Did Any Of These Boston Theatres Show Movies?

posted by Ron Newman on April 6, 2005 at 2:42 pm

Does anyone know if any of the following Boston theatres ever showed movies? If so, I would like to add them to this site.

• Colonial Theatre
• Wilbur Theatre
• Shubert Theatre
• Hollis Street Theatre (formerly in Theatre District)
• Boston Theatre (formerly in Theatre District, demolished in 1926 to make way for BF Keith Memorial Theatre)
• Tremont Temple (now a Baptist church, but has in the past also served as a theatre)
• Columbia Theatre (former on Washington St in the South End)
• Castle Square Theatre (formerly in the South End; later renamed Arlington Theatre)
• Selwyn Theatre (formerly in Park Square, also called Cort Theatre)

Comments (21)

Roger Katz
Roger Katz on April 6, 2005 at 9:05 pm

Check on CinemaTour.com – any Boston theatres listed there showed movies (I edited the Boston listings there and verified any listed had actually showed films.)

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on April 6, 2005 at 9:11 pm

I see the Colonial and Wilbur listed there. Do you know when they showed movies, and what films they showed?

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on April 6, 2005 at 9:12 pm

(And it lists the Wilbur as closed, which it definitely is not.)

David Wodeyla
David Wodeyla on April 7, 2005 at 3:37 am

Film Daily Yearbooks list civic auditoriums in addition to movie theatres. (take a look at 1934, for example, Massachusetts towns of Holliston, Hopkinton, Sandwich, Brookfield, with town halls and their seating capacity listed. They even contain errors such as a listing for Saxonville, which is a neighborhood in Framingham, and they list a town hall there as well. ) In Boston, the Yearbook lists a theatre named the Lancaster on Causeway St., a Waldron’s Casino on Hanover St. and I’m sure everyone who knows their region can find similar errors. Under Boston, there’s no Wilbur, Colonial, nor Shubert, but there is a Bowdoin Square, a Bijou-Dream, and a Grand Opera House, as well as a Repertory on Huntington Ave and a South Station Terminal, in addition to a Congress Hall in South Boston.
I’d guess that the ones you listed weren’t “movie theatres” but were “theaters” for other sorts of entertainment. (note the difference in spelling) For example, it’s probable that they were built without projection booths and no sound, and at the time, there were already so many movie theatres in the city that they weren’t considered locations for film. We should keep in mind, movies were considered entertainment for the masses, where plays were regarded as entertainment for the wealthy and upperclass.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on April 7, 2005 at 4:22 am

All the theatres I listed above were (or, in some cases, still are) known for live entertainment. I’m just trying to determine whether at any time they also showed movies. I know that some other Boston theatres, such as the Majestic and the Tremont (later called Astor), went back and forth between live shows and movies during the first few decades of the 20th century.

The Lancaster and Waldron’s Casino are not errors; these are the former names of theatres later known as the West End and the Casino.

Do Film Daily Yearbooks give the street addresses of theatres, or a list of films that played in them during the year?

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on April 7, 2005 at 11:27 am

Out the initial list above I have listings on the Film Daily Yearbooks for the following theatres:

1941 edition
Columbia Theatre, Washington Street 1,800 seats (closed)

1943 edition
Columbia Theatre, Washington Street 1,800 seats

1950 edition
Columbia Theatre, 978 Washington Street 975 seats

There is a Tremont Theatre, Tremont Street 1,500 seats listed in both 1941 & ‘43 but I’m not sure if the is the Tremont Temple you mention above but it operated as a movie theatre by the 1930’s. Later known as the Astor Theatre.

I have a record of the Selwyn Theatre (former Globe) being run as a vaudville film house in the 1900 by Loew’s. Later went to Burlesque. After W.W.II it was taken over by E.M.Loew’s Theatres and was re-named Centre Theatre, showing movies.

