Rialto Theatre

121 Mathewson Street,
Providence, RI 02903

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Rialto Theatre

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There are several references to this theatre which used to exist on Mathewson Street (acccording to a Providence Journal ad) in downtown Providence. It originally was a 19th century church, but in December 1906, became the Scenic Temple. In 1919, it was renamed the Rialto Theatre. References to it can be found in the 1920’s and early-1930’s.

A 1931 Providence Journal Almanac says it was owned by the Rialto Theatre Corporation, Bernard E. Fay, theatre manager. Additional information on this place would be very much appreciated.

Contributed by Gerald A. DeLuca

Recent comments (view all 44 comments)

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 17, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Hmmmm. Possible indeed. There was a Scenic, dating back to the early silent era, at Oakland Beach in Warwick, RI, later known as the Midway, q.v. But it didn’t deign to call itself a temple, and it was most likely an independent house. The building still exists.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 21, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Ad from 1917 when this was known as the Scenic Theatre.
CLICK HERE and note the 5-cent admission price.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on February 4, 2011 at 12:22 pm

The first three full-time downtown Providence movie theatres were these: Nickel, Scenic Temple, Bijou. There are others that did show films previously but they were sporadic showings, or in the case of the Lyric, short-lived. Movies were the main policy, though the Scenic Temple did include vaudeville acts. This ad from August 1, 1908 makes clear the growing trend: moving pictures are here to stay! They are not a mere innovation.
NICKEL, SCENIC TEMPLE, BIJOU

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on February 6, 2011 at 5:39 pm

The Scenic Temple first opened on Mathewson Street on December 31, 1906. The News-Democrat reported:
“The New Scenic Temple on Mathewson Street, formerly the Mathewson Street skating rink, opens today with motion pictures, illustrated songs and other attractive forms of entertainment. The temple will be open daily from noon until 10:30 P.M., and the programs will be changed on Thursday.”
OPENING DAY AD.
The building had originally been the Westminster Congregational Church, opened 1829.

kenster
kenster on October 27, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Gerald DeLuca et all,

I lost my sign in info on LABOUND, but you responded to me as Kenster, dont know how my name was changed or even if I did it (most weeks are a blur, as you can see its taken me a year and half to respond to you) But if you go back in the postings from LABOUND’s handle, which was me, I said I would post verbatum the Bobby (Robert) Jewett letter, in its entirety, word for word, as, we both agree, a historical accurate anecdote from his memoirs there during his time with his best friends Eddie Dowling and Pat O'Malley, amongst countless others in the Vaudeville error. I hope it helps in any way in your research or hobbies in regards to the referenced.

Letter is Below on separate posting.

Kind Regards

Ken

kenster
kenster on October 27, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Note: These original letters were found in a back of a large album with pictures from my Great Grandfather (Robert Jewett) with Bette Davis, and I believe was written for a newspaper; which either was never printed, written to the K.O.C. (in which he was heavily involved in Providence I believe, or never was seen by anyone until it fell, literally into my hands. Considering the mini documentary and book I am working on in regards to his time with Eddie and his friends in LA (best friends with the then owner or Manager (fit title where neeeded) of MGM, I believe this letter was written during his sixties, rather then in his last years in the now disgracefully closed ‘Motion Picture Actors Home’ in CA. This will no doubt for Gerald who asked me to type the letter here, so many accurate routine descriptions of the theatre from someone who performed there during some of there title runs. There are no copies of this letter (that I am aware of at least), and it is the original document in question. Please feel free to print it, reprint it or submit it with my full approval, or if a copy, digital or the like, is needs to be sent for approval of its contents it would be my pleasure to assist in any way; giving credit to him of course for the writing, and if you’d like, myself, for its authenticy as his grandson. I changed no spelling or grammatical errors if any exist, it’s exactly as it was typed out. Regards

From: Bobby Jewett

Title: The Passing of the Rialto-Scenic Theatre

Body:

“Coming to Providence for the first time in a year and a half and walking through the Matthewson Street I stopped and gazed at the ‘Old Scenic’ gone, and what memories of twenty-five years ago have flown with its passing.

