Wang Theatre

270 Tremont Street,
Boston, MA 02116

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danpetitpas
danpetitpas on August 28, 2008 at 1:00 pm

I just wanted to give a few remembrances of movies I saw at the Metropolitan-Music Hall-Wang Center/Theater.

I remember first going there with my mother, probably in the mid-‘60s for a Disney film. I think the first show was at 9am and that was the bargain matinee, with the rest of the shows being full price.

My next experience was in 1974 when Columbia Pictures rented out the Met for a full day of free films to celebrate the studio’s 50th anniversary. I remember showing up there after the films had started, and there was no one at the door or in the lobby. I just walked in and took a seat. The theater was about one-third full with people going in and out at times. I saw Funny Girl, The Professionals, Bridge Over the River Kwai and Doctor Strangelove. It was incredible! Great films, and the chance to see them on a giant screen!

I can’t imagine anything like this being done this way today. When I saw Star Wars at the Charles in 1977, there were only about 100 people standing in line before the doors opened. Three years later for Empire, there was a line snaking down the mall about an hour before the movie. By 1982 for E.T., there was at least 1200 people in line and a four-hour wait! These days, people are willing to camp out weeks ahead of time for certain movies or events.

Columbia held a similar film festival at the Music Hall in 1982 for its 60th anniversary, but I was tied up at the time, and I think they might have charged admission. It was basically the same movies being shown.

I believe in 1991 the Wang started a Monday night film series to recapture its movie history. I remember seeing the Wizard of Oz there with a large gay audience that picked up on innuendos in the movie I had never imagined before. And on February 22, 1991 (a Friday night) it squeezed in a special showing of Ben-Hur with Charlton Heston sitting in the audience. He was only two rows behind my girlfriend and me and he stayed for the entire film, although the 70mm print was a blown up, cropped version of the original Cinemascope film.

And the film series even made U.S. history on April 29, 1991 when Citizen Kane, on its 50th anniversary tour, sold out all 3,600 seats for a record-breaking $18,000 single-showing take.

Unfortunately, by the time of Citizen Kane, the film series was getting so popular that it was difficult getting good seats. Subscribers to the entire series got seats in the orchestra, while the balcony was general seating.

For the Wizard of Oz, we were in the first row of the balcony, which was OK, but for Citizen Kane, we were about 1/3 back and the sightlines were positively awful. The screen was so low you had to peer down to see it, and you were basically staring at the head of the person in front of you. I had to crane my neck over to see between the heads in front of me, with the heads in front of them blocking my bottom view of the screen, while the person in back of me complained I was blocking his view. I know this was built as a movie palace, but I would say because the Wang is so huge that from 2/3 of the balcony the screen looks smaller than a 19" TV set at home.

I think the film series lasted about 10 years in the winter months, and then Monster.com did a series with free admission. Fortunately, because of the number of films being shot in Boston, and some Boston actors and directors climbing up the ranks of Hollywood, the Wang will be used from time to time for future film premieres. But it’s a shame the theater doesn’t host more cinematic events.

danpetitpas
danpetitpas on August 22, 2008 at 2:04 pm

I think using the Wang as a first-run movie palace is a great idea, and I would certainly support it, but unfortunately it’s not going to happen. The movie chains actually aren’t in the business of showing movies. They’re in the food business. That’s why they’re all hot about installing bars and restaurants in the cinemas. Most of the staff is trained in food preparation and handling, not film, and movies are used to get patrons in to buy food. On-screen advertising has become an important source of revenue too. But since the studios can negotiate to keep up to 100% of the admission price during the first week of a movie’s release, (although it’s usually somewhere between 70%-90%), it wouldn’t make sense for either AMC or Regal to do it, especially since the food selection would be sparse at the Wang and the rental fee, I image, would be high. Also I get the feeling the Wang people don’t want the great unwashed masses trudging through their theater, since it’s been years since they’ve had a film festival there. So although I too wish it would happen, it’s not going to.

IanJudge
IanJudge on June 30, 2008 at 10:27 am

I think the Wang is also a victim of being too large for many shows that used to play there – now they find that the B.F. Keith Memorial/Opera House is more conducive to such touring shows.