David Wodeyla
David Wodeyla on April 7, 2005 at 11:56 am

The Wilbur, Colonial, Shubert, and others would be called “legitimate theaters” not “movie theatres” and not even playing vaudeville. They didn’t play movies. I wasn’t saying the Film Daily left them out in error, just that the Film Daily isn’t the definitive source that Charles Van Bibber seems to think.
Film Daily’s stopped listing town hall auditoriums at some point in the 1930’s and occasionally corrected previous year errors such as the Saxonville entry I mentioned. Film Daily listed by State and town, but only contained street names in some large cities. In the 1950’s they began a seperate category for “art theatres” and “drive-in”, and by 1962, didn’t bother to keep a separate list of “movie theatres”.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on April 7, 2005 at 12:04 pm

The Tremont Theatre (later Astor, now demolished) was a different building from the Tremont Temple Baptist Church, which still stands five or six blocks further north. I’ve read somewhere that the Temple was used as a movie theatre at some point (maybe only on weekdays?) but would like to confirm this.

There were two Selwyn theatres in Boston. The first Selwyn, on Washington Street, became the first Globe, which then burned and was replaced on site with the second Globe. That theatre in turn was torn down to build the 600 Washington-Essex building that eventually contained the RKO Boston. These Globes were unrelated to the third Globe, a block away, that eventually became the Center and is now a Chinese restaurant.

The second Selwyn, originally the Cort, was in Park Square. Here’s a 1925 photo (described here). I believe this was a live stage but I’m trying to determine whether it also showed movies at any point. I’m also curious exactly where it was located in Park Square – perhaps where the Park Plaza Hotel is today?

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on April 7, 2005 at 12:41 pm

The second Globe was the one that showed Loew’s vaudville/movies in the 1900’s. The article I have doen’t mention that there was a third Globe a block away as it reads, it seems to be talking about the same theatre regarding going burlesque then movies. Obviously a mistake.

The same article in THSA Marquee Vol 6 #3 A Historical Survey of the Theatres of Boston by Donald C. King makes no reference to a second Selwyn, former Cort. So sorry at this moment in time I can’t help any further.

David Wodeyla
David Wodeyla on April 7, 2005 at 2:53 pm

A look inside the Tremont Temple would probably confirm that there’s no projection booth thus if there were film shown there, it may have been on a 16mm table top projector for a special event. (Much like local libraries occasionally do).
Keep in mind that in those days, 35 mm film was nitrate, lamphouses burned carbon, and needed exhaust ducts. Therefore, if a public hall or church or legitimate theatre did a once-in-a-while movie series from a temporary projector set up on the aisle or on the rear balcony, it doesn’t become a “movie theatre”. Boston was on the circuit for pre-Broadway shows, thus the existence of several legitimate theatres devoted to stage plays.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on April 7, 2005 at 3:06 pm

I’m looking forward to this book which has just been published by McFarland:

The Theatres of Boston: A Stage and Screen History by Donald C. King (who wrote the 1974 Marquee article we’ve both read.) Here’s a Table of Contents.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on April 7, 2005 at 3:23 pm

Its in my shopping cart!

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on April 7, 2005 at 3:45 pm

An unpublished manuscript by King, which is probably an earlier version of this book, is in the Boston Public Library’s Fine Arts room. That manuscript is called ‘A History of Boston’s theatres as seen through its newspapers, periodicals, and its contemporaries’.

Other resources I’ve consulted:

An unpublished manuscript by Douglass Shand-Tucci, also in the Fine Arts room, entitled “The Puritan Muse : a study of the theatres of Boston and a history of the development of the performing and visual arts (1750-1950)”

“The Boston Rialto” chapter of Shand-Tucci’s published book Built in Boston: City and Suburb, 1800-2000

“Boston Theatre District: A Walking Tour” published by the Boston Preservation Alliance (2nd printing, 1996)

“The Boston Theatre District”, the January 1978 issue of the City Conservation League’s newsletter Drumlin. I don’t think this organization still exists.

