Boston/Brockton (MA) movie house memories

posted by AlMarill on May 12, 2009 at 3:45 pm

As a former Bay Stater who grew up in Brockton and Boston (now a writer of books on films and a senior citizen), I have found some of your historical views of Boston and Brockton movie houses a bit askew. From about 1944 through the early 1970s, I collected newspaper movie ads from every major house in both cities — and I still have them (wonderful reference tools as well as nostalgia). In Brockton, there were four major movie houses (after the famous Strand Theatre fire of the early 1940) — not just the one described incorrectly — the Rialto-cum-E.M. Loew’s Center Theatre — in the downtown area on Main Street.

Earlier, before my time, there had been the majestic Brockton Opera House, said to be the first theatre in America to have electric lights (Thomas Edison, in fact, according to the Brockton Enterprise, made his way from Menlo Park to throw the switch himself). In Boston, during the forties through the sixties, at least, there the following houses, looking uptown on Washington Street from Stuart Street (I was a patron at one time or another of virtually every one of them): on the right, the Stuart Theatre (a third-run house), E.M. Loew’s Center Theatre, the Washington St. Olympia (that was the official marquee name, and it later became the Pilgrim), and the RKO Boston, a stage presentation-and-movie house that featured the big bands live. It later was the home of Cinerama movies and renamed Cinerama.

On the left were the Gaiety (later Publix), the second-run Modern Theatre (later Mayflower, renamed the same day as the Pilgrim since they were sister houses, the latter taking over the same movie bill the week after it played at the former), the Trans-Lux,the LaffMovie, the Paramount,the glittering and gilded and mirrored RKO Keith Memorial (a true palace), and further up the street on the left, Loew’s Orpheum. which played generally MGM films day-and-date with its sister movie house, Loew’s State — in another part of town. The Paramount and its sister house, the Fenway, in the Back Bay section, played first run Paramount and Fox movies day-and-date). On Tremont Street, one block up and paralleling Washington Street (opposite Boston Commons) were the Old South Theatre, the Beacon Hill Theatre, the Tremont (later Astor) Theatre, the Majestic, and the huge and spectacular Metropolitan, later the Music Hall when Ben Sack — my boss, at one point — took it over, and now the Wang. And I have the original newspaper ads for every one of them over a 30 year period, along with the outlying Boston houses (Exeter, Telepix, Kenmore, State, Fenway, Esquire — later a Sack house) plus the legitimate stage houses (Colonial, Shubert, Plymouth, Majestic, Opera House).

Wonderful memories and cinema treasures.

Comments (8)

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on May 12, 2009 at 7:19 pm

Alvin has the Modern Theater out of order— it was located beyond the RKO Keith Memorial. Otherwise, his description of where the theaters were located on the west side of Washington Street is almost correct: the Laffmovie was beyond the Paramount. The Old South Theatre was also on Washington Street, north of the Loews Orpheum, and not on Tremont Street. The Esquire Theatre, across from Symphony Hall, was taken over by Boston University around 1954 and did not become a Sack Theatres house. The descriptions of the Rialto and Keith’s in Brockton here in Cinema Treasures were made by someone (me) totally unfamiliar with Brockton, so Alvin should post his insider information, and also add the other theaters in Brockton which are not listed in CT.

MPol
MPol on May 13, 2009 at 6:01 pm

This may be a bit off topic, but, up to and throughout most of the 1980’s, Boston still had a wide range of choices regarding movie theatres. Now, as in pretty much every area of the country, most of the venerable movie palaces in and around Boston have long gone, leaving us with mostly the huge, antiseptic-looking multiplex cinemas (that have 10, 20, or more shoebox sized cinemas) that only play today’s schlockier movies for about six months before they go on DVD, and only three venerable movie palaces that play better quality films. Too bad, but I guess that’s the way it goes. The only thing to do is to fight to preserve what’s left. Let the younger generation(s) have the big multiplex theatres with small screens that look like big-assed TV’s, where the concessions and movie admissions costs alike are going through the roof, where there are rude, obnoxious audiences who regularly indulge in cellphone usage and texting, not to mention other stuff during the movie, and. where, just as often as not, the help/management is surly and unobliging. No thanks—I’ll continue to avoid that as much as possible.

