Olympia Theatre

883 Purchase Street,
New Bedford, MA 02740

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Olympia Theatre...New Bedford MA

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One of the numerous movie theatres that used to exist in the downtown New Bedford area. The Olympia Theatre was opened April 2, 1916.

Contributed by Gerald A. DeLuca

Recent comments (view all 19 comments)

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 22, 2007 at 6:47 am

From the 1990s booklet The Center – Downtown New Bedford in the 1950s by Carmen Maiocco:

“Another downtown landmark that bit the dust was the Olympia Theater at 833 [other sources give 883] Purchase Street. When the Olympia was demolished people all over New Bedford fell silent when they heard the news, remembering the good times they had known in the old theater. Folks still reminisce about the Saturday Morning Kiddie Shows. When Olympia manager Maurice Simms inaugurated the special Saturday morning matinee in the mid -1940s, he had no idea the event would become so popular. Thosands of screaming kids jammed the theater watching cartoons and serials and live acts and feature films. They consumed more popcorn and juggiebeans and soda than can ever possibly be recorded. Regular shows were offered in the afternoon. Movie theaters in the 1940s and 1950s were much more elaborate than the utilitarian, shoebox mall movie theaters we know today. These were entertainment palaces with chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and plush padded seats. At the Olympia uniformed doormen took your tickets, and ushers with flashlights led you to your seat. (They expected a tip, of course.) Wednesday was Dish Day, a promotional device that attracted armies of old ladies all jostling for that coveted teacup or creamer that would complete the set. The Olympia Theater was built in 1916 and thereafter dispensed live entertainment and flickering magic for almost 60 years. One of the first stars to perform there was Will Rogers in 1921. The Zeitz family purchased the Olympia in 1962. At the time they already owned two Center movie houses, the Empire and the State, as well as the Capitol in the North End. As a last hurrah of sorts a national touring company came to the Olympia in 1966 and staged the Neil Simon/Mike Nichols smash comedy hit Barefoot in the Park. Every one of the 2,300 seats was occupied for the show. That’s how the Olympia should be remembered – filled with laughing happy people. The Olympia shut the lights for the last time in 1971. The theater was knocked down the following year.”

ChetDowling on June 22, 2007 at 10:10 am

Thanks for the quotes from Carmen Maiocco’s booklet. Just to set the record straight; The long time Manager was Morris(not Maurice) Simms who came to New Bedford from Brocton Mass. The Saturday Morning Kiddie Revue was not his idea. It was a live radio show that used the theatre as a venue. I can’t recall the station call letters, but the managers name was Ed Bogoshian. If there was ever a ‘dish night’ at the Olympia, it had to be in the 40’s not the 50’s. And Ushers were never allowed to accept ‘tips’ from patrons. The Baylies Bros. built the theatre and Theodore Baylies was its first Manager.The original pit orchestra was led by A.Karstein.The huge stage measured 94'wide,36'deep and 64'high

ChetDowling on June 29, 2007 at 9:10 am

The silent classic “Down To The Sea In Ships” was shot in New Bedford, and The World Premiere held at the Olympia in February 1923.
In 1950, Stage Manager, Walter Seaman showed me 8x10 sepia photos of the Premiere. They came from an old 4-drawer file stored in one of the six downstairs Dressing Rooms.The file was packed with records and photos from the Vaudeville days.Was this file salvaged before Zeitz demolished the theatre? I also interviewed Tillie Bourne of 245 Walnut St. Clara Bow lived with her while shooting the movie. Tillie was 80 in 1950..Had no photos, but great stories, and a program book from the night she attended the “Star-Studded” Premiere.

ChetDowling on July 1, 2007 at 4:01 pm

CORRECTION. “Down To The Sea In Ships” had its Nationwide release in February 1923. The World Premiere was held at The Olympia New Bedford on September 25, 1922.

jflundy on July 10, 2008 at 11:26 am

Here is a 1920s era photo showing Vertical and street scene:

View link

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on September 18, 2008 at 11:21 am

The Theatre Historical Society listing for the Olympia in New Bedford, compiled by CT and THS member Barry Goodkin, states that the house opened on April 2, 1916 and was designed by Wm. Mowll of Mowll & Rand architects. It had at least 2300 seats.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 15, 2010 at 4:43 am

In the October 30, 1961 issue of Boxoffice Magazine, an ad was run showing how many mainstream theatres were showing Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, a subtitled Italian movie. This theatre was one of those. Link to ad, then expand:
View link

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on July 7, 2010 at 10:21 am

Photos of the Olympia and other New Bedford theatres can be seen in this great set:
View link

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on November 16, 2010 at 11:36 am

The Olympia is listed in the 1927 Film Daily Yearbook as having 2300 seats and open daily.

Don Lewis
Don Lewis on November 29, 2010 at 5:30 pm

From the 1940s a postcard view of Purchase Street along with the Olympia Theatre in New Bedford.

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