The Boston Athenaeum’s theatre history pages; eventually I’ll visit them in person.

The Bostonian Society’s online photo and postcard library

The online archives of the Boston Globe and Boston Herald, which are available free here to anyone with a Massachusetts library card. Unfortunately the Globe archives go back only to 1979, the Herald to 1991.

David Wodeyla
David Wodeyla on April 7, 2005 at 5:57 pm

Ron, thank you again for doing such a fine job of research, and making this site interesting, for those of us in the Boston area. Maybe someone can start getting into the suburbs too. There were lots of neighborhood theatres that are long gone, but maybe not forgotten.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on April 7, 2005 at 6:20 pm

That would be cool, though it’s mostly beyond my area of knowledge. A few suburban ones I remember seeing newspaper ads for, that aren’t on this site yet:

Puritan Mall Cinema, Dorchester
Nu-Pixie, Hyde Park
Rialto, Roslindale
Needham Cinemas
Paramount, Newton
Park Theatre, Everett
Parkway Plaza Twin, Chelsea

I usually don’t post theatres that I haven’t visited (or at last visited the former sites of), so I’m going to leave these to other folks.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on April 7, 2005 at 6:25 pm

A case can be made for listing Symphony Hall as a “cinema treasure” since, especially during the silent era, a goodly number of movies had showings here, with live orchestral accompaniment. There is a display panel in the first floor rear hallway on this topic, complete with memorabilia, programs, titles of the films. I believe “Salome'” was one of then, Eisenstein’s “Ten Days that Shook the World” another (but I’m operating on faulty memory here.) More recently Seiji Ozawa played the Prokofiev score to Eisenstein’s sound-era “Alexander Nevsky” with the movie being shown. It all becomes an interesting, perhaps academic, question. In New York would you list Avery Fisher Hall and Alice Tully Hall as “cinema treasures?” They are the home of the annual New York Film Festival, after all. The rest of the time, of course, they are purely concert halls.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on April 7, 2005 at 6:50 pm

Does Symphony Hall (or the others, for that matter) have a projection booth?

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on April 8, 2005 at 5:34 am

Another one that needs more research is the Franklin Park Theatre on Blue Hill Avenue, which I believe still stands today as a church. At one time it was a big venue for live Yiddish theatre.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on April 8, 2005 at 12:36 pm

A few other resources I’ve used, which may be helpful to people doing similar research in other cities:

Find books that contain old or historical photos of your city. Some of these photos may contain pictures of old theatres, which can help document when a theatre opened, or when it closed, or when it showed a particular movie, or when it changed its name. Here in Boston, I’ve found theatre photos in Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City * (which also has photos of Los Angeles and Jersey City theatres), Walter Muir Whitehill’s Boston: A Topographical History, and David Kruh’s Always Something Doing: Boston’s Infamous Scollay Square. I still need to look through Lost Boston and Boston Then and Now* and other books.

The photo books of Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series are also worth looking at. There’s probably at least one for your neighborhood or your city.

The Library of Congress’s online American Memory collection is another great resource, especially the Detroit Publishing Company collection of 1880-1920 photos and Built in America: Historic American Buildings Survey. (But don’t limit yourself to these two.) Search for names of theatres you know or names of streets they are located on.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on April 8, 2005 at 6:15 pm

The ‘Dorchester Athenaeum’ web site has a list of 16 theatres that used to be in Dorchester and Mattapan.

Only one of them, the Strand, still operates, and it no longer shows movies. Cinema Treasures has listings for a few of the others, such as the Oriental and the Park Cinema, but I’ve never heard of most of these.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on April 11, 2005 at 3:49 pm

And now one more question, if anyone knows the answer:

Were movies ever shown in the old Boston Opera House? This was on Huntington Avenue, a block or two past Symphony Hall, and was demolished in the late 1950s.

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