Benjamin “Benny” Marcus Priteca
Values Codes I-E-L
Benjamin Marcus Priteca was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1889.
He was educated in Edinburgh, Scotland at the George Watson’s College followed by the Edinburgh College of Art where he studied architecture
Along the way . . .
Priteca came to Seattle in 1909, at age 20, to see the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.
Benjamin Priteca began working as a draftsman, but in 1911 he had a chance meeting with Alexander Pantages, the owner of a chain of theaters, which led him to directly work for Pantages.
His first jobs were working on two Pantages theaters, in San Francisco and Oakland, but he then moved back to Seattle where he opened up his own architecture firm.
In 1914, Benjamin Priteca received the commission to design the new synagogue for Seattle’s Congregation Bikur Cholim, which was his synagogue.
He created a very impressive structure with classical lines and a shallow dome.
It brought him deserved recognition throughout the Seattle.
Among the various buildings he designed for other Seattle Jewish organizations were: the Settlement House building where many Jewish immigrants became Americanized, the Seattle Talmud Torah where many Orthodox Jewish children learned about Judaism and the chapel for the Herzl Congregation.
In the late 1950s he designed the new building for the large Reform congregation, Temple De Hirsch, a design for which he was honored with an AIA Seattle award.
In 1964 he won the job of designing the new building for the large Sephardic Congregation, Sephardic Bikur Holim, which incorporated modern and also Mediterranean-inspired elements.
Benjamin Priteca earned most of his money by designing movie theaters for the Pantages Theater Organization.
He did this up and down the West Coast, in the Midwest and also in Canada. Pantages reportedly said of Benjamin Priteca that:
“Any fool can make a place look like a million dollars by spending a million dollars, but it’s not everybody who can do the same thing with half a million.”
Over his career, Benjamin Priteca designed more than one hundred theaters (from 1911-1950), although not all were for Pantages.
Some other theaters were for performing arts rather than movies.
Some of Priteca’s theaters operated for many years, closed, and then were restored through major renovations, such as the Tacoma Pantages Theater, the Paramount Theater in Seattle and the Pantages Theater in Fresno.
With so many commissions, Benjamin Priteca became nationally known for his expertise in this specialized building design that emphasized acoustics and good sightlines.
Benjamin Priteca also designed a number of other prominent buildings in the Seattle area such as the Longacres Racetrack in Renton, WA, the Seattle Police Department Public Safety Building and was a consultant on the Seattle Opera House.
In 1951, Priteca was inducted into the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows.
Nearly half of Benjamin Priteca’s theaters remain in operation today and many have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Although Benjamin Priteca never married, he always had an assistant architect working with him whom he mentored.
These men and their families became part of his unofficial family.
His assistants went on to successful architectural careers of their own.
Benjamin Priteca died in 1971.
For more information see Western States Jewish History:
- Benjamin Marcus Priteca of Seattle & Gustave Albert Lansburgh of San Francisco: Two prominent West Coast Jewish Architects of the Early Twentieth Century, by Eugene Normand, WSJH, Vol. 46, Issue #4
- “B. Marcus Priteca” HistoryLink.org Essay 8815http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=8815
- Miriam Sutermeister, “B. Marcus Priteca,” in Shaping Seattle Architecture, A Historical Guide to the Architects,” ed by J. K. Ochsner, (Seattle, WA, 1994), 185
- E. Normand, “A Tale of Two Cities’ Jewish Architects: Emile Weil of New Orleans and Benjamin Marcus Priteca of Seattle,” Southern Jewish History, v. 16, pp 1-41, 2013
Eugene Normand is our Curator for this Benjamin Priteca Virtual Exhibit.