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I saw several of those first-run movies you mentioned at the Paramount. (The Plaza did most of the re-runs, and it seemed that Loew’s Salem Theater ran most of the horror movies.) I remember one evening at the Paramount where the movie was the complete opera “Aida”. Every last seat was sold out! It was fantastic! Yes, those murals on the side walls seemed to be the original ones for sure, given the extra photo you added. There was also quite a sizable group of ushers in uniform in the 1930s. My father, Ernest April, enjoyed working there as an usher when he was a senior at Salem High, and later when he was on breaks from Dartmouth College. I believe that early there were 17 ushers employed there. Being that I was from the next generation, there were typically only two or three in uniform at a time. The advent of TV in the 1950s marked the beginning of smaller attendance in theaters everywhere.
And yes I certainly recall the gentlemen’s smoking room. I only got up to the balcony a couple of times. As I recall the upper floor corridor, it had some nice furniture there too.
Hi Bill, on the two larger side walls nearest the stage and front exit doors, there were the two dark red curtained faux opera boxes covering the organ pipes. Then there were the other 8 painted murals on the walls behind the boxes. The last two arches were actually in the balcony—the arches but no boxes there, of course. Now my question: It seemed in my early years that every wall mural was distinct and different. But in the photo, all of the mural paintings look exactly the same. Did I perceive that correctly?
Hi Bill, Wow! I think I would have seen that but for circumstances. When I was in grade school, Saturday afternoons hosted a Kids Day. The ticket was 25 cents. The seating was all in Aisle 5. There were always one or two ushers on duty. Around 1959 the family left Salem for Danvers. As a teenager I did bring her to the Paramount a few times around 1963. Then I was away in UMass in Amherst for four years. When I returned to Danvers, the Paramount was gone! Probably that’s why I missed that UV light. Sounds like it was quite a device.
That long corridor was unique and amazing. In addition to the pictures of coming attractions wall-mounted in the fancy glass display cabinets, I recall a couple of the display cabinets were rented long-term such as Pickering Oil: “Let the silver fleet deliver your heat”. They had some model delivery trucks there too. The Paramount Theater was great.
Up at the very top of this page click on Photos if you have not already done that. Those are the only ones that I’m aware of that include interior shots. I’m not up on programs like PhotoShop etc. where it might be possible to achieve better clarity of these pics. Dave
Yes, the Plaza was old and dusty and musty, and it seemed that it was never maintained well from the day it was built. Thus that “distinct odor”. I found that even the last row in the orchestra section was too close to the screen, so always went up in the balcony to get further back, as it extended back over the lobby and entrance. The Plaza was always in need of refurbishment, but never saw it. E.M. Loew’s Salem was one of the early nondescript shoebox theaters, although with a capacity of 1,000 was larger than today’s standard the reclining seats were nice, I must admit. But the crown jewel in Salem was the Paramount designed by Rapp & Rapp. Now that was class!
I don’t know when the Empire was constructed exactly, but from the postcard we can see that Salem had dirt streets and very old fashion utility poles at the time. It also seems that on Essex Street, the “Main Street” of Salem, there are no trolley tracks. So this must be way back around 1900 or even late 1800s. It could be that the state of the art of photography was not as good as today’s, such that the pixels give this enlargement a coarse look. Just my theory.
Actually I erred on the movie being premiered, although the book’s author on whose work the film was based, Nathaniel Hawthorne, is correct. It was actually “The House of the Seven Gables”.
I know the (new) Salem Theater was demolished around 1985. It seemed to me that I had seen a newspaper article, probably from the Salem Evening News, that noted that before demolition there had been a fire there. I wish I could locate that reference again, but cannot. If you’re sure there was no fire, then I’d defer to you on that.
That’s interesting info. It’s a shame that no interior pictures were taken of the Empire and Federal theaters. During demolition of the Empire I walked upup the sidewalk to the front doors of the Empire and and looked though the lobby into the auditorium which exposed to sunlight at that moment as the rear wall was already down. The interior looked beautiful. It even had opera boxes, at least one on each side of the stage.
