In 1878 just fifty-four citizens called Spokane home, including two young entrepreneurs who would leave a mark on the city. John Browne and Anthony Cannon made great fortunes in real estate and business and became Spokane's first millionaires. In 1889 they began construction on the magnificent Auditorium Theater, which would become the center of Spokane's civic and cultural life.
Located on the corner of Main and Post, where present day Riverpark Square now stands, the Auditorium Theater was still under construction when the Fire of 1889 left Spokane's central business district in ruins. When construction was complete in 1890, the immaculate five story red brick building became one of the finest theaters west of the Mississippi. Before construction began, Cannon and Browne visited Chicago to see what was then the largest theater in the country, the Chicago Auditorium. To rival Chicago, builders were instructed to go "one foot wider and one foot deeper" on the Spokane Auditorium. From 1890 until the construction of the Hippodrome Theater in New York in 1914, the Auditorium in Spokane was the largest theater in America.
No expense was spared in the construction. Granite was taken from the base of Mt. Spokane to complete the foundation. Inside, were 17 dressing rooms and a "box office vestibule (lit) by stained glass windows." Atop the building stood a large gold-plated statue of Thalia, Goddess of Music. The Auditorium drew acts from all over the world. Sarah Bernhardt, Alma Gluck, Anna Held and Al Jolson, performed on the stage. Jolson appeared in 1917 while a young Bing Crosby watched from his seat.
Several factors contributed to the demise of the Auditorium Theater. Browne and Cannon went bankrupt, World War I and the Great Depression happened, and the rise of motion pictures overshadowed the glory days of the live theater. In 1934, the building was sold and the new owners promptly had it razed. In its place stands a Payless Drug Store.
The "world's largest stage" remained a fond memory for many Spokanites who were alive to experience it during its time. Old Bill Wallace, who once managed the theater came by to see the "old stage ripped apart" on that fateful day in 1934. Unable to watch any longer, Old Bill simply "walked away" and "let her go."