Orpheum Theatre

1 Hamilton Place,
Boston, MA 02108

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Showing 76 - 100 of 138 comments

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on June 5, 2008 at 1:37 pm

That is good news for the Theatre District. The Wilbur went dark because LiveNation (Broadway in Boston) pulled out of it a year or two ago.

Do you know if either the Wilbur or the Shubert ever showed movies? They are not listed at CinemaTreasures because nobody has yet found evidence that they did.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on June 5, 2008 at 1:19 pm

The operator of the Orpheum, Live Nation, will reportedly soon start booking music acts into the reopened Wilbur Theatre several blocks to the south (next to the Wang Theatre). The Wilbur, a small legit house nearly 100 years old, will be the new home of the recently closed Comedy club in the Fanieul Hall marketplace downtown.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on April 6, 2008 at 1:01 pm

Specifically, the building on the left is the Suffolk Law School.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on April 6, 2008 at 1:00 pm

The photo posted above by Lost Memory on March 25 shows the Hamilton Place entrance. Note the new doors and the generally well-maintained look of the facade. Unfortunate that the interior is such a dump. The building on the left with the big cornice “looks old” but was actually constructed by Suffolk University in recent years.

ALC on November 9, 2007 at 7:36 am

Does anyone have any information on the artwork on the ceiling of the Orpheum Theatre in Boston?

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on December 9, 2006 at 9:37 am

The MGM Theatre Photograph and Report form for the Orpheum in Boston has an exterior photo taken in 1941. It was Loew’s Orpheum at that time. The photo shows the Washington St. entrance. Attractions on the compact marquee, in white letters on a dark background, are: Irene Dunne and Cary Grant in “Penny Serenade” plus “The Trial of Mary Dugan”. The underside of the marquee is studded with bulbs and just above the doors is an additional board with 2 lines of white letters on a dark background with the titles of the movies posted. The Report states that the theatre has been presenting MGM product for 25 years, that it’s in Good condition; and has 1659 orchestra seats; 1048 balcony seats, and 220 seats in the loges; total: 2,927 seats.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on November 26, 2006 at 10:10 am

As the Boston Music Hall, the Orpheum is listed in the 1897-98 edition of Julius Cahn’s Official Theatrical Guide, an annual for roadshow producers and stage managers. The manager was L.H. Mudgett. The seating capacity was 2,397 but that figure is slightly different from the breakdown— Orchestra: 1257, Balcony: 680, Gallery: 466, total: 2,403. There is a note that a proscenium arch can be erected if needed and that scenary can be used once the portable proscenium is in place. (I wonder how long it took to put it up.)The comment is also made that the auditorium is on the ground floor, which it was on the Hamilton Place side (it was one flight up from the Winter St. entrance, and later, from the Washington St. entrance.) The Guide also says that the Music Hall had electric illumination.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on October 15, 2006 at 9:25 am

Back in the 1980s, the Orpheum interior was somewhat shabby in a quaintly funky sort of way which suited its role as a Rock concert hall. Today the place is a total dump inside – badly in need of some basic rehab work.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on February 22, 2006 at 8:37 am

Yes, Norton’s book is about live-stage theaters. However, many former stage theatres became movie theatres, and vice versa.

MHD on February 22, 2006 at 8:10 am

Thank you both very much. I think I have already seen the Norton book. If I remember correctly, the map does refer to plays, not movie theatres. Incidentally, I remember seeing Shirley Bassey at the Orpheum in the late ‘60s. I was more interested in her than the theatre at the time, but I do remember being impressed with the interior.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on February 22, 2006 at 6:39 am

I don’t know of any such map of all the Boston theatres. But I’m gradually posting links to the 1895 or 1928 maps for each theatre that appears on either one.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on February 21, 2006 at 9:59 am

Elliot Norton reviewed for the Record-American/ Herald. And before that, for decades at the old Boston Post. He was considered a “Show Doctor” and his advice was valued by those “trying out” a new show in Boston. He tried to be positive and helpful, instead of nasty and negative like Frank Rich of the NY Times was.

