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.
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.
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.
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.
The Westlake Theatre in Los Angeles, CA opened on September 22, 1926. It was designed by architect Richard M. Bates, Jr., who designed the theater’s facade in a Spanish Baroque style known as Churrigueresque, and the interior in a mix of Renaissance and Adamesque. The 1,949 seat theater was built for the West Coast Langley Theatres for $750,000 ($10.2 million when adjusted for inflation). Anthony Heinsbergen, a nationally acclaimed muralist, painted the murals in the auditorium and lobby. A 2 manual, 10 rank Wurlitzer organ was installed prior to the opening, and the internal decorations were done by Robert Power Studios.
Odd things happened at the Westlake over the years. On April 9, 1928, F.D. McMahan, the assistant manager at the time, walked in on a burglar trying to open the theater’s safe. The burglar ordered McMahan and another employee to open the safe, but both refused and the burglar fled after tying them up.Reverend Jim Jones, founder of the People’s Temple and leader of the Jonestown Massacre, was caught masturbating by an undercover police officer in the theater on December 13, 1973. He was arrested and booked for lewd conduct. Members of the People’s Temple (including a deputy D.A.) began to pressure the LAPD to dismiss the charge. They were eventually dropped after Alex Finkle, Jones’ doctor, claimed he had a prostate issue that caused him to have to shake his penis while urinating. Judge Clarence A. Stromwall ordered the records of the case sealed and destroyed.
The Westlake Theatre changed hands a few times throughout the years. First, it was purchased by Favorite Films of California, who also operated the Lake Theatre, from Fox West Coast Theatres. Favorite Films later sold the building to Metropolitan Theatres who turned it into a Spanish language house. In 1991, Metropolitan sold the theater to Mayer Separzdeh, who closed the theater on June 26, 1991, removed the seats, flattened the main level, and turned it into a swap meet. The City of Los Angeles responded to the changes by declaring the theater a Cultural Historic Monument in September of 1991.
In 2008, the building was purchased by the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) for $5.7 million. The CRA was created by the government of California with the intent of revitalizing derelict buildings, and there were a few proposals for reuse during this time. However, due to a decision by the CRA was disbanded in 2012. The City of Los Angeles assumed ownership of the building and issued a Request for Proposals in 2016. Unfortunately, even after extending the deadline, there was no interest. The building is currently for sale.
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 Pantheon Theatre in Vincennes, Indiana opened on May 15, 1921. John Bayard, a local architect designed the theater for owners Louis A. Wilkerson and A.M. Lyons. It cost $225,000 to build, or roughly $3.2 million when adjusted for inflation. The 1,500 seat theater had a Typhoon air cooling and ventilating system, a precursor to air conditioning, which was powered by three very large fans in the ceiling. The opening of the theater was originally supposed to take place on March 15, 1921, but it was delayed two months due to some plaster falling from the underside of the balcony.
In 1923, Wilkerson-Lyons Enterprises sold the Pantheon Theatre to the Consolidated Realty and Theatres Company (CRTC), which owned and operated theaters in several cities in Indiana, for $225,000. However, CRTC could not afford to pay, and it reverted back to the original owners two months after it was sold. Red Skelton, an American entertainer and Vincennes native who performed at the Pantheon in his youth later unsuccessfully tried to purchase the theater. The Marx Brothers, Spike Jones and Duke Ellington, Will Rogers, Roy Rogers, Hank Williams and Gene Autry also performed at the theater.
In 1961, the Pantheon closed and was converted to retail space. The orchestra level was leveled with concrete and a suspended ceiling was added to close off the balcony. A Sears department store was the first to move into the newly created space. In 2006, the building was purchased by Travis Tarrants, who planned on reopening the theater as a performing arts center. Tarrants formed a non-profit organization, the Pantheon Theatre Company (PTC), and began work on the theater. The suspended ceiling was removed, and the auditorium floor was de-leveled. However, PTC relied on donations to fund the restoration of the Pantheon, and those dried up due to the recession of 2008. PTC was unable to pay the thousands of dollars in back taxes owed, and the theater was sold at a tax auction in October 2012.
The Vincennes Business and Arts Initiative (INVin), purchased the theater in December 2014. INVin made repairs to the theater, including replacing the roof, to minimize damage to the theater during the winter. In March 2016, they announced plans for the theater to become a shared work space, which would allow business owners and entrepreneurs a place to network and share resources. Steve Miller, INVin’s founder, envisions the space including training and conference facilities.