I personally would love to see this theater throw its hat into the ring with the occasional movie run (beyond their occasional special screening) – given the piss-poor presentations at the Boston Common and Fenway theaters, what a treat it would be to see “The Dark Knight” or “Wall-E” booked into the Wang for a month – they could easily charge a higher ticket price too. I know I would pay $12-14 to see a film there rather than the other two downtown options. Given the nature of the film business, this scenario would be tough, but it is still something I think would give audiences something to remind people why the movies, versus DVD and so forth, are special.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on June 30, 2008 at 10:07 am

Corporate support for restoring and reopening an old movie palace is great.

Corporate “support' for an already fully functional theatre is something else, especially when the theatre’s programming and management has fallen into decline right after the "support” arrived. Which is the case here.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on June 30, 2008 at 10:00 am

To exwhiteway- the organ at the Wang was still there and playable during the Sack Music Hall days in the 1960s. I believe it was removed sometime in the 1970s (It was definitely gone by 1983). And to LuisV – I agree with your comments 100 % !

LuisV
LuisV on June 30, 2008 at 9:18 am

Thank you for letting me know Warren. I sincerely appreciate it. I know that he was a valued friend of CT and The Theatre Historical Society of America, but I was not aware of his passing. May he rest in peace.

LuisV
LuisV on June 29, 2008 at 12:14 pm

This is a response to Jim Rankin’s comment of December 8th, 2006…

Why are you so bitter about Corporate Support of a Movie Palace? All across the country people beg for money to support the operation and restoration of historic movie palaces. When a corporation steps up to the plate and provides the needed funds we should applaud and encourage them and not not make ridiculous statements about corporations donating money in order to enrich their reputations. That’s pretty obvious that that is their primary purpose and SO WHAT! So many palaces around the country are crumbling waiting for the funding that could restore and or maintain operations. I wish there were many more corporations like Citibank that chose to express their corporate philanthropy through the restoration or funding of our historic movie palaces.

Ask anyone in Chicago if they would turn away Corporate funding from, let’s say United Airlines (a hometown corporation), for a restoration of the Uptown Theater which has been sitting decaying for over 30 years. Would Philadelphians turn down corporate money to fund saving the Boyd? Of course not!

We need more, much more, corporate involvement even if it means they change the name of the theater (and it doesn’t have to mean that). It’s a small price to pay to have an operating movie palace!

properduck
properduck on June 29, 2008 at 10:51 am

Does anyone remember when the Wurlitzer was removed from the theatre?
Supposedly, John Kiley and Ashley Miller (aka Kenneth Lane) recorded on it in the late 50’s. Here’s a nice photo of the console:
View link.pdf)

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on June 20, 2008 at 10:52 am

There was a movie show at the Wang last night – the new comedy film “Get Smart” was shown one day prior to its general release. The showing was a benefit for a medical charity.

bruceanthony
bruceanthony on June 10, 2008 at 7:38 am

The Wang will fill its schedule with more profitable shows such as “White Christmas”,“Radio City Christmas Specacular”. Ever since the Opera House was restored most Broadway shows moved from the Wang to the Opera House so the Wang could no longer afford some of its not for profit shows and switched to more commercial product to replace the Broadway shows that were lost to the Opera House.brucec

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on March 29, 2008 at 10:55 am

It all boils down to “Product” (attractions). There seems to be less and less of it in recent years. So our downtown theaters sit vacant and dark much of the time.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on March 27, 2008 at 4:08 pm

The Wang has a tough year ahead. It has just lost two major tenants. Boston Ballet has moved to the Opera House for the next 30 years, and the Celebrity Series has not scheduled any events there for 2008-2009. That means no Alvin Ailey at the Wang next year.

What will the Wang do to fill all of these open dates?

