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.
One of the questions I’m asked pretty often is “How do you light these theaters?” When I first started photographing theaters the answer was pretty simple. I didn’t. I relied on whatever was already in the building. I’d use construction lights, open fire escape doors, or in some rare cases use the original theater lights.
A few years ago I picked up some small LED lights from Amazon. They worked pretty well, but had a battery life of around 45 minutes, which wasn’t ideal. Earlier this year I noticed that they were taking longer to charge and not lasting as long. I began to search for replacements. If you’ve ever looked at how many LED lights there are on Amazon and B&H you’d know that finding a good one is a pretty daunting task. After weeding through the duds I bought two Yongnuo YN300 III LED lights, and they’re pretty fantastic. I’m able to light an entire auditorium with the two lights running at 50%, and the batteries last for around two hours. I’ve only tested them at the Everett Square Theatre and the Victory Theatre, but I think they’re a welcome addition to my camera bag.
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.
It’s been a long time since I was last in England, and I can’t wait to check out some theaters while I’m there!
On April 5, 2018 I’ll be speaking at the Cabot Theatre in Beverly, MA. I’ll also be exhibiting some new work at the gallery space in the theater. If you think the murals in this theater look familiar, it’s because they were most likely painted by the same artist as the ones in the Loew’s Poli and Loew’s Majestic Theatres in Bridgeport, CT. More details to come!
I’ve secured another workshop date at the Everett Square Theatre in Boston, MA on April 14, 2018. I soft announced the first date on my Facebook page and it sold out in a few days. This one will probably go fast as well. You can find out more information and sign up here.
One of the things I hear the most is “Why don’t you take more photographs of the theater facades?” So while I was in Los Angeles last year for the Theatre Historical Society of America’s annual Conclave I made a point to do just that.
The Million Dollar Theatre opened on February 1, 1918. It’s one of the first movie palaces in the country and the first by Sid Grauman, who also opened two of the most famous, the Chinese and the Egyptian Theatres. CoBird, a fashion company, recently signed a lease to use the theater and the building’s storefronts.
The Los Angeles Theatre opened on January 30, 1931. It was designed by famed theatre architect S. Charles Lee and Samuel Tilden Norton. Actor Charlie Chaplin helped fund the construction so that the theater would be open in time to premiere his film, “City Lights.” Currently the Los Angeles is most often used as a location for filming in motion pictures and television. However, it is open for special events such as a Night On Broadway, and the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Last Remaining Seats.
The Arcade Theatre opened on September 10, 1910 as the Pantages Theatre. It closed in 1992, and the lobby was converted to a retail space.
The Cameo Theatre opened in October 1910 as Clune’s Broadway Theatre. It closed in 1991, and the lobby was turned into retail space. The auditorium is currently used for storage.
The Roxie Theatre opened on November 25, 1931, and was designed by architect John Montgomery Cooper. It closed in 1989, and the lobby was divided into two retail spaces. The seats were removed from the auditorium and it remains vacant.
The original Gem Theatre in Cairo, Illinois opened on October 10, 1910. Opening night’s main attraction was the Cora Youngblood Carson Sextette, a group of young women who sang and danced. Three photoplays, which was an early form of motion picture, were also shown. This incarnation of the Gem was destroyed by a fire in 1929, and a new theater was built in its shell at a cost of $200,000 (or $2.8 million when adjusted for inflation.) The Gem was destroyed by another fire that started in one of the dressing rooms on February 27, 1934. It was rebuilt as an art deco theater with 900 and reopened in 1936.
In 1978, the Gem closed for good, and the lobby was turned into retail space, at one point becoming a video rental store called Gem Video. In 1995, the building was donated to the city, who planned on reopening as a movie theater and cultural arts center. They began work on the building in March of 1996, and were assisted by former Peace Corps volunteers as part of the Peace Corps 35 year anniversary. During this time the roof was replaced, the marquee was removed and restored, and the lobby was restored.
On October 1, 1998, the restored lobby was shown to the public during Cairo’s October Days Festival. In 2000, the City of Cairo received a $436,000 Federal grant from the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, and $231,900 of it was to go to the redevelopment of Gem Theatre. An additional $20,000 was given by the state of Illinois to renovate the theater’s stage and the city itself contributed $70,256. However, the restoration of the theater was put on hold in the mid-2000’s and it is unclear whether it will ever be restored.