MHD on February 21, 2006 at 9:29 am

Thank you, I’ll try the library first. I’m familiar with Mr Norton. He reviewed for the Herald, I think.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on February 21, 2006 at 9:25 am

To Mitchell D.: There is a fold-out map of downtown Boston and the Back Bay inside the 1978 book “Broadway Down East” by Elliot Norton, published by the Boston Public Library. Theatres are noted on it with numbers, a key to which is in the margin of the map. The accent is on stage theatres. Unfortunately, there are errors on this map !Elliot Norton was a famous Boston newspaper drama critic for many years (he died about 3 years ago at the age of 100). His is the only theatre map of Boston that I know of.

MHD on February 21, 2006 at 9:01 am

I was researching the Orpheum a couple of weeks ago and found this web site by accident. What a great site. I’ve just read Donald King’s book on Boston Theatres (thanks to this site) but found it a little confusing with all the constant theatre name changes. I was disappointed not to find a map with the book. Have any of you ever tried to map the theaters historically in downtown Boston? I might try, but thought I’d see if anyone had already done it.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on February 19, 2006 at 4:28 am

correction to the above: the 1895 map has west at the top. The 1928 map has north at the top.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on February 19, 2006 at 4:20 am

The theatre is visible as “BOS MUSIC HALL” on this 1895 map, right in the middle of the block bounded by Tremont, Winter, Washington, and Bromfield streets. Two dead-end streets run into the building: Music Hall Place (from Winter Street) and Hamilton Place (from Tremont Street). The latter is still the theatre’s public entrance today.

(Actually, a third alley also runs to the building from Bromfield Street, but this alley has no name on the map.)

On this 1928 map, it is the ORPHEUM THEATRE, owned by Loew’s Theatres Company. Loew’s is also shown as the owner of a long and narrow adjoining building which fronts on Washington Street; presumably this was the theatre’s added entrance on Washington Street.

To get your orientation, note that the 1895 map has north at the top, while the 1928 map has west at the top.

(Warning to dialup users: the map images are huge and will take a long time to load)

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on February 15, 2006 at 9:36 am

I recently re-read parts of a 1978 paper entitled “The Boston Rialto”. It was written by Douglass Shand Tucci and was intended as a guidebook for walking tours in Boston’s theatre district. The paper was published by the City Conservation League and sold for $2. This paper was the basis for Chapter 9 of the author’s book “Built in Boston – City and Suburb” published by the New York Graphic Society in 1978. In the source notes at the end of the paper, the author mentions that he found City of Boston building permit # 2333 issued on 1 June 1915, a permit for “alterations” at the Orpheum Theatre, estimated to cost $100,000. This was the permit for the work supervised by Thomas Lamb. Even in 1916 dollars, $100K was not a lot of money for construction work. He mentions that other remodeling work was performed in 1900 and 1904/5. The work done in the summer of 1900 converted the building from a concert hall into a vaudeville theatre and was well documented by a long and detailed article in one of the Boston newspapers when the house reopened in early September 1900. The work in 1904 was supervised by architect Arthur Vinal and it’s unclear to me exactly what was accomplished. Following this work, Vinal designed the new Washington Street entrance and staircase in 1905. That entrance lasted until the Aquarius Theatre days in the 1970s. I wonder if some of the work which I attribute to Thomas Lamb in 1915 may have been accomplished by Arthur Vinal in 1904-5.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on January 2, 2006 at 9:49 am

Yes, one reason that Symphony Hall was built was because city planners in the 1890s had decided to put yet another street running from Tremont to Washington by extending Hamilton Place right through the demolished property of the Boston Music Hall. That news sent the trustees of the Boston Symphony off on a search for a new site on which to build a new concert hall. Fortunately, the street extension project was dropped, and we still have the Orpheum today.

JackOBrien on December 29, 2005 at 8:12 am

With the inception of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1881, the need for more stage space in the Music Hall brought about the removal of the great organ, now in Methuen, in 1883. In 1900, it was Henry Lee Higginson’s intent to maintain Boston Music Hall as the name for the new building, since there were plans to demolish the old one to make way for a road. Since this didn’t happen, Higginson avoided confusion by naming the new venue Symphony Hall; however, if you look at the ends of the stair handrails in the Mass. Avenue lobby, you’ll notice silver plates engraved with the initials “BMH”.

