Sequim Opera House

Olympic Discovery Trail

Arts, Entertainment & Sports Railroads Ways of Living

Though the building is no longer used as an opera house, passersby can still see the second floor’s pitched roof where the theater once was.

When businessman Charles Franklin Seal built this second-floor opera house in 1907, Sequim, Washington commercial district was only 15 years old. Homesteaders had been farming the land around Sequim since the 1850s, but it wasn’t until 1892 when William Horner opened a grocery that businesses began to pop up and a commercial center began to form. [1] Both geographically and socially, Sequim was far from the old, opulent opera houses of Europe, like La Scala in Milan and Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater. It was a rural area, not a densely populated city, and too young to have developed a thriving cultural scene. But that did not mean that the residents of Sequim did not enjoy opera and theater and entertainment—they did, and they wanted to be seen as cultured people. When Seal built the opera house alongside his general store, it was a statement that Sequim had matured into a refined, enlightened and permanent town. [2]

Opera houses like this were appearing all over the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Local Glories: Opera Houses on Main Street, historian Anne Satterthwaite writes that between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the century, “opera houses [opened] everywhere: on second floors over hard­ware stores, in grand independent buildings, in the back rooms of New England town halls and even inside a Mississippi department store.” [3] These were not lavish theaters, but they featured stages large enough to host the traveling theater troupes, opera companies, musical performers and lecturers that arrived along the expanding Western railroads. [4] When no acts were passing through town, opera houses hosted events like social dances, ceremonies, and concerts and plays put on by locals. The opening performance at the Sequim Opera House, on June 15, 1907, was a medley of musical acts by town residents. [5]

While the railroads, particularly the extension of branch lines to smaller towns, facilitated the rising popularity of opera houses, Satterthwaite notes that this was not the only impetus for their growth. The late 19th century was a time of growing wealth inequality, but those who accumulated wealth also patronized the arts; many successful businesspeople built opera houses for their communities to add “a welcome respectability” to their towns. [6] Women also pushed for opera houses to be built, to provide them with spaces outside the home where they could engage in decorous leisure and social activities that were, at that time, deemed appropriate for females. For women living in even the most remote parts of the country, their local opera house connected them to the vaunted culture of the urban East and Europe. [7] Opera houses were usually open to and used by the whole community, which often (but not always) meant that they were predominantly white spaces; some opera houses included separate (but usually unequal) sections for Black community members. [8]

The Sequim Opera House was used by the community through the 1920s. [9] In Sequim, and elsewhere, the heyday of the opera house was over by the 1930s. Movie theaters and home radios became the nexus around which local culture revolved. [10] Today the building is occupied by a local business. From the outside, it’s hard to tell that there is a theater tucked away on the second floor—the only clue is the pitched roof. [11]


  • [1] National Register of Historic Places, Sequim Opera House, Sequim, Washington, National Register #91000632.
  • [2] Anne Satterthwaite, Local Glories: Opera Houses on Main Street (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 2.
  • [3] Ibid., 1.
  • [4] Ibid., 11–14.
  • [5] National Register.
  • [6] Satterthwaite, 22.
  • [7] Ibid., 27–50.
  • [8] Ibid., 162–63, 191–94.
  • [9] National Register.
  • [10] Satterthwaite, 17.
  • [11] Alana Linderoth, “Then and Now: The Sequim Opera House,” Sequim Gazette, May 13, 2015,

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