Somerville Theatre – Somerville, MA

This was originally posted on After the Final Curtain’s Patreon in February 2022. For expanded early posts, as well as video walkthroughs and other exclusive content, you can become a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

View from the side of the balcony.

The 1,100 seat Somerville Theatre originally opened on May 11, 1914 in Somerville, Massachusetts. It was designed by the architecture firm of Funk and Wilcox, who also designed the Strand and Franklin Park Theatres. It was part of the Hobbs Building, which also had a bowling alley, a billiards hall, a basement cafe, and a 700-person dance hall, the Hobbs Crystal Ballroom.

Originally designed for vaudeville, stage shows and films, the fallout from the Great Depression forced the theater into primarily showing motion pictures, beginning in 1932. Like many theaters of this era, The Somerville held gimmicks, such as dish night or appliance giveaways, to get people to come to a show. During the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s, films would open in the downtown Boston theaters, and then open in neighborhood cinemas like the Somerville a week later.

Unlike many historic movie palaces, the Somerville Theatre was never closed for long periods of time. It became a revival house in 1982, often showing double features and independent films. In the mid-1980s, The Fraiman family purchased The Hobbs Building, and came up with a plan to keep the theater competitive with modern multiplexes. They turned the unused portions of the building, such as the bowling alley, billiards hall, and the ballroom into new screens to show films.

The Somerville Theatre closed in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, screens 4 & 5 were removed, and they restored the Crystal Ballroom. The theater reopened on September 17, 2021 and the Ballroom reopened on October 8, 2021.

Looking back at the auditorium from the stage.

The exterior of the Somerville Theatre.

 

 

Strand Theatre – Boston, MA

I originally posted this post on After the Final Curtain’s Patreon in October 2021. For expanded early posts, as well as video walkthroughs and other exclusive content, you can become a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

The Strand Theatre in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, originally opened on November 11, 1918, the same day that the news of the Armistice, ending World War I, reached Boston. The Boston-based architectural firm of Funk & Wilcox, the same firm that designed the nearby Franklin Park Theatre and the Cabot Theatre in Beverly, MA, designed it. It was one of the first theaters in Massachusetts designed with motion pictures in mind. The Strand also had a $75,000 Hope-Jones Theatre Organ, one of the first of its kind in Massachusetts.

A portion of the lobby was restored to show what the theater could look like after a full restoration.

Early advertisements for the Strand called it “New England’s Most Beautiful Theatre” and “Dorchester’s New Million Dollar Photoplay Palace.” The 2,200 seat Strand opened with a silent film double feature of “Queen of the Sea” starring Annette Kellerman and“Out of a Clear Sky” starring Marguerite Clark. There was also a performance by “Songstress DeLuxe” Emile Earle. Hundreds of people showed up to the Strand’s opening celebration in part to celebrate the theater but also the signing of the armistice. Many celebrities performed at the Strand over the years, including Fred Allen, Fanny Brice, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Jerry Lewis, Duke Ellington, and Alfred Hitchcock.

Like many single-screen theaters of its day, the Strand’s audience declined, and the theater closed in 1969. In 1979, the City of Boston took ownership of the theater, and the Strand reopened. It was managed by the M. Harriet McCormack Center for the Arts (MHMCA), who signed a 25-year lease for $1 a year. During this time, some big names performed at the theater – Joe Perry, B.B. King, Tracy Chapman, Public Enemy, Phish, and LL Cool J, just to name a few. MHMCA operated the theater until 2003, when the City declined to renew their lease because of allegations of mismanagement.

The right organ chamber and box seats were given a sample restoration as well.

The City of Boston is currently searching for a new operator of the Strand.

 

 

Palace Theatre – Norwalk, CT

View from the side of the balcony.

The 1,149 seat Palace Theatre originally opened on December 21, 1914, in Norwalk, CT. It was known as “the theater you play before you play the Palace in New York.” Many famous vaudeville acts performed at the Palace over the years, such as Harry Houdini, W.C Fields, Mae West, and Enrico Caruso. It’s rumored to have been one of the final places Houdini played before his death in 1926.

A close up of the theater’s proscenium arch.

The Palace closed as a movie theater for the last time on August 28, 1966. It stayed closed until Russell Fratto purchased it in 1975. Fratto intended on turning the theater into a performing arts center and home for the ballet company he founded. Fratto could reopen it for the 1980-81 season but because of a recession, it closed again after that season.

