Pi Alley 1-2

12 Pi Alley,
Boston, MA 02108

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Showing 26 - 50 of 58 comments

cinemaboy on February 14, 2005 at 11:08 am

The 57 had at least a couple of screens from the beginning, but I seem to recall that at some point they might have gone from 2 to 3, or 3 to 4 or something like that, after it had been operating for a few years.

cinemaboy on February 14, 2005 at 11:05 am

Hi Ron,
I do in fact have a partial list of his cinemas, but from the 1980’s. It is several pages long, so perhaps I could send it to you directly. I could do a little research into the Pi Alley, but I think that was built at some point in the early seventies, and I’m almost certain that his records from that time period are long gone. I recall he had done alot of work for Ben Sack, E.M. Loew, Sonny and Eddy (they ran a bunch of theaters in the Western suburbs of Boston). He also did work for Cate Enterprises — I believe in Newton, MA, Meriden, Ct, Stratford, CT, and Newburgh, NY. Do you have any info on this company? I think they were based out of Newton. Mr. Federman, by the 80’s, had been designing many theaters for Showcase/National Amusements. His buildings were mainly, at that time, those white rectangular box-shaped multiplexes near highways with hourglass lighting on the exterior walls. I recall he did the one in Danvers (now a Hollywood Express or something like that?), which was known for its very large and colorful graphic mural that occupied the length of the entire interior wall (the graphic was designed by his wife, actually). He also renovated the old Paramount theater in Newton corner, in the early 80’s, although I am unsure of the owner. An office building and Pizzeria Uno now occupy that space. That was a great theater!!

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on February 14, 2005 at 11:04 am

I thought the 57 was a twin from the beginning.

cinemaboy on February 14, 2005 at 10:47 am

Hi Tom,
The soundproofing was actually created inadvertently. From what I recall, the thater (a multiplex) was located in particularly rough part of the Bronx. It might have been in the Showcase Theater chain, although I am not certain. The owners had requested alot of bulletproof materials to be used, i.e. the windows, ticket booth, etc. I believe the architect just tried out an old idea of his in that theater and it worked well. He never patented it (unfortunately). There was an article about the theater which discussed the soundproofing and bulletproof materials in the NY Times in 1986 (+–), a few months before the architect passed away in 1987. He was very pleased because they referred to him as “the 40-ish” architect when he was actually “55-ish."
I am unsure whether he designed the 57 – it might have been one of the few Sack Cinemas with which he was not involved, although I have a vague recollection that he might have been involved with dividing it into smaller auditoriums once it had been around a few years.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on February 14, 2005 at 6:11 am

cinemaboy, do you have a list of his Boston-area theatres? Also, do you or anyone else know when the Pi Alley opened, and when it was twinned?

Tom10 on February 14, 2005 at 5:41 am

Cinemaboy wrote: “He had also developed a soundproofing system for cinemas which had been first used in a mutiplex he had designed in the Bronx.” Just curious. Was Mr. Federman’s sound-proofing system more effective than others? Did he patent it? Did he design the Sack 57? That venue had stereo. Sack/Loews was slower to adopt better sound than General Cinema which had some of the best.

cinemaboy on February 13, 2005 at 9:26 pm

The architect for the Pi Alley, as well as almost if not all of the Sack Cinemas, and Sonny and Eddy’s Cinemas, and many independently owned cinemas, was Burt W. Federman. His office was in Park Square and he designed or “twinned” literally thousands of cinemas in the New England area. By the 1980’s, he designed many of the Showcase cinemas located in New England and the central atlantic states. He passed away in 1987. He had also developed a soundproofing system for cinemas which had been first used in a mutiplex he had designed in the Bronx.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on January 15, 2005 at 7:11 am

A notorious incident in the Pi Alley’s late history, from the Boston Globe archives (November 10, 1985):

“Krush Groove,” a popular “rap music” movie, opened in Boston on Friday night, resulting in broken windows, several slight injuries and four arrests.

More than 1,000 youths left the Sack Pi Alley Cinema on Washington Street at about 10 p.m. Half had seen the earlier show of the feature film and half had been turned away from the later screening after their efforts to get in resulted in damage to the theater and cancellation.

Members of the group headed toward the Park Street MBTA station and attacked two people on the Common, according to Boston and MBTA Police. Part of the group rode the Orange Line, got off at Egleston and broke the window of a bus, injuring the driver, they added. Four arrests were made. The MBTA Police sent officers onto the Orange Line to ride with the youngsters, a spokesman said.

Sack district manager Michael Senez said the film, a monologue set to a driving beat and synthesizer background, was being shown on both screens at the Pi Alley, which has a joint seating capacity of 650.

“We felt we were prepared. But the kids were just overanxious to get in and started pushing and shoving. This was the result,” he said, surveying two broken floor-to-ceiling windows and a crack in the box-office window. It was because of that damage that the theater canceled Friday’s 10 o'clock show. The theater was open for business for all five showings yesterday with wooden boards in the windows' places.

Teen-agers with booming radios the size of small suitcases yesterday milled around the moviehouse where posters advertising “Krush Groove” proclaimed: “They’re rocking it the hard way, in the streets, on the subways, in the clubs…”

br91975 on January 9, 2005 at 9:39 am

I remember distinctly the Pi Alley closing on a Sunday, so it must have been, as per Ron’s research, August 2, 1987.

bunnyman on January 5, 2005 at 9:01 am

I worked at the Pi Alley in 85 as a manager/projectionist, a unique thing about working there was you could get hit by a speeding car going to the booth since you had to cross a spiraling exit ramp to reach it.
Also from the booth you could not see the entire screen in cinema 1, just a small corner of it.

