B. F. Keith's Theatre

547 Washington Street,
Boston, MA 02201

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DavidZornig on September 6, 2017 at 12:55 pm

1906 photo added courtesy of the Old School Boston Facebook page.

conley on December 22, 2015 at 5:09 pm

Great piece of history to the theatre I have an old copper fire extinguisher from this building and was wondering if anyone knew would there be much value to it given the history of this building??appreciate any info you guys might have

DavidZornig on June 20, 2015 at 12:55 am

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

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).

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.

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 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.

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.

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 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.

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”.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on October 18, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Another B,F.KEITH theatre was THE IMPERIAL THEATRE in Augusta,GA. it is on CINEMA TREASURES if you want a bit more history.

LouisRugani on October 18, 2009 at 12:55 pm

The above from the Lowell Sun, Thursday, October 15, 1925.

LouisRugani on October 18, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Mystery Is Solved

Theatre Employe Arrested in Boston For Dropping Missiles From Balcony

Dozen Persons Injured in Keith’s Boston House Since Last July

BOSTON. Oct. 12 (AP)â€"A chain of uncanny disturbances which since last July have annoyed patrons of B. F. Keith’s theatre here,
and which for the last month caused performances to be given with lights on throughout the house, was believed by the police to
have been ended today.

More than a dozen persons have been injured and police investigators have been baffled by the hurling of pieces of scrap iron, lead pipe and rocks into the audience of the theatre at practically every performance for ten weeks. Search for the cause, which brought as many as 120 investigators into the theatre at every performance, failed for weeks. Yesterday, however, Walter Matthews, for two years a special officer In the theatre, was arrested and today faced arraignment and examination by alienists.

Early last August, the theatre authorities asked police aid in locating the person or persons who were throwing missiles into the audience. Plainclothes men strove vainly for days to detect the. source of the objects. Additional men and private detectives were brought in. Uniformed police were stationed throughout the house and the lights were ordered on during the entire performance. Police and detectives in plain clothes were scattered all throughout the audience, but the hail of missiles continued.

Rarely did the perpetrator miss a performance. A number of persons, including women, were struck and received cuts and bruises.
More often the objects bounced off the chairs or landed in the aisles. Then, several days ago, two policemen, smuggled behind a
grating in the roof of the auditorium, saw a suspicious movement by Matthews. The next day they watched him through an entire performance
and saw him, from behind an aisle screen which protected him from the sight of those in the balcony, throw a missile over the rail. His arrest followed.

Matthews declared he was unable to explain his act. “An irresistible impulse” made him do it, he insisted. His missiles were secured from
the basement of the the theatre, he said. Each time he did it, he told the police, he resolved to stop but at the next performance found he was unable to resist the urge.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on April 17, 2009 at 2:01 pm

In the “Billboard” trade paper of Sept 8, 1906, there is an article about the opening of the Fall season in Boston theaters written by their Boston reporter, Frank Voorhies. He says that the first week of September was actually the last week of Keith’s summer season and marked the 13th and final week of the Fadettes Women’s orchestra. The show consisted of Junie McCree & Company in “The Man from Denver” plus assorted vaude acts, such as Clare Beasy’s Performing Cats, acrobats, singers, comics, dancers, ending with the Kinetograph – movie short subjects on screen. “Good business”, he says.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on June 16, 2008 at 1:57 pm

During Christmas week, 1921, this theater’s ad in the Boston Globe was headed “B.F. Keith’s – Amusement Center of Boston”. There was a vaudeville program headed by Irene Castle, plus on screen Pathe News and “Topics of the Day”. No feature movie.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on March 30, 2008 at 1:07 pm

The 19th Century building which contained this theater’s Washington Street entrance and lobby was demolished recently except for its facade which has been repaired and which will front the new Emerson College building on the site. Keith’s Theatre entrance was in the left bay of this facade, right next to the adjacent Paramount.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on December 11, 2006 at 11:50 am

The MGM Theatre Photograph and Report form for this theatre (when it was the Laffmovie) has an exterior photo which is undated. (A hint of the date is that the movie “Desert Fury”, in Technicolor, is playing right next door at the Paramount). The Laffmovie has a flashy half-circle marquee which I remember circa-1950. It has space for 4 rows of black letters on a white background. The attractions are Walt Disney Cartoon Carnival, Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Popeye, Bugs Bunny, Little (unreadable). Unfortunately, no one filled out the form and there is no information.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on November 26, 2006 at 10:56 am

Keith’s New Theatre in Boston is listed in the 1897-98 edition of Julius Cahn’s Official Theatrical Guide. The managers are B.F. Keith and E.F. Albee. The seating capacity is given as 3,000, but that could not possibly be correct. Ticket prices ranged from 25 cents to 75 cents. The proscenium opening was 34 feet, 4 inches square. The stage was 41 feet deep. The theatre was on the first floor. It’s possible that the seating capacity figure includes several hundred standing spaces.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on May 5, 2006 at 10:23 am

In Variety, the show-biz newspaper, of Dec. 20, 1932, there was a large ad placed by RKO Theatres which lists “RKO Theatres Throughout America.” There are 4 listed for Boston: the RKO Keith Memorial, the RKO Boston, the RKO Bijou, and the RKO Lyric. This would indicate that after the Shuberts stopped operating the Lyric, RKO stepped in and took it over again. A few years afterward, it became the Normandie ballroom and bar.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on February 25, 2006 at 4:04 am

This 1928 map shows at least 11 downtown Boston theatres. West is at the top of this map.

The KEITH’S THEATRE is on the east side of Mason Street, a block north of Avery Street. A narrow piece of the adjoining BIJOU DREAM on Washington Street is labelled “ENTRANCE TO KEITH’S THEATRE”.

Just north of the Keith’s is the larger B.F. KEITH MEMORIAL THEATRE, now called Opera House.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on February 22, 2006 at 5:48 am

that should have said: West is at the top of the map.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on February 22, 2006 at 5:45 am

This 1895 map shows part of downtown Boston. East is at the top of the map.

Near the top left of the map, take a look at the block bounded by Washington, West, Mason, and Avery Streets. In the middle of that block is “KEITH’S NEW THEATRE”.

Just to its left, on Washington Street, (between it and the Adams House), you can barely make out the words “BIJOU OPERA HOUSE”. This is the Bijou Theatre. Both the Bijou and the Keith’s had entrances on Washington Street, but the Bijou’s auditorium was in front, while the Keith’s was in back.

To the right of the Keith’s on this map is the Boston Theatre. This was torn down in the 1920s and replaced by the Keith Memorial Theatre — still standing today and now called the Opera House.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on December 9, 2005 at 10:50 am

The photo shown is not of this theatre, but of the RKO Keith Memorial that was built next door to replace it. That theatre is now a live stage and is called the Opera House.

The second theatre in the photo is the Modern, still standing today but vacant and in very poor condition.

The banner hanging over the street advertises yet another theatre, the RKO Boston, also still standing but vacant today. The RKO Boston itself is not visible in the photo; it would be behind and to the right of the camera position.

On the right is R.H. White’s department store, now a large vacant parking lot awaiting redevelopment.

Given the lack of people and cars, the photo must have been taken quite early in the morning, or on a Sunday.