe hanging on wall
Folder item
5 34
Poster of Northgate Merchants Kids Show with children attending Saturday movies
circa 1950-1955

John and Jessie Danz on Ice-Capades Movie SetReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Folder item
6 35
John Danz shaking hands with ice skating star Dorothy Lewis, beside his wife, Jessie (2nd from right), and Mrs. L. Friedman (left)
Republic Pictures Corporation, North Hollywood, California
circa 1940-1941
6 36
Ice skating star Dorothy Lewis (pointing), with Mrs. L. Friedman (left), Jessie Danz (center), John Danz, and featured ice skater Lois Dworshak
Republic Pictures Corporation, North Hollywood, California
circa 1940-1941
6 37-38
John and Jessie Danz with film director Joseph Santley and ice skaters on set
Republic Pictures Corporation, North Hollywood, California
Left to right: Director Joseph Santley, Edna Benjamin (seated), John Danz, skater Gloria Sherwood, Mrs. L. Friedman, skater Claire Wilkins, Jessie Danz, and skater Betty Brown.
circa 1940-1941
6 39
John Danz shaking hands with skater Phil Taylor
Republic Pictures Corporation, North Hollywood, California
Left to right: Child skating star Babs Savage, John Danz, Jessie Danz, Mrs. L. Friedman, and Phil Taylor wearing ice skates on stilts.
circa 1940-1941
6 40
Child skating star Bab Savage sitting on John Danz's lap
Republic Pictures Corporation, North Hollywood, California
circa 1940-1941

John DanzReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Folder item
7 41
John Danz (right) at Pacific Coast Conference of Independent Theater Owners (PCCITO) event, probably with film actresses
circa 1950s
8 42-43
Danz in Ghost Town Picture Gallery at Knotts Berry Place, Buena Park, California
circa 1940-1955
8 44-45
John Danz
8 46
John Danz
Walters, Seattle, Washington (photographer)

Danz FamilyReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Folder item
9 47
Louis (Danofsky) Danz with family
Back, from left: Si, John, Anna; front: Sarah, Lily, Joe; seated: Louis (Danofsky) Danz.
OS4 48
Group on shore at Hood Canal
Back row, left to right: Joe Danz, David Harris, Archie Krom, David Saransky, Sam Friedman, Joe Friedman, unknown; middle row: Bella Gottstein, Josephine Cohn, Jessie Mohr (Danz), Bessie Harris; front row: Fannie Kaufman, Lillie Mohr, Lily Danz.
circa 1905-1906

Berkman FamilyReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Folder item
10 49
Helen Berkman (Blumenthal), Milton Berkman, and Cora Berkman (Lewis) with horse and dog in Jacob Berkman's yard, 2803 Yesler Way, Seattle, Washington
circa 1902
10 50
Helen Berkman (Blumenthal) and probably Milton Berkman
10 51
Mina Berkman
10 52
Jacob Berkman

Young Men's Hebrew AssociationReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Folder item
11 53
Young Men's Hebrew Association group, Seattle, Washington

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Motion picture theater managers--Washington (State)--Seattle--Photographs
  • Motion picture theaters--Washington (State)--Seattle--Employees--Photographs
  • Motion picture theaters--Washington (State)--Seattle--Photographs
  • Skaters--Photographs
  • Visual Materials Collections (University of Washington)

Personal Names

  • Danz, Jessie, 1889-1973--Photographs
  • Danz, John, d. 1961--Photographs

Corporate Names

  • Northgate Theatre (Seattle, Wash.)--Photographs
  • Sterling Recreation Organization
  • Sterling Theatres Inc

Geographical Names

  • Seattle (Wash.)--Buildings, structures, etc.--Photographs

Titles within the Collection