The lobby is currently used as receptionist area for the building.

It was leased to the Palace Production Center (PPC) in 1983. PPC updated the electrical and HVAC systems and turned the auditorium into a sound stage. PPC purchased the building in 1985 and has operated the building ever since. It’s used for photoshoots, video shoots, and feature film productions.

The Library Opera House – Marathon, NY (Lucky Number 200!)

I knew I wanted to do something a little different for the 200th theater I photographed. I was speaking with a friend who went to school in upstate (real upstate, not just slightly north of NYC) and he asked “have you been to the one above the library in Marathon?” I hadn’t heard of it and was immediately intrigued. I found a few recent photos online and knew this would be perfect. Plus, it’s now the oldest theater I’ve photographed in the United States. As with most of my posts – it was originally posted on Patreon in August 2021.  For expanded early posts, as well as video walkthroughs and other exclusive content you can become a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

In January 1891, Mersena Peck, a native of Marathon, New York died. She left $20,000 ($584,217 when adjusted for inflation) in trust for the creation of a public library in Marathon and named three town residents as trustees. They began working to carry out her wishes and were well underway by 1893. However, before construction could start, a group of 125 citizens petitioned that the building include a space for public entertainment. Architect Miles F. Howe adjusted the blueprints to add a 600 seat opera house on the second floor of the building.

The Marathon Library and Opera House opened on January 1, 1896. It began as a live performance space, hosting traveling performers before transitioning over to films in the early 1930s. The Library Opera House was renamed the Park Theatre and lasted as a movie theater until 1953. The auditorium is currently only used a few times a year to host a used book fair.

The exterior of the Marathon Library/Opera House.

In early 2020, the Marathon Public Library announced that the building needs close to $1 million in renovations. They’ve received $50,000 through their capital campaign but far from enough to be able to make the renovations needed to reopen the opera house.

The orchestra level of the auditorium is used as a book fair.

Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the Movie Palace

I’m going to be in a movie! I was interviewed in the lobby of the Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Jersey City, NJ in 2016 for a documentary on the history of the American Movie Palace. I spoke with the director, April Wright, for at least an hour, and some of my ramblings made it into the finished film (and the trailer below.)

I was able to view a rough cut of the film at the Million Dollar Theatre in Los Angeles during the Theatre Historical Society Conclave in 2017, and really enjoyed it (I’m probably a bit biased.) If you’d like to see the film here’s some upcoming screening dates and locations:

Oct. 4: Mystic Film Festival, The Garde Arts Center in New London, CT
Oct 16 & 18: Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, IN
Oct. 20: Somerville Theatre in Somerville, MA
Oct 23 – 27: Lake Placid Film Festival in Lake Placid, NY
Oct. 24: Los Angeles Premiere at Laemmle Fine Arts in Beverly Hills, CA
Oct. 25 – 31: Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills, CA
Oct. 28 – 29: Laemmle Claremont in Claremont, CA
Oct 28 – 29: Laemmle Playhouse in Pasadena, CA
Oct 28-29: Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles, CA
Oct 28-29: Laemmle Town Center in Encino, CA
Nov 8-10: Centre Film Festival in Philipsburg, PA

I’ll be appearing at the Somerville, Lake Placid Film Festival, and the Centre Film Festival to promote the film. Some of my work will be exhibited, and depending on the location there will be a short talk/ Q&A.

Here’s the synopsis for the film:

“Other countries built palaces for royalty, in the United States we built them to watch movies.

The 100 year history of how the American movie experience evolved so quickly from nickelodeons to the studio system and huge movie palaces of the teens and twenties and their eventual decline through present day including current preservation efforts.

What started as individual entertainment in penny arcades moved to a shared experience in nickelodeons.  Next, when movies evolved from a lower class entertainment to mainstream, large movie palaces were built and the studio system grew in the teens and twenties.  All of the grand movie palaces were built in a very compressed period of time between approximately 1915 with many converting from Vaudeville, through the early 30s. The addition of sound spawned the golden age of cinema in the 30’s in these architecturally gorgeous theaters in metropolitan areas which thrived as an escape from the great depression.

