Want to see the Orpheum for yourself? I’m hosting a photography workshop at the theater this fall.
The Orpheum Theatre opened on April 15, 1912 — the same day the Titanic sank. Located on Water Street in New Bedford, Massachusetts, it was part of a Beaux-Arts building that was built in 1910 by a French-Canadian group known as Le Club des Francs-Tireurs (The French Sharpshooters Club). The building’s official name is La Salle Francs Tireurs, or French Sharpshooters Hall.
Local architect Louis Destremps — known for his work on the Notre Dame De Lourdes church in Fall River, Massachusetts — designed the building, which included the theater, a ballroom, a shooting range, a gymnasium, retail space and various office and meeting spaces. The Ballroom and Theater served as revenue for the club.
The New Bedford Orpheum was centrally located in the community. Water Street was lined with shops and stores that were integral to the adjoining neighborhoods, and there was a trolley system that transported residents from their homes to many destinations within the town. After the theater was leased by the Sharpshooters to the Orpheum Circuit of Boston, it became a place many came to see vaudeville performances, feature films, serials and the latest events on newsreels.
The Orpheum Circuit merged with many different organizations over the years and eventually became Radio-Keith-Orpheum,(“the RKO”) famous for showing films like “King Kong” and “Citizen Kane”. At one point, there were over 400 theaters across the country that were linked with the Orpheum. After the Palace Theatre in Los Angeles, The New Bedford Orpheum is one of the oldest surviving Orpheum Theatres in the country.
When the Orpheum opened it had 1,500 seats, (as verified by its first newspaper ads). These seats were replaced with more modern ones, and when the theater closed they were sold and the original seats were reinstalled.
The Orpheum Theatre was closed for the first time in 1958-59. It opened several times after that for special events, but was eventually sold by the French Sharpshooters Club in 1962 and was later used as a warehouse by a tobacco company. The back of the building housed a supermarket, but was closed a few years ago when the owner put the building up for sale.
The building is currently privately owned, but O.R.P.H. Inc, or Orpheum Rising Project Helpers is an organization focused on restoring the building. Their goal is to make it a community theater and multi-cultural center for New Bedford.
You can learn more about O.R.P.H. Inc by visiting their website.
23 thoughts on “Orpheum Theatre”
Soooo many memories of hours and hours of entertainment at the Water Street Orpheum Theater! $.12 was a ticket into the Saturday matinee. Another nickel for candy or .10 popcorn. If I could gather six small soda bottles and one large bottle I could redeem them at the grocer for .17 cents and had three hours of movie entertainment😍
Now this is where they should spend their money it’s way better than the Z bigger the only thing about this is no parking but neither does the Z. They pay attention to the Z because it’s down town where all the businesses are and it’s part of the historical district. If they were smart they would utilize both and bring more money into the city and have bigger entertainment and allow people from all over the world to see what the city of New Bedford has to offer and not just for the historical district and history of whaling. If we’re going to make our city BEAUTIFUL let’s do it in all area’s of our city including all nationalities thru out our city. If we’re going to do it fair let’s do it all the way around. Have more entertainment for the kids because the Z don’t have much And then maybe we can have our city residents and youth with talent, come to life. Give our inner city less unfortunate kids a chance to a brighter future and great memories as a child and teen even adults iin the city they grew up in.
There’s a parking lot right next to the Orpheum, and it’s owned by the same person who owns the Orpheum. They could easily build a parking garage structure there to make the building more accessible if it was restored.
However, there’s not a chance it will be anytime soon.
your photos are terrific. Well done thank you for sharing them.
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A friend of mine told me about this gem in his hometown. Our local jewel, The State Theater in Easton, PA was revitalized and now has a full roster of events from stage plays to musicians year round. You should not let this masterpiece from the past be destroyed!!!
Nice pictures and comments! Thanks
I guess the current owner only keeps it as a speculation object qnd is waiting for the real estate prices to rise.
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Anyone know if there was ever a pipe organ installed in this theatre and what might have happened to it? Thnx.
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