“So many in Providence will remember the ‘Homan Stock Co.’ that packed them in at that little theatre for two long years; of how they had to stand in line nights almost up to Westminster Street in order to get a ticket.”

“Where are all those members of that merry little musical stock company. How often people ask me on my visits home "What’s become of Jimmie Valentine-Betty Farrington-Nance Shannon-Lillian Leslie-Alice Bagley-Georgia Carrier-Martin Toohey-Eddie Healey-Eddie Dowling-Jack Kammerer-Edna Howland-Rae Pendleton-Ullie Akerstrom-T.F. Thomas-Valaska Conrad-Ruth King-Walter Morrison-George Harrington-Frances Lind and many others. Fred Homan, our manager, Russell Mack and Fred Lovett, his assistant managers, also Mike Monahan, stage manager and all round stage decorator.”

“I was playing in Columbus, Ohio after previously playing The Scenic in vaudeville, when I received a wire from Mr. Homan asking if I cared to join a Musical Stock he was forming. Personally I could not visualize a number of people on that stage at one time. Besides, there was no front curtain to hide the stage from the audience while it was being set; neither was there a center entrance or exit, only left and right. However, the offer sounded good for steady work in my home town, and after finishing in Toronto I came on. Most of the cast was local talent recruited from the Bijou and Nickel Theatres, then on Westminster Street, most of them illustrated song singers.”

“We rehearsed a week, helped very much by Eddie Dowling’s idea of this type of ‘Tab’ entertainment, as he had just finished at the Bijou Theatre in Fall River, Mass. with Hugh Herbert, whom you now see in pictures. I put on all the dances and assemble numbers each week, and it wasn’t a task getting novelty numbers in those days, such as German-Irish-Swedish-Cow-Boy-and wonderful March songs for finales. I would hate to think of attempting it now a days, with almost nothing buy syncopation, every song would conflict.”

“Some of you will remember we always opened our show with a fifteen minute sketch followed by single, trio, double and ensemble numbers, then all on for the finale.”

“Every one furnished their own wardrobe. My salary was $40.00 weekly and Eddie Dowling came next at 35.00. The old timers we had, I mean T.F. Thomas and Ullie Ackerstrom, were well supplied with sketches cut down from plays. No one in the company was over twenty-five years of age. Each week we had to obtain a permit from the City Hall so little Jimmy Valentine could work, as he was only nine years of age, and what a beautiful voice he had.” (Me: Note WOW)

“We opened in 1910, the month I can’t recall, our opening week was rather dubious- I really think only the management was pleased. I recall very distinctly, on the opening night of the second week, when the slide went on the screen ‘Homan’s Musical Stock Co.’ just before ther start of the show, the audience groaned. You see, they thought we had left on Saturday night as the regular vaudeville bill did.”

(cont….)

kenster
kenster on October 27, 2011 at 6:39 pm

…cont) [2]

“Things started shaping up, however, but we sadly needed a curtain. Eddie Dowling played inaa sketch entitled (sic) "The Spy; he died at the finish and they put out all the lights for him to get up and run off, but the audience yelled with laughter, they could see him. The management found out if would have to get a regular theatre license in order to hang a curtain, which meant $500.00 a year more. So on a trip to New York, Mr. Homan visited Hippodrome and saw that famous curtain come up through the floor. In less than a week we had a miniature Hippodrome Curtain, of green velvet, at the Scenic.”

“The little company started selling ‘standing room only’ after the third week, each member was starting to become a favorite. The money made from the owners, built the Merrimack Square Theatre in Lowell, Mass. the first year.”

“Mr. Homan married Nance Shannon, one of the prima donnas, that is, one week you were a prima donna and the next you had to do blackface.”

“We changed programs weekly, with new costumes, props and the good old Mike would cover the furniture in different material, and every Monday we were spick and span.”

