Plaza Theater

293 Essex Street,
Salem, MA 01970

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Plaza Theater - Salem, MA

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The Plaza Theater was built in 1917 replacing an older Plaza Theater that had burned down. This theater had orchestra seating on the main floor, which was surprisingly small. There was also little or no slope to the floor. The balcony was considerably larger though. Not only did it overhang part of the main floor, but extended back over the lobby area as well.

By the 1950’s, this theater was well worn and musty, never having been refurbished over the decades. It closed around 1959 never to reopen, and was finally demolished.

Contributed by David April

Recent comments (view all 27 comments)

DApril
DApril on January 26, 2010 at 9:40 am

Hi Jon,

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.

JonMontgomery
JonMontgomery on January 31, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Hi Dave,
I really don’t know what was there before, I just always remember that parking lot being there. I used to park there at night if I went to see a movie at the Salem in the 1970’s or if I was going to Jerry’s Army and Navy store. The Salem charged $1.00 admission on monday nights back then and they attracted a pretty good crowd. I’ll make a prediction for you. I went to see a film at Loews (now AMC-Loews Cineplex) at Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers, MA this past weekend. I don’t go there very often but every time I have gone there recently it was “no waiting” at the box office in the Mall. That wasn’t always the case. When it first opened about 10 years ago, it was always packed and I always called ahead to see if the film I wanted to see was sold out or not. The Cineplex is a BIG movie house with about 20 screens, stadium seating and very elaborate 1930’s style themed theater with a huge lobby area. If business doesn’t pick up I’m afraid it will end up soon as just another memory. I also don’t think Liberty Tree Mall is doing that well these days which may be part of the problem. The Hollywood Hits theater across the street (Route 128) not elaborate in any sense of the word, is a big brick oblong box cut up into a lot of very small theaters and their movies are all second run features but yet they always seem very busy judging by the cars I see parked there. Also, its very easy access into those theaters, just park and go in. At the AMC Loews Cineplex, you have to park and then physically walk through the Mall which can be kind of a pain in the neck.

DApril
DApril on February 2, 2010 at 11:54 am

Hi Jon,

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.

camera65
camera65 on November 26, 2010 at 7:55 am

The Plaza did have the E.M. Loew’s name on the center point of the marquee. It stood idle during the early fifties until purchased by James Solovicos who operated the Martha’s Sweets soda fountain and lunch counter at the corner of Summer and Essex streets, diagonally across from the Plaza. They ran largely second-run double features and found a good trade in spooling all the Allied Artists cheapie horror/sci-fi films. They then became a showcase for some, not all, AIP horror films. They had the first-run of “House Of Usher” and in 1958 ran the first run of William Castle’s “Macabre”. I was in a Saturday matinee of this.

camera65
camera65 on November 26, 2010 at 8:02 am

The Empire Theatre was where the Salem Theatre’s parking lot was, corner of Crombie and Essex. It had an overhand but no marquee showing titles. The legend was that E.M. Loew tried vainly to buy the Empire, finally building his new Salem Theatre virtually beside it in spite. The Empire sat idle for a few years after the Salem opened before falling to the lot, which was city-owned. Back to the Plaza, I recall almost all the films I saw there, including a double bill of “King Kong” and “Mighty Joe Young”. The best was a matinee of “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein”. Filled with kid, it was absolute bedlam. Oh, to see 35mm prints of these today.

DApril
DApril on November 26, 2010 at 11:59 am

Hi Bill,

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!

DApril
DApril on November 26, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Hi Bill,

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.

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on July 6, 2012 at 10:19 am

New marquee displayed in this 1950 trade report: boxoffice

camera65
camera65 on July 6, 2012 at 3:07 pm

It’s great to see a photo of the Plaza frontage. If that was 1950, it must have run for about six years or so and then closed again. I think it reopened around ‘57. I saw “Forbidden Planet” there but it was second run. Then, the marquee said “Always Two Big Hits”. Since very little money was spent to update it, it was like walking into the past. I’m now not sure if it ever was run by E.M.Loew. I might have confused that round Loew insignia with the centerpoint of the Salem Theatre marquee, similarly shaped but larger. The Plaza was old and dusty with its own distinct odor but I loved it. We got our quarters’ worth on many a Saturday afternoon.

DApril
DApril on July 6, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Hi camera,

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!

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