After World War II, television became popular and single screen theaters followed on main streets everywhere as a result of suburban sprawl and the baby boom.  This led to a sharp decline in the downtowns of American cities. The classic theatres were too large and expensive to maintain.  By the 70’s they tried to survive with exploitation films and alternative programming.  Often these palaces were split or multiplexed.  But more often, they closed, and were allowed to decay. In a country that is synonymous with the film industry, we have allowed our history to be lost as we’ve demolished many of our country’s palaces.

But many individuals have worked tirelessly to preserve, restore and maintain this piece of history so it can be enjoyed by future generations.  However, many still stand in the balance, waiting for the funds to bring these landmarks back to life. “

https://www.goingattractions.com

Sorg Opera House – Middletown, Ohio

Auditorium, Sorg Opera House - Middletown, Ohio.
View of the auditorium from the balcony.

The Sorg Opera House in Middletown, OH originally opened on September 12, 1891. Paul J. Sorg, Middletown’s first multi-millionaire, had the opera house built as a gift to the city of Middletown. Sorg hired Samuel Hannaford, who designed the Cincinnati Music Hall, to design the 1,200-seat opera house. Opening day included a performance of the opera “The Little Tycoon,” composed by Willard Spenser and a speech by then Ohio Governor James E. Campbell.

View of the auditorium from the stage.

In 1901, the Sorg began showing early forms of motion pictures, such as photo plays, and vaudeville performances before the operas. Many now famous vaudeville performers played at the opera house, including Marie Dressler, Will RogersAl Jolson, Bob Hope and Sophie Tucker. The live shows were discontinued in the late 1920s, and in the summer of 1929 a sound system was installed, turning the Sorg into a full time movie theater.


The orchestra and mezzanine levels have been restored, but the upper balcony and ceiling remain in a state of disrepair. 

On January 17, 1935, a fire caused $10,000 (or $185,298 when adjusted for inflation) of damage to the backstage area of the theater, which caused it to close for several months. In April 1935, the Gordon Theatre Company took a long term lease on the theater and began repairs. It reopened in September 22, 1935 with films and stage shows. The Sorg closed again for a remodel in the late 1940s and a false ceiling was added, separating the upper balcony from the the rest of the theater to improve the sound.

The original walls of the lobby were covered up during the remodel in the 1940s.

The Sorg remained a movie theater until it closed in the late 1970s. Soon after, the Friends of the Sorg was formed to reopen it as a live performance venue. They were successful, and ran the theater until 2010, when a water main break forced the opera house to close again. In 2012, the Sorg Opera Revitalization Group (SORG) formed to buy and reopen the building. SORG was able to purchase the theater in August 2012 for $32,000. Since then they’ve made a number of improvements to the building, including removing the partition between the upper balcony and the rest of the auditorium, replacing the seats with ones donated from the Cincinnati Music Hall, repairing the public restrooms and re-hanging the house curtains. A full restoration of the building is estimated to cost between $9M and $11M. The Sorg reopened in late 2017 with a performance called “Celebrate the Sorg”  and featured the Butler Philharmonic Orchestra.

Like many theaters at the time, the Sorg was segregated. It had a separate entrance, ticket booth and balcony for its non-white patrons.
The much of the proscenium arch was covered up during the remodel in the late 1940s.
View of the auditorium from the main level.

United Palace (Loew’s 175th Street Theatre)

This theater is not abandoned, but I had the chance to shoot it a few years ago, and I wanted to share the images with everyone.

View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony

The United Palace originally opened on February 22, 1930 as the Loew’s 175th Street Theatre. Located in the the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, the building takes up an entire city block and was designed by famed theater architect Thomas W. Lamb. (Lamb’s work can also be seen in my posts on the RKO Hamilton Theatre also in Washington Heights, and the RKO Keith’s Theatre in Flushing, Queens.) The interior decor was designed by Harold Rambusch of the Rambusch Company, who did some of the interior work on the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, the Boyd Theatre in Philadelphia and many others across the country. The theater was estimated to cost $1.25M to build in 1928 or $18.4M when adjusted for inflation. It was the first theater in Washington Heights designed specifically for talking pictures.