The old building served the city well, and acoustics were reportedly excellent. Architect George Snell’s efforts were concentrated on the interior, and since the building was surrounded by other structures, the exterior was kept rather plain. The great fire of 1872, sparing
the Hall by one block, brought to attention a stark reality. With 3000 people involved, limited egress could have turned a fire emergency into an unimaginable disaster, especially with gas lighting used until the end of the nineteenth century. Under subsequent and present ownership, stringent city fire codes have certainly made this problem a thing of the past.
egress from the building could

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on December 14, 2005 at 10:32 am

I have a program for the Orpheum Theatre for the week of Monday January 4, 1909. The theatre then was under the direction of the up and coming William Morris. The program mentions that tickets are sold at both the Washington Street and the Hamilton Place entrances. It’s also possible to arrange a weekly subscription for tickets. There is elevator service to each floor of the theatre, and a diagram of exits shows that there are 2 balconies, and there is a “dress circle” at the rear of the orchestra. At the right rear is an exit to Washington St., and at the left rear is an exit to Hamilton Place. The first half of the program consists of 5 assorted acts, preceeded by an overture from the house orchestra. After the intermission, there are 3 more acts, including the headliner, Vesta Victoria, the British music hall star. At the very end is “Morriscope”, a series of motion picture comedy shorts. Next week’s headliner is Harry Lauder. There is a note that last week at the Orpheum there were 25,672 admissions. There were 2 shows, 6 days a week. Plus a concert on Sunday evenings.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on November 29, 2005 at 9:22 am

Here is a summary of the changes made to the building in 1900 and 1915. The auditorium was similar to that of Symphony Hall- a rectangle with 2 balconies each with long side galleries, with half-circle clerestory windows high above. There was a hip roof and on the west side a 3-story wing. The south end of this wing contained the Hamilton Place entrance. During the summer of 1900 the Hall was converted into a vaudeville theatre. The 2 balconies were removed and replaced by a proscenium stage. The concert platform was replaced by 2 new balconies. The side galleries were converted into loges. The rear of the orchestra floor under the 2 new balconies was stepped or sloped. The ceiling remained the same. The lobbies and lounges were all redecorated. After Marcus Loew took over, he hired Thomas Lamb to completely rebuild the Orpheum. Lamb removed the hip roof and built a new, higher roof with an elevated stage-house. He demolished the old west wing and built a new west wall on the outer edge of the property line. The Orpheum today has an auditorium which is higher and wider than the original. He designed a new entrance at Hamilton Place which is in the same location as the old entrance in the old west wing. After he got through in early-1916, there was not much left of the old interior except maybe for some spaces in the basement ?? If you go down the alleys off Bromfield Street and look at the north wall, you can see the 3 clerestory windows high above (which are bricked-up) and the remaining section of the cornice which ran around the north, west and east walls in 1852. There was once a pedestrian way which ran from Tremont to Washington streets and ran right along the north wall of the Boston Music Hall. That was in the 19th Century, long before Loew’s Orpheum.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on November 15, 2005 at 10:37 am

Unfortunately, the downtown HMV Records has closed. I think it’s been gone for at least a year.

The closing of Harvard Square’s much larger HMV store has reduced foot traffic around the Brattle Theatre, contributing to its financial difficulties.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on November 15, 2005 at 9:16 am

The reference above to the “Virgin Records” store on Winter Street should refer to the HMV Records store at 24 Winter St., directly across from the Music Hall Place alley.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on November 14, 2005 at 11:35 am

In the mid-1990s, the 1880-era building at Tremont St and the north side of Hamilton Place was demolished to make way for the new Suffolk Univ. building now on the site. This exposed, for the first time ever, the 1915 west wall of the Orpheum. It remained exposed for 2 or more years, perfectly lit by the afternoon sun. I hope some of the local Orpheum fans got photos!