I’m currently in London checking out some of England’s amazing theaters. The picture above is the remnants of the Kingsland Empire Theatre which opened in 1915. It’s located above the Rio Cinema, a smaller art deco theater, that was built inside the Kingsland in 1937.
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.
I’ve been practicing with my newly acquired drone, and thought that a theater walkthrough might make for an interesting video. So a few days ago I revisited the Everett Square Theatre in Boston, MA to do just that. I think that I’ll be making many more of these videos going forward.
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.
This year will mark the 7th anniversary of the After the Final Curtain, and with that I’m going to do something a bit different. AFtC will be going weekly in 2018! I’ve been photographing theaters much faster than I’ve been posting them, and as you can see by the image above I’ve got quite a backlog. There will be at least one new theater post a month as well as interviews, videos, updates of old blog posts, and more.
Look for the first post (The Fitchburg Theatre in Fitchburg, Massachusetts) this Thursday.