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on January 14, 2008 at 8:47 pm

actually, this is a set:
View link

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on January 14, 2008 at 8:45 pm

Ok, here are some recent photos (not mine, but beautiful photos) of a truly Grand Lobby!
2007 photo of Grand Lobby!
http://www.flickr.com/photos/teaganita/2127789099/
Lobby columns & ceiling:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/teaganita/2128566616/
ceiling
http://www.flickr.com/photos/teaganita/2127789157/

bruceanthony
bruceanthony on September 19, 2007 at 6:48 pm

The Wang is a major theatre in the US. Small towns around the US have better marquee’s than the current Wang. Only the Cutler Majestic and the Paramount have decent marquees in Boston’s theatre district. The Paramount in Oakland has a fabulous vertical from the 1930’s and is a Performing Arts Center. Vertical marquees have been restored to Chicago,s theatre district.When you restore Boston’s premiere theatre money should have been set aside for the front of the house.brucec

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on September 16, 2007 at 10:20 am

The Met’s marquee in the 1950s was a typical movie theatre marquee of the times, only slightly larger. I can’t recall if it had much neon on it. There was a lot of light underneath it, on the soffit. I think Ben Sack in 1962 either installed a new marquee, or rebuilt the old one. Today, the organization which runs the theatre has money problems, so adding a new marquee with lots of neon on it would probably be a very low priority for them.

Tom10
Tom10 on September 16, 2007 at 5:23 am

Does anyone know what the original neon sign looked like? I recall from my extreme youth seeing the marquee for Ben Hur on this building, and it wasn’t all that neoney, IIRC. I don’t think it was the original marquee either. Lots of times, marquees used little light bulbs instead of neon. Now that it’s a performing arts center, I’m not sure either would be all that appropriate. In a forced choice, I’d go for little light bulbs, I guess.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on September 15, 2007 at 10:55 am

“Citi Wang” is an ugly name for this theatre, and I hope the CinemaTreasures folks never change the name on this page.

bruceanthony
bruceanthony on September 15, 2007 at 10:53 am

This theatre has an ugly marquee I think its time to do neon and restore the marquee. The fun starts on the sidewalk and until a proper marquee is restored to this theatre, the restoration is not complete. Charge an extra dollar per ticket for the restoration of the marquee.brucec

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on May 7, 2007 at 7:46 am

Both ! New theatre seats today are wider and bigger than old ones, and often are set at a greater “pitch” between rows. In 1990, I attended a LHAT luncheon in the foyer of the Wang, and at that time, the main floor was being rebuilt. All seats had been removed and the floor was being reconstructed. I believe that’s when they added the ring of loges around the perimeter of the orchestra floor. (The old Met had a ring of mezzanine loges but not a corresponding ring of loges down below). One variable they have today in seating is that they can add 2 or 3 rows of extra seats down front in the orchestra pit. I don’t know if the 3,600-plus total includes those extra seats.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on May 6, 2007 at 8:24 am

How did they lose 800 seats? Did they replace smaller seats with larger ones, or move the rows further apart?

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on May 6, 2007 at 7:06 am

Yes, it now has slightly over 3,600 seats; when it originally opened, the Met was reputed to have a total of 4,407 seats.

spectrum
spectrum on May 5, 2007 at 8:14 am

The seating capacity should be changed to 3,600.

DennisJOBrien
DennisJOBrien on January 11, 2007 at 7:03 pm

This theater has always been mind-boggling with its beauty. I always thought of it as Boston’s equivalent to New York’s Radio City Music Hall. I fondly remember being there on the day of the 1966 film premiere of “Torn Curtain,” with the famous director in attendance, even though the audience seemed to be hoping that Julie Andrews would temporarily depart from her sombre character and break into a spirited rendition of “My Favorite Things.” Years later, after its restoration, I saw an opera here on the big stage. Boston can be proud of its theater history.

There are some snobs who look down on motion pictures and conveniently forget that these great movie palaces were originally financed by the genre of cinema and the Hollywood system. They were part of an industry based on profit, not run as non-profit organizations dependent on grants and tax relief. Hollywood gave us national treasures apart from the films themselves, and the Wang Center is just one of them.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on December 8, 2006 at 10:32 am

Theater naming rights aren’t usually sold to corporations but rather are LEASED for a term of years, like 5 or 7, etc. So, they not only didn’t buy the theaters, they probably didn’t even buy the naming rights forever either.