The Franklin Park is one of the 24 theaters in my new book “After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater.” Find out more here.
The Franklin Park Theatre opened on December 8, 1914 in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. Designed by Funk and Wilcox, who also designed the nearby Strand Theatre. The theater was originally operated by Jacob Lourie, who was a movie pioneer in Massachusetts and the original president of New England Theatres Operating Company (NETOC). NETOC was affiliated with Paramount Pictures, and many of the “famous players” performed at the Franklin Park. It cost $250,000 to build the theater, or $6 million when adjusted for inflation.
The opening day acts consisted of “Behind the Scenes” (a silent film starring Mary Pickford), two vaudeville acts, an organ recital and musical selections by the Franklin Park Theatre Orchestra. 18 police officers were needed to control the crowds on opening night. Around 3,000 people arrived to attend, but the theater could only seat 2,000.
The theater closed for the first time in the late 1920s. It was reopened in October 1929 as a Yiddish theater, and was promoted as “the only permanent Yiddish theater in New England.” The slogan was most likely true due to the sponsoring of productions by the Yiddish Playwright League Inc., a group that many Yiddish playwrights of the era belonged to. M&P Theaters took over the Franklin Park in 1936, and after some alterations the theater reopened as a motion picture house on September 6, 1936. One such alteration was the installation of then modern seats, which reduced the total number of seats to around 1,500.
In the 1950’s the theater switched formats and began showing theatrical productions as well as musical acts. This lasted until 1963, when the space became the home of the New Baptist Fellowship Church. Live acts later returned to the theater when in the late 1960s Elma Lewis, who founded the National Center for Afro-American Artists, booked operas there.
On February 21, 2009 a fire caused $250,000 of damage to the theater. Boston fire investigators ruled that arson was the cause, based on the fact that the fire appeared to have started in multiple locations, including the stage, and that a back door was left open. Luckily, the church was insured, and they plan to rebuild the theater. To this end they have held a number of fundraising events, and until the restoration is complete the church services are being held in an adjacent building.