I’ll stick to the three venerable old movie palaces that’re left here in the Boston area instead.

I’ll take what I love in the way of movie theatres/movies. Thanks

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on May 14, 2009 at 6:57 pm

Boston actually has a small downtown – you can walk from one end(the Boston City Hall), to the other end (the Wang Theatre) in about 15 or 20 minutes. What is notable about the movie theaters which Alvin has listed above is that there were so many of them in this small area. Starting from the north in 1950 there were the Bowdoin, Casino, Scollay, Old Howard, Rialto, Strand, Beacon, Old South, Loew’s Orpheum, Modern, RKO Keith Memorial, Laffmovie, Paramount, RKO Boston, TransLux, Pilgrim, Publix, Center, Stuart, Astor, Majestic, and Metropolitan. In addition to these 22, there were other movie theaters nearby in the West End, South End and Back Bay. Today, there is the AMC Boston Common (partially on the site of the Astor) downtown, plus the Regal Fenway uptown, and that’s it.

MPol
MPol on May 16, 2009 at 2:31 pm

My point exactly, Ron Salters.

The Wang Theatre is now under new management, with a different name (though I forget its new name), and they no longer have their wonderful Big Screen Classic Movies series that they used to have.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on May 17, 2009 at 12:24 am

The Wang Theatre is now officially ‘Citi Wang’, a name I dislike. I prefer to keep it named after An Wang, the local businessman who gave money to repair it keep it running back in the 1980s.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on May 17, 2009 at 5:55 am

All of the Boston movie theatres that Alvin mentioned are listed here at CinemaTreasures, but not always under the names Alvin gave in his post.

Washington Street, east side, south to north:

Stuart (called Pussycat when it closed)
Center (called Pagoda when it closed)
Pilgrim (opened as Washington St. Olympia)
RKO Boston (later called Boston Cinerama, then Essex, then Star Cinema when it finally closed)

Washington Street, west side, south to north:

Publix (opened as Gaiety)
Trans-Lux is listed here as State, the name it had when it closed (opened as Park)
Paramount
Laffmovie is listed here as B.F. Keith’s Theatre, the name it had when it opened
RKO Keith Memorial is listed here as Opera House, its current name (was also called Savoy for a while)
Modern (aka Mayflower)
Orpheum
Old South (this was actually the name of two different and unrelated theatres at approximately the same location)

Tremont Street, south to north:

Wang (opened as Metropolitan, later Music Hall)
Majestic (was called Saxon for a while)
Astor (opened as Tremont)
Beacon Hill (opened as Beacon)

‘Outlying’ houses, east to west:

Telepix is listed here as Park Square, the name it had when it closed
Exeter Street
Fenway is listed here as Berklee Performance Center, its current name
Loew’s State
Esquire is listed here as Boston University Theatre, its current name (but this was never a Sack theatre, to my knowledge)
Kenmore (the original) and Kenmore Square (the replacement)

Alvin’s list of legit stage houses:

Colonial
Shubert – never a movie theatre so not listed here
Plymouth is listed here as Gary,the name it had when it closed
Majestic
Boston Opera House on Huntington Ave (not to be confused with the current Opera House on Washington St)

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on May 17, 2009 at 4:31 pm

Responding to Ron Salters: The Strand was turned into a burlesque bar in the 1930s and was no longer a movie theatre in 1950. The Casino and Old Howard were primarily live burlesque theatres, showing movies only as an incidental sideline. The Scollay Square Olympia closed in December 1950.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on May 17, 2009 at 6:28 pm

I forgot about the Strand in Scollay Square (site of the plaza today in front of Boston City Hall). By 1950 it was a show bar which showcased the “talents” of one Sally Keith and associated show girls. But movies were featured at both the Casino and Old Howard, especially in the morning when sometimes there were 2 films before the 12 Noon stage show began. One could attend the movies and skip the stage show. My point above was to state that there were many movie theaters within the space of a one-mile walk downtown.

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