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.
I’ve added two more photo workshops to the fall season. The Grand Theatre in Steubenville, Ohio and the Paramount Theatre in Springfield, MA. Both theaters are full of amazing details to photograph, and I’ll be on hand to help you out with any questions you might have. All levels of photographer, from beginner to expert, are welcome.
Grand Theatre Workshop
Location: Steubenville, Ohio
October 15, 2017 (Session 1) 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM and (Session 2) 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Past workshops I co-hosted raised thousands to help the theaters with maintenance, and other expenses. However, these are solo workshops, which means that more money will be going to the owners to help the theaters. While the money from these workshops will never be enough to save a theater, but every little bit helps.
I’ll be hosting a photography workshop at the Everett Square Theatre in Boston, MA on September 30, 2017. This will be a little different from the past workshops because the theater is a bit smaller than some I’ve held workshops in. Because of that I’m limiting the amount of people per session to six. Each session will be 2.5 hours long.
The first session will be from 9:00 AM – 11:30 AM and the second session will be from 12:00 PM – 2:30 PM. Each session will cost $35 to attend, and a portion of that goes directly to the owner to help maintain the building. You can both attend both sessions if you’d like more time in the theater. I look forward to seeing some of you (and the pictures you’ll take) at the theater!
The Paris Cinema in Worcester, Massachusetts originally opened as the Capitol Theatre on December 11, 1926. It was designed by architect Roger Garland for the Worcester Capitol Company. An atmospheric theater, the 2,500 seat Capitol was designed with a blue dome ceiling and side walls that looked like a Spanish villa. Clouds were projected across the ceiling to complete the illusion that the audience was sitting under the night’s sky. Lou Zoeller, a songwriter, and Janet “the World’s Smallest Prima Donna” Bodwell, two vaudeville performers, played at the theater during the opening week.
On Dec. 13, 1966, the Capitol closed for renovations, and reopened as the Paris Cinema on March 4, 1967. The Paris was divided in two the following year by separating the balcony from the orchestra level. It was billed as “Worcester’s first theater within a theater” when it opened on April 10, 1968. “Bonnie and Clyde” starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway was the first film shown in the former balcony, now known as the Paris Cinema 2, and “Planet of the Apes” starring Charlton Heston was shown at the Paris Cinema 1. During the 70’s the Paris showed exploitation films downstairs, and adult films in the former balcony, now called the “Adult Penthouse” after another name change.
On June 29, 1974, Francis W. Sargent, the Governor of Massachusetts at the time, signed a obscenity legislation into law, which forced the Paris to stop showing adult films. This lead to the theater closing once again in 1977. Cinema 320, a group of cinephiles, rented the theater in the fall of 1980 to show films that weren’t normally shown at larger theater chains. This lasted until April 1, 1982, when the theater’s owner informed the group that he had found a new tenant that was willing to pay more and they had a month to vacate. The final film shown at the Paris by Cinema 320 was “Casablanca.” The Paris reopened as an adult theater in June of 1982.
During the early 2000’s the Paris closed and reopened a few times. Worcester police began to raid the theater due to allegations that sex acts were taking place during the films. The Paris closed for good in January 2006 after 29 people were arrested during one weekend raid. Robert J. Hurwitz, the owner of the Paris Cinema, sold the building in July 2006 to the Mayo Group for $1.15 million. Mayo had begun converting the buildings around the theater into a student village under the name Worcester Commons, LLC, but did not have any immediate plans for the Paris.
In 2016, the Mayo Group sought a waiver to the city’s one year demolition delay ordinance for historic buildings from the Worcester Historical Commission. According to the Mayo Group, it would cost at least $21 million to stabilize the building and bring it up to code, but only $500,000 to completely demolish it. They argued that keeping the building standing another year would pose an economic hardship for them. The Historical Commission voted 4-1 to grant the waiver. Demolition began in the summer of 2017, and they plan on turning the space into a beer garden with an outdoor performance area.
Hi Everyone – I’ll be speaking about my upcoming book, After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater, at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, Massachusetts on November 13 at 6:30 PM.