“I recall quite a laugh I had over Mrs. Martin Toohey going to the Providence Opera House one night to see a big musical show. After the show she came to the Scenic and when she saw me she said, [‘Bob they had one number in the show that was step for step for the one you put on two weeks ago.’] You see, I had taken a weeks vacation and gone to New York for ‘new things’. I witnessed that same show Mrs. Toohey saw, they took quite a few encores on the song hit, and I must confess, I memorized the dance routine – result was, the Scenic had it first!”

“I could relate quite a few things that occured in the Stock Co., but all in all, we were hard workers. Had at least three songs each to learn each week, besides studing (sic) the sketches and rehearsed every day except Tuesday.”

“When news spread around that we were about to finish at the Scenic, Mr. Homan was swamped with offers for the Stock Company. We eventually went to Haverhill, Mass. and the owner of the theatre, we played in there was Lewis Mayer – now Metro-Golden-Mayer. We stayed sixteen weeks, and had a glorious time, as we were up in so many programs, we just had to put them in order. We afterward played ten weeks in Salem, New Bedford and many New England towns. In due time the original members began leaving and replaced by others, until the little Homan Stock Company that first saw the light of day at the old Scenic disbanded.”

“Mr. Homan became manger of a theatre in Pittsfield, Mass., where he died four years ago. Eddie Dowling, we all know, hit the top in the theatrical, and might I say, political profession. Our own Eddie Healey is right here with us, settling down in his home town after seeing his name in lights as a vaudeville headliner. Also in Rhode Island remains Martin Toohey, who did alright, after a short tour with Walter LaFoy as a partner. Martin is now Manager of the Le Roy Theatre in Pawtucket. Jack Kammerer you’ll find in a night club in Boston. Edna Howland is married and lives in Providence. Betty Farrington lives in Summerville, Mass. and was remembered in a will of a relative which made her quite well off. Nance Shannon lives in Longmeadow, Mass. in a cute little cottage with her daughter Mary Homan.”

(cont….)

kenster
kenster on October 27, 2011 at 6:51 pm

…cont) 3

“Little Allie Bagley died in Saranac Lake a couple of years ago. Rae Pendletown, my dancing partner, is quite the mother now, at Winsted, Conn. with a daughter 14 and son 18. Ruth King married George Harrington and they reside in Centerdale, R.I. Frances Lind had a jewerly business in Riverside, R.I. with her brother-in-law, and you perhaps read of the robbery there last February when the safes were blown open at A.J. Dennison & Co. Lillian Leslie married our piano player Henry Sullivan and lives in Providence. Harriett Moran now has her own beauty parlor in Lowell, Mass. Georgia Carrier is married to Bert Slater, well known in Providence. And also, little Jimmy Valentine is a grown man living in Woonsocket. Our own Mike Monahan is now back stage at the Majestic working for Ed Fay. T.F. Thomas and Walter Morrison have recently left this world.”

“So to you who loved to go to the Scenic, I trust this reminiscence will bring back pleasant memories of twenty-five years ago.”

Signed: Bobby Jewett

Note: Bottom is written in pencil: “Russell Blackson of Fred Mack of Prov. is now one of the head directors of the RKO Studios in Hollywood.”

END

I got goosebumps even typing this to you, to be invited into truly a world of lost history & where you given a small anecdote from the lives of some of the performers there at the Scenic during that particular stint and then having a vivid account of what happened to so many performers after the split and how their lives all took on separate avenues and the like, is well, truly astonishing and nostalgic.

Kind Regards,

ken

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on February 3, 2012 at 1:57 pm

An earlier comment mentioned William R. Walker & Sons as architects for the conversion of the church into the Scenic Theatre. The same firm designed an expansion and alterations for the theater in 1919, according to an item in one issue of The American Architect that year. The Google Books scan is missing the page with the issue date on it, but the page with the item is marked as Vol. CXV, No. 2250, which should have been published in February.

lobeidat
lobeidat on November 3, 2012 at 2:29 am

Hey Guys, anyone can help me? i am doing my graduation thesis in Interior Architecture Program (adaptive reuse) and I have chosen this building to do my intervention on it, so anyone can give me its architectural drawings I will appreciate that.

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