Empire Theater

285 Essex Street,
Salem, MA 01970

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Empire Theatre, Salem Massachusetts

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The Empire Theater in Salem was used for vaudeville, dance presentations, and some movies before closing. It was demolished around 1957.

Contributed by David April

Recent comments (view all 9 comments)

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on February 11, 2006 at 3:23 pm

The MGM Theatre Photograph and Report form for the Empire Th. on Essex St. in Salem has a photo of the entrance taken in 1941. There was a simple marquee which was really just a rain canopy. There is a banner hanging from the front of the marquee which appears to say “2 Big Features”. There are stores on either side of the entrance and at least one or more floors of offices above. The Report states that the Empire has been a MGM customer for 15 years; that it was over 20 years old; that it was in Fair condition; and that it had 602 seats on the main floor and 291 in the balcony; total: 893 seats. The competition was the Paramount and Rialto, and Salem’s population as of 1940 was 41,200.

DApril on November 14, 2007 at 1:57 am

The address of the Empire was 293 Essex Street in Salem. In addition to the orchestra and balcony seating, there were also boxes on the side walls. I had once heard that the balcony had been permanently closed due to a structural deficiency, but I don’t know if that was actually true or not.

DApril on July 13, 2009 at 3:12 am

I just found another reference based on actual old Salem directories that gives the location of the Empire Theater as 285 Essex Street, which I believe from visual memory would probably be correct. It appears that 293 Essex Street, as given at Cinema Tour is incorrect.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 10, 2010 at 11:57 am

The Empire Theatre was built in 1907 by Julius Cahn (the same Julius Cahn who was the publisher of Julius Cahn’s Official Theatrical Guide.) The Salem Public Library has in its collection a “Program for Julius Cahn’s New Empire Theatre. Salem, MA: 29 August, 1907.” That might have been the opening night, though the source for the information (this page at the web site of Salem State University) doesn’t say.

As implied by the opening name New Empire Theatre, there had been an earlier Empire Theatre in Salem, also operated by Cahn and his associates. I’ve been unable to discover the location of that house, or what became of it when the New Empire opened.

By 1918, Frank Katzos was listed as operator of the Empire Theatre in an official document publishing the results of State inspections of places of amusement (the empire’s condition was listed as “Good.”) By 1922, the house had come under the control of the Koen Brothers, pioneer movie exhibitors in Salem and its vicinity. A brief biography of John Edward Koen, with additional information on his brother William Henry Koen, can be found in this History of Essex County at Google Books. It mentions several of their other theaters, which included the Salem Theatre and Federal Theater in Salem.

I’ve found references to plays being mounted at the Empire under the auspices of the Federal Theatre Project during the 1930s.

DApril on December 11, 2010 at 12:02 am

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.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on April 7, 2011 at 7:05 pm

On a long list of Massachusetts theaters and halls receiving licenses during the 12 months ending Oct. 31, 1914 is Salem’s Empire Theatre, along with the Federal Theatre and the Salem Theatre; plus some function/fraternal halls in Salem.

DApril on April 9, 2011 at 12:20 am

Hi Ron,

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.



rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on July 25, 2011 at 7:39 pm

I compared the 1941 photo of the Empire on the MGM Theatre Report to the old postcard image posted at the heading. Definitely the same building, although the MGM photo was a tighter shot.

DApril on July 26, 2011 at 3:09 am

Hi Ron,

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.


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