That’s great information. The Federal Theater was always a mystery to my generation—it was there but yet it was not. I imagine that the businesses occupying space there were likely tenants who would not have had access to the theater. It would be great to know what the interior looked like. Being closed for so long though, if there were roof leaks, it was probably quite deteriorated by then.
I checked out the picture of the older Salem Theatre. Interesting! All those pictures were fun to look at. On page 34
there’s a picture of the YMCA. The rooftop loggia they mention we called “The Colleseum”. Years later it was removed. On the second floor of that building is Ames Memorial Hall which is being fully restored to its earlier splendor. They’ve done something right!
Julius Cahn with B.L. Grant opened an Empire Theater in Lewiston, ME in 1903 seating 1,480. Cahn and Grant sold it in 1914. It was demolished in 2005, so long outlasted the Empire in Salem. There was also an Empire Theater in Portland, ME, but I found no connection there to Julius Cahn.
I can’t answer your exact question. But during the silent picture era, I know from my parents that there were The Comique, Nickelodian, and Federal Theaters downtown. The first two were quite small and disappeared a very long time ago. The Federal was still standing for years, but the theater itself was closed. I believe the first floor was then occupied by a First National grocery store with a candlepin bowling alley on the lower level. When you viewed the Federal’s exterior, it was unmistakenly a theater, with the high stage structure for “flying” screens, curtains and scenery for plays and vaudville shows. During Salem’s urban renewal frenzy in the 1960s, they put the wrecking ball to the Federal shortly before the Paramount was leveled. I am quite sure that where the Plaza Theater (an E. M. Loew theater) stood, there was an earlier Plaza Theater there destroyed by fire. So the one that most of us remember was actually the “New Plaza”. I believe the word “New” actually appeared in small stylized letters before the name on the marquee. I can tell you for sure that E. M. Loew’s Salem was not sited where the Empire Theatre had stood, as I clearly recall the Paramount, Plaza, E.M. Loew’s Salem and the closed Empire all coexisting during the 1950s.
I notice too that when you have to go to a shoebox cinema these days, the movie soundtrack is usually about 90 decibels too high. That’s because the automated projector doesn’t know the difference. The projectionist in former times made sure that the sound track was at a comfortable listening level. Progress!
That information on Harold Hunt, the projectionist, is great information. So often the projectionist, who runs the whole show, is, ironically, hidden away and often unknown. This information adds to the history of the theater along with your description of the projection room equipment. In all the movies I saw at the Paramount as a kid or adult, there was never a single projection mishap, so he was obviously a master of his trade. In having to be absent from “the last picture show”, I’ll bet that the Paramount days live all the more vividly in his mind. Yes, I too attended a couple of Frank Simpson’s organ recitals. Those massive contra-bass organ pipes could sure shake the walls of the theater! Evidently, there was another organist there, Thomas Smith, but I never heard him play. The organ chambers were behind the drapes in the arches of the two front opera boxes on the side walls. A classmate of mine told me that he had worked part-time for the organ tuner, and mentioned that there were no doorways or stairs leading up to those boxes. So they had to access the boxes using ladders raised from the orchestra level.
Thanks for commenting on this tread. Back in the 60s came the urban renewal frenzy. Salem lost the Paramount and the castle-like train depot. Everyone who recalls them wishes them back today, but sadly it’s too late. I think you’re right—today those treasures would have been preseved and creative uses would have been found. How well I recall the poster frames you mention. Inside the long lobby there were poster frames and illuminated advertizing displays built into the walls. Pickering
Oil had a display there for years. I recall that on stage there were two curtains, the traveler curtain you mention which opened first, followed by a more sheer curtain that opened next. At the Plaza and E.M. Loew’s Salem, I can’t recall stage curtains there. I believe those screens were exposed from the moment you entered the auditoriums. So the double-curtain setup at the Paramount was unique. Everything at the Paramount was a touch of class, even as the old dame neared her demise.
Yeah, the horror and outer space movies at the Plaza… Sometimes we’d start hooting at the primitive special effects of the day. In the 1950’s the kids' matinee ticket prices were 25 cents at both the Paramount and Plaza as I recall. Salem was a great place to grow up in during that era.
Thanks for contributing that information! We had been wondering what had previously stood in that parking lot next to E. M. Loew’s Salem Theater. It was the Empire Theater! That makes sense to me, because I clearly recall all three theaters (including the Paramount) coexisting for quite awhile, although the Empire had long been closed. And I did watch the demolition of the Empire for awhile. So the demolition didn’t create a lot for E. M. Loew’s Salem, simply the parking lot next to it. And when I visualize it in my mind’s eye now, yes, I can see those two marquees adjoining one another there. I should have remembered that, because my dentist was directly across the street on a second floor with the waiting room windows looking out at the two theaters. Back in the 50s what I most remember seeing at the Plaza were old WWII movies. And yes, it could get raucous in there!
Thanks for that bit of history on Elias M. Loew. I had sometimes wondered if there was a connection to Marcus Loew, but it turns out only in the similarity of the name.
I agree that it’s quite a bargain actually. Also the new management seems to keep up better with maintenance needs.
I’ll bet you’re right about the AMC-Loews Cineplex at the Liberty Tree Mall. When my wife and I lived in Danvers in the 70s, that complex was doing a brisk business. But from what you describe, it sounds like it’s in decline. Reminds me of the now demolished Cinemas I and II (built and operated by General Cinema) at the North Shore Mall in Peabody. The Cinema I and the smaller II were built in the mid-60s, but by the 70s it was clear that patronage was already dropping off, and times were changing. They later twinned the Cinema I (thereby creating a Cinema III). That probably enabled the exhibitor to lower their film rental fees based on a lesser number of seats in each theater thereby buying time. But in the end it was futile, and the complex was demolished in the late 90s. In this steady decline of the movie palaces, we blamed TV. Then when the shoebox theaters started to go under it was Blockbuster and the other film rental stores. And now there’s Netflix and pay-per-view on cable etc. So it only gets worse for the exhibitors. Here in Bangor, ME we have the Bangor Cinema 10 Complex, but on the edge of the city is Movie Magic, another complex which offers low admission for second run pictures. The latter provides plenty of competition similar to the scenario you describe in the Liberty Tree Mall environs.
Regarding that parking lot next to E. M. Loew’s Salem, it might be that when when the theater was built around 1953, Loew’s might have bought the abutting property at the same time. It might have already been a vacant lot, or perhaps they tore down a structure there to create a bit of parking.
Any recollection as to what exactly was demolished to create that parking lot? I always assumed it was the destruction of the Plaza. You’re right though, because once the small parking lot was created, you could see the entire concrete east wall of the Salem Theater abutting that lot. In my mind’s eye, it seemed to me that the two marquees of the Salem and Plaza were fairly close together, but I could be mistaken, as it’s been many many years.
When the Plaza was demolished, what was left was a small parking lot where it had stood. Wasn’t that parking lot directly to the left side of E. M. Loew’s Salem? (The Plaza was also an E. M. Loew’s property.)
The Empire at 285 Essex Street and Salem down the street at 295 Essex coexisted for sure. The Salem abutted to its immediate left the smaller Plaza at 293 Essex. So the Empire wasn’t demolished to make room for the Salem. I saw the Empire demolished as a kid. Standing on the sidewalk, I could see the elaborate interior of the Empire. The Salem opened around 1950. It only had plain wallpapered walls. After the Plaza and Paramount were gone, the Salem eventually closed in 1985 and later burned around 2000.
The Salem Theater was open and exhibiting films from 1953-1985.