Boston Theatre

539 Washington Street,
Boston, MA

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Boston Theatre, Boston in 1916

Viewing: Photo | Street View

One of the largest theaters in America when it opened in 1854, the old Boston Theatre served as a “sister” to the Academy of Music in New York and the Academy of Music in Philadelphia (still open today). For awhile in the 1860s, its name was changed to the Academy of Music.

It presented opera, operetta, ballet, concerts and