ErikH on January 4, 2005 at 6:32 am

The Globe article is correct about the type of films that played the Pi Alley after it was twinned. The complex either showed move-overs from “prime locations” or initial first run engagements of films that weren’t expected to do well. Before the Pi Alley was twinned, however, it often showed first runs on an exclusive basis, such as “Tommy” and Bergman’s “Cries and Whispers.”

Regarding the above question about “quintaphonic sound” used for “Tommy” at the Pi Alley—-the brochure enclosed with the DVD of “Tommy” discusses this sound system in some detail. Quintaphonic sound was only used in “Tommy”’s intitial exclusive runs in theaters such as the Pi Alley and the Ziegfeld in NYC.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on January 4, 2005 at 6:02 am

The Pi Alley closed on Sunday or Monday, August 2 or 3, 1987, according to a Boston Globe article published a few days later. The article says:

“The Pi Alley featured what might be called B-plus movies — major Hollywood releases that were given first runs in other USA Cinema houses for two-three weeks, but did not generate sufficient box-office revenue to justify their continuing at prime locations. The recently released Eddie Murphy vehicle, Beverly Hills Cop II, which opened at Cinema 57 in the Back Bay and then moved to the Pi Alley, is a typical example.”

Borisbadenov on January 3, 2005 at 9:42 pm

I only saw a few films there, one an Alain Delon gangster film about 1972-forgot title. It was a single screen then. I think the huge amount of construction drove people away. I remember some of the slasher films playing there after they closed the Saxon. Was there when it was a faltering antique mall. No one seemed able to find it. Had a luncheon in the restaurant; there’s an upstairs balcony used for private parties. Several of us were trying to visualize where the screen was. I think the balcony may have housed the projection booth.

Tom10 on November 25, 2004 at 4:02 pm

Ron—I agree that the Pru is better now than in the past. The original Pru shopping arcade was dreary.

Tom10 on November 25, 2004 at 3:57 pm

Quintaphonic sound. I missed that one. Did they use magnetic tracks? Analog Dolby started to appear at about this time. Twinning was a killer. So many nice auditoriums ruined.

ErikH on November 24, 2004 at 10:57 am

I also saw “Tommy” in its first run at the Pi Alley, in deafening “Quintaphonic Sound.” An attractive single screen house that was ruined by twinning. Long, narrow auditoriums with tiny screens. I think the theater was twinned in 1978 (if memory serves, “The Boys From Brazil” was the first film shown at the twinned Pi Alley).

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on November 24, 2004 at 7:49 am

If you go to the comments for Copley Place Cinemas you’ll find more discussion of this topic. A number of the old movie theaters are still standing, but either used as live stages or still awaiting reuse.

(The Prudential Center, by the way, has changed greatly in the past decade and relates much better to the surrounding neighborhood now.)

Tom10 on November 24, 2004 at 7:36 am

Ron, I live out of state at the moment and only visit Boston occasionally. The city is the worse for losing so many movie theaters. Boston had such diversity and texture in its pattern of urban development. Now, everything gets swept up and replaced by big projects. Hard to believe it’s boiled down to nineteen screens in one building. If they had to build a ‘plex, I wish they’d been able to save a couple of the old theaters in that district and incorporate them. Urban planning in Boston has slipped. They’re suburbanizing the downtown. Copley Place started the trend, though I suppose you could go back as far as the Prudential center. Neither of them relate to the street in any meaningful way.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on November 23, 2004 at 5:58 am

There aren’t any movie theaters anywhere in downtown Boston now, except the 19-screen Loews Boston Common, which was built on the site of the former Astor/Tremont Theater.

Tom10 on November 23, 2004 at 5:49 am

Ack, I meant “Copy Cop,” sorry…

Tom10 on November 23, 2004 at 5:47 am

Ron, If I remember correctly, what is now the Copy Copy was a street level lobby with stairs that led down to the theaters. I think the ticket counter was on the lower level, but I could be wrong. I saw “Say Amen, Somebody” and Kirosawa’s “Kagemusha” there in the eighties, before they switched it from art house to mainstream. The Beacon Hill and the Pi Alley a couple blocks away gave a cinema presence in that area of town. Now there aren’t any at theaters at that end of downtown that I know of.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on November 21, 2004 at 8:24 am

At least part of the Beacon Hill (which had 3 screens when it closed) is now a Copy Cop.

Tom10 on November 21, 2004 at 8:10 am

debbi—I guess the economics of theaters made the one and two screen theaters too expensive to operate downtown. The Beacon Hill was actually under ground at the garage level. The One Beacon Street building turned it into more garage space, I believe. tom

debbi on November 19, 2004 at 3:17 pm

Interesting. It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. I second thanking Ron for the photo link.

I remember walking into the alley during the spring of 1987. The theatre was already closed by then. It took me a while to find it tucked away in the alley. I wonder why it closed. Other than the Beacon Hill, which was on the edge of the Common, it was really the only theater downtown. Perhaps because it was hard to find?

Tom10 on November 19, 2004 at 9:07 am

Ron. Thanks for the photo link. It hasn’t changed much there. Seventies architecture left something to be desired.