David W. Dunlap of the New York Times described the theater’s architectural style as “Byzantine-Romanesque-Indo-Hindu-Sino-Moorish-Persian-Eclectic-Rococo-Deco”

The 3,000 seat United Palace was the fifth and last of the theaters that became known as the “Loew’s Wonder Theatres.”  The wonder theater concept was originally developed by the Balaban and Katz Theater Corporation of Chicago to bring large movie palaces to smaller urban neighborhoods. Loew’s acquired three of Paramount’s planned wonder theaters (the Kings and Pitkin in Brooklyn and the Valencia in Queens) in a deal with the company in 1927. Each of the Loew’s Wonder Theatres originally had identical Robert Morton “Wonder” organs built specifically for them.

View of the lobby from the lobby mezzanine.

The opening day program consisted of a showing of “Their Own Desire” starring Norma Shearer and a stage show from the Capitol Theatre on Broadway.  Over the years many stars made appearances at the theater, including Judy Garland, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and Joan Crawford. Loew’s closed the theater in March 1969, and later that year sold it to Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkotter II, a television evangelist, for $600,000. Rev. Ike, as he was known, turned the theater into the headquarters of his church, now called the United Palace of Spiritual Arts, often hosting his television program from the stage, and renamed the theater the United Palace.

The United Palace was the only one of the Wonder Theatres that retained its original organ. The console can be seen at the lower right side of this photo.

In 2007, the theater became a concert venue and hosted acts such as Modest Mouse, Arcade Fire, Beck and Neil Young. Xavier Eikerenkotter, Rev. Ike’s son, created a non-profit called the United Palace of Cultural Arts to turn the theater into a performing and community arts center in 2012. One year later, the United Palace held a crowdfunding campaign to purchase a 50-foot screen. The campaign was a success, and the first movie screened in the theater in over 40 years was “Casablanca” on November 17, 2013. In 2016, Lin-Manuel Miranda donated $100,000 for a new state-of-the-art digital projector that launched the campaign “Reawaken Wonder at a Timeless Movie Palace,” to raise funds for cinema-quality audio. The United Palace has also been used as a filming location for television and motion pictures in recent years. Upcoming events and more information can be found on the theater’s website at: UnitedPalace.org

The organ was removed from the building by the New York Theatre Organ Society to undergo repairs in 2017.

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Back in the States

Royalty Cinema, Birmingham, England.

I had a fantastic time in England with the Cinema Theatre Association and wanted to share a few of the theaters I visited while I was over there. First, the Royalty Cinema in Birmingham. It opened on October 20, 1930 and closed in 1963. The cinema was then converted into a bingo hall, which closed in 2012.

Granada Cinema – Tooting, South London, England.

The Granada originally opened on September 7, 1931. It was converted into a bingo hall in 1967, and remains one today. This is one of the more impressive theaters I’ve ever visited.

Finally, we have the ABC Stoke Newington. It opened as the Savoy Cinema on October 26, 1936. It closed in 1984, and the orchestra level was converted into a snooker hall. The snooker hall closed in 2014. Current plans call for the theater to undergo an estimated  £3 million restoration and reopen as the Hackney Arts Centre in 2018.

I’ll be posting in-depth write ups of these cinemas (and more) very soon.

Los Angeles Lost Theatre Tour

The exterior of the Rialto Theatre in Pasadena, CA

Hi Everyone,

On Saturday July 1, I’ll be co-leading tours through seven of Los Angeles’s Lost Theatres as part of the Afterglow event at the Theatre Historical Society of America’s 2017 Conclave.

Starting at 10AM, we’ll be going to The Variety Arts, the Leimert/Vision, the Rialto, the Raymond, the Uptown and the Westlake.* Photography is allowed, and I’ll be conducting short demonstrations and answering any questions you may have about architectural photography.

Coaches will depart from the Omni Hotel at 9AM, and lunch will be provided in Old Town Pasadena.

If you use the coupon code “ATFC2017” you’ll get $25 dollars off the price and a one year Theatre Historical Society membership (valued at $60).

Tickets are $175 ($150 with the discount) and can be purchased at the THS Conclave site.

If you’d like to attend more than just the Afterglow you’ll also get a discount using the same coupon code:

For the full Conclave (four days of theatre tours) you’ll get $70 off and a complimentary one-year THS membership (valued at $60).

For the two-day downtown LA theater tour you’ll get $60 off and a complimentary one-year THS membership (valued at $60).

Hope to see some of you there!

* Schedule may change. I’ll post an update when it is finalized.