B. F. Keith's Theatre

547 Washington Street,
Boston, MA 02201

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Washington Street, Boston showing the Adams House Hotel and next to it the entrance to Keith's Theatre - 1906

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B. F. Keith and E. F. Albee opened B. F. Keith’s New Theatre on March 24, 1894, directly behind their Bijou Theatre and next door to their Boston Theatre.

Although it was primarily a vaudeville house during Keith-Albee’s ownership, Thomas Edison demonstrated his new Vitascope movie projector here on May 18, 1896. This was the first projection of a movie anywhere in Boston.

After the Keith-Albee partnership replaced their Boston Theatre with the B.F Keith Memorial Theatre in 1928, they sold this no longer “New” theatre to the Shubert organization. It reopened on April 1, 1929, as the Apollo Theatre, but soon changed its name to the Lyric Theatre. It later became a movie house, first called the Normandie Theatre and then the Laffmovie Theatre.

It was demolished in the early-1950’s and for many years its former site stood empty as a parking lot. In 2004, much of that parking lot became a stage extension and loading docks for the Opera House (the former B.F. Keith Memorial Theatre).

The former entrance at 547 Washington Street still stands and is now a retail store.

Contributed by Ron Newman

Recent comments (view all 43 comments)

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on October 19, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Thanks to Louis Rugani for posting an interesting news story about Keith’s in Boston from the 1925 Lowell Sun. I assume that the perp Matthews was dismissed from his job. Today he would hire a lawyer and sue for discrimination since it is obvious that he is the victim here, a sufferer of Irrestible Violent Impulse Syndrome, or “IVIS”.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on October 20, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Boston film pioneer Joe Cifre wrote a long article (about 1950, I estimate) titled “Saga of the Movie Industry in Boston”. He also makes the claim, mentioned in the Intro at the head of this page, that the first movies shown to a theater audience in Boston took place at this theater in 1896. A small projection booth, draped in velour cloth, was placed at the balcony front. The film was 2 5/8 inches wide and each frame was 2 inches high. There were no sprocket holes; the film was run over velvet-covered rollers. A show about 10 to 12 minutes long was run at the very end of each vaudeville show.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 15, 2010 at 3:16 pm

A Boxoffice Magazine item from September 3, 1949, reports the change in policy of the Laffmovie Theatre to art house programming. It states the new name as Artmovie. View link

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on June 16, 2010 at 1:26 pm

The time-line or chronology in the back of Donald King’s Boston theatres book also states that the name was changed to “Art-Movie” in 1949. This policy did not last long. He says that in 1950 the name was changed again, to “Mirth Movie”. I know that in 1950 it was presenting comedy shorts; it was known as the “Laff Movie” among my junior highschool/ middle school friends. I wish I had gone into it, I had the opportunity many times. I had friends who went to the comedy movies/cartoons there often.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on June 16, 2010 at 1:55 pm

I read the Sept 3, 1949 BoxOffice Magazine article, as posted above by Gerry DeLuca. As usual, there are some errors in it. It was not the Laffmovie, but the adjacent Bijou which was a very early electric-powered theater. I think also that the second balcony at the Laffmovie was closed off rather than “removed” to reduce the seating capacity to 1,200. The Mgr, Ray Daugaweet, was a friend of Donald King’s and lived into recent years.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 6, 2010 at 11:14 am

Here is a black and white nocturnal photo of Tremont Street, with Keith’s Theatre at left. It’s from the November, 1906, issue of a trade journal called The Illuminating Engineer.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on December 6, 2010 at 1:29 pm

What a great night shot! Especially in view of the date.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on February 7, 2011 at 2:34 pm

In the street directory section of the 1918 Boston Register and Business Directory, Keith’s Theatre is listed at 547 Washington Street. It’s also listed at 163 Tremont Street, east side. Just north of its entrance, at 162 Tremont (all numbers were only on the east side of this section of Tremont St. because the Boston Common was on the west side) was the entrance to the “Bijou Arcade Building”. It had 3 businesses on the ground floor, and 4 upstairs including the Boston branch of the United Booking Office, the big vaudeville talent exchange. Why did they call it the “Bijou Arcade” when it really was “Keith Arcade”?? Perhaps the Keith management did not want its name on it. I know it was possible to access the Bijou Theatre from this entrance once one got across Mason St. and into the north side of Keith’s Theatre. (both theaters were under Keith management).

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on June 20, 2015 at 12:55 am

1950’s photo added courtesy of the Old School Boston Facebook page.

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