Yesterday I attended a photography workshop at the Strand Theatre in New Bedford, Massachusetts hosted by Bryan Buckley of Vanishing New England. I love hosting workshops, but it was very nice to be on the other side of one this time. The Strand Theatre originally opened as the Vien Theatre in 1905, and is going to be turned into a community center in the near future.
While I was in the area I also visited the former Capitol Theatre in Fall River, MA. The Capitol originally opened on February 2, 1926. I believe it closed in the 1960s, but haven’t been able to verify that yet. Part of the orchestra level was converted into a bowling alley sometime after it closed. The proscenium and organ chambers were removed so that a large steel support beam could be installed as part of the conversion.
I’ll be posting full write ups on both of these theaters very soon.
The Fitchburg Theatre in Fitchburg, Massachusetts originally opened on February 7, 1929. It was designed by architects Louis Chiaramonte and George W. Jacobs for the Maine and New Hampshire Theater Corporation (MNHTC). The construction of the theater displaced two buildings, one of which is now the Masciarelli Funeral Home, a Fitchburg Historic Landmark. MNHTC spared no expense in construction, which included a $15,000 Wurlitzer Style 190 pipe organ, large decorative tapestries for the auditorium, and a Photophone system. The 1,751-seat theater was the second theater in New England to have Photophone, a system of syncing recorded audio with motion picture.
Like many of its contemporaries, the Fitchburg Theatre had a mix of motion pictures and live (often vaudeville) performances. Its opening day program consisted of “In Old Arizona,” starring Warner Baxter, Dorothy Burgess and Edmund Lowe, five vaudeville acts (Miss Raffin’s Marvelous Troupe of Monkeys, Marie DeComa and Company, Don Romaine & Will Castle, Will Ward & Co.). Harry Rodgers played the Wurlitzer organ during the festivities. Tickets to the opening were reserved in advance and the same show was performed on February 8 and 9. Vaudeville performances continued at the theater until 1948, much longer than usual. In 1954, the theater closed for renovations. A concession stand, new marquee and updated seating were added.
The Fitchburg Theatre closed in 1970 and reopened the following year as an adult theater. Fitchburg police raided the theater on December 31, 1973 and seized copies of “Deep Throat,” and “The Devil in Miss Jones.” More adult films were seized in subsequent raids on February 11, 1974 and July 5, 1974. The owners were fined $10,000 in August 1974 for violating Massachusetts obscenity laws.
In 1975 the theater was forced to close when the city of Fitchburg refused to renew the theater’s license to show films. It was rumored that it was due to the obscenity law violations, but that was denied by Hedley Brey, the Mayor of Fitchburg at the time. Brey said it was because the owners had not complied with a city ordinance requiring the approval of the Health, Building, Fire and Police departments’ approval to show films to the public. Ben Sack Theatres, Inc. leased the theater later that year, and it reopened as the Family Theatre on July 30, 1975 with a showing of “Doc Savage: Man of Bronze.”
Live performances began again soon after it reopened, and many famous bands performed at the theater during this time, including; Rush, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Hank Snow and Freddy Fender. In 1980, the theater closed for renovations once again. This time it was triplexed with the orchestra level becoming one, and the balcony being divided into two smaller auditoriums. At the same time most of the ornate plasterwork was covered with drapes. Upon reopening the theater was renamed the Cinema-1-2-3. It closed for permanently in 1987 with a showing of “Crocodile Dundee.”
A few plans to reopen the theater were proposed over the next two decades, including reopening it as a movie theater, becoming a “draft house” theater that served alcohol, and gutting the theater and turning it into a rock climbing gym. In November 2016, the main street theater block was purchased by Fitchburg State University (FSU) for $350,000. FSU have a three-phase plan to renovate and reopen the block culminating in the theater becoming a 1,600-seat performing arts space for use by the University’s theater program and community organizations.
Originally billed in opening advertisements as “Springfield’s newest playground of pleasure,” the Paramount Theatre in Springfield, Massachusetts opened on September 29, 1929. In 1926, the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, later known as Paramount Pictures Corp, signed a 14-year contract at $100,000 per year for the space at the former Massasoit Hotel and hired architect Ernest Carlson to design the theater. Carlson designed the Paramount for talking motion pictures, which were quickly replacing silent films. The 3,200-seat theater took three years to build, and cost $1,118,000 ($16 million when adjusted for inflation). A Wurlitzer 3/11 Opus 2011, Style 230 theater organ was installed prior to opening.
The opening week program at the Paramount consisted of the 1812 Overture performed by the New York Symphony Orchestra, Joe Alexander playing the Wurlitzer organ, a Paramount newsreel, and “Dance of Life,” a talking film starring Nancy Carroll and Hal Skelly. Like many other theaters of the time, entertainers often made appearances at the Paramount. At first it was as part of a vaudeville act, and later on to promote their films. Some of the stars that appeared at the theater included Ethel Barrymore, Jack Benny,Eric Von Stroheim, and Lillian Gish. The theater was operated by Western Massachusetts Theatres, Inc. (WMT), which was a division of Paramount Pictures. WMT also operated the nearby Victory Theatre in Holyoke, Massachusetts. The Paramount Theatre was WMT’s flagship theater until 1952 when the movie studios were forced to give up ownership of theaters by the verdict of the United States vs. Paramount Pictures Supreme Court case.
Movies were the main attraction at the Paramount until 1966, when musical performances and other live entertainment began to be regularly shown at the theater. In 1969, the Paramount closed for the first time. It reopened In 1975 and was renamed the Julia Sanderson Theater, after a Broadway actress from Springfield. Live shows continued at the theater until 1979, when it became a revival movie house, and its name was changed back to the Paramount. A new screen, and a speaker system taken from the recently closed Victory Theatre, were installed. It closed for a second time in 1986, but was used occasionally until 1999.
It was purchased by Paramount Realty Investment LLC/Creative Theater Concepts, who spent $1.3 million turning the theater into a nightclub/live performance space. It reopened as the Hippodrome Theatre in December 2000. The Hippodrome was a popular nighttime downtown destination for most of the 2000s. In 2011, it was purchased by the New England Farm Workers Council (NEFWC) for $1.7 million. They operated the theater sporadically until closing for good after a shooting in April 2015. NEFWC intend to remove the nightclub alterations and reopen the theater as a live performance space, as well as restore the Massasoit Hotel into an 81-room boutique hotel. The estimated costs for the restoration are between $32 and $41 million.
There have been changes to some of the theaters I’ve photographed over the years, so it’s time for another update.
The auditorium ceiling at the Fox Theatre in Fullerton, CA has been restored since I first visited it in 2014. New LED ceiling lights were installed at the same time.
The lobby of the Paramount Theatre in Marshall, Texas has been converted into a performance venue by the owners of Musicians Unlimited. Musicians Unlimited operates out of one of the Paramount’s former retail spaces. They also restored the theater’s marquee, and held a relighting ceremony in 2016.
The former Loew’s Theatre Complex (Loew’s Poli Theatre, Loew’s Majestic Theatre and the Savoy Hotel) are slated to be redeveloped over the next few years. First, the Majestic will be renovated and reopened as a performing arts center. Then, the Savoy Hotel will reopen as a 100 room hotel. Last, the Loew’s Poli (Palace) Theatre will become a banquet ballroom, gym, and a “family friendly indoor park.” Construction is slated to begin in 2018.
Work began at the RKO Keith’s Theatre in Queens, NY in late June 2017, 31 years after it closed. However, a stop work order went into effect the same day delaying the start of construction once again. The auditorium is slated to be demolished in the fall of 2017. Portions of the lobby, as well as the original ticket booth are slated to be incorporated into the condo building that will be constructed where the auditorium once stood.
The Embassy Theatre in Port Chester, NY was gutted in the spring of 2017. No plans for the future of the space have been made public. Gutted photo courtesy of Gaby Gusmano.
The Logan Theatre in Philadelphia, PA opened on January 24, 1924. It was built by the Stanley Company of America for $1.1 million, or $15.5 million when adjusted for inflation. The 1894-seat theater was designed by the architectural firm of Hoffman and Henon, who also designed the now mostly demolished Boyd Theatre in downtown Philadelphia. Designed in the Adamesque style, the plasterwork in the auditorium featured mythological creatures, and there was a fresco of a sailing ship in the lobby. The building also had a large ballroom on the second floor, known as the “Waltz Studio.”
The Logan was closed in 1972, and in May of 1973 the building was sold by RKO Stanley Warner for $350,000 to the Deliverance Evangelist Church (DEC), one of the largest congregations in the area at the time. DEC made some alterations to the theater, including adding a closed circuit television system, as the theater was often filled to capacity. This allowed people to watch the three-hour-long services from the former Waltz Studio ballroom. DEC moved out of the Logan in 1992, and the theater was abandoned. Soon after, the roof began to leak, causing major water damage.
Dr. Owen Williamson purchased the Logan in 2005, and began to restore it as a memorial to his late wife, Claretilda. Since purchasing the building he has repaired the roof, repainted the interior and updated some of the wiring. Dr. Williamson plans to reopen the theater as a live music venue with a restaurant named “Claretildaville,” However, the building remains closed to this day.
The Carolina Theatre in Charlotte, North Carolina opened on March 7, 1927. It was designed by R.E. Hall as a pseudo-atmospheric theater. The interior design was made to resemble a Spanish patio, but unlike a typical atmospheric theatre with its dome ceiling painted like the night’s sky, the Carolina has a coffered ceiling with murals on the side walls depicting a Mediterranean sky. The 1,800 seat theater was part of the Publix Theatres Corporation, which later became Paramount. Publix’s motto was “One of The Publix Theatres,” meaning that each of their theaters were held to a very high standard. It was built for $600,000, or around $8,276,000 when adjusted for inflation.
In 1938 the theater was updated with new projectors, sound equipment and larger seats. As part of the renovation the original murals were replaced with new ones on acoustic tiles. The new acoustic tiles helped with film sound clarity, since the theater was built before “talkies” were the norm. It underwent another renovation in December 1961 when it became a Cinerama Theatre. Cinerama was a widescreen projection system that involved using three synchronized 35mm projectors on a very wide, curved screen. Films shown in Cinerama Theaters had programs, assigned seating, and encouraged people to dress up to see the show.
The Carolina closed on November 27, 1978 after a showing of “The Fist of Fury,” starring Bruce Lee. Almost two years later on November 13, 1980 a fire was started in the stage area. Luckily, the fire curtain was still intact and saved the auditorium from being damaged. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission designated the Carolina a historic landmark in September 1982. During the years the theater was dormant there were a few restoration proposals. One such plan was City Fair, a project that would have converted the theater into a performing arts center with conference space in between shows. The City Fair project was announced in May 1987, and work began on the theater a few months later. The developers petitioned the city to delist the theater from the national historic register because the steel beams for the restaurant portion of the complex would not fit through the lobby, so they needed it to be demolished. The city agreed and the lobby was demolished in 1988. A few months later the project came to a halt when the developers ran out of money.
In April 2013, the city of Charlotte sold the theater to the Foundation for the Carolinas for $1. The Foundation for the Carolinas (FFTC), a charitable foundation located in North Carolina whose headquarters is located adjacent to the theater, intends to renovate the theater and use it as a performing arts center. In October 2014 the Belk Family gave FFTC an $8 million dollar gift to go to the restoration of the theater. In honor of that gift the complex will named Belk Place and the theater will be known as the Carolina Theatre at Belk Place. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2017 with the theater currently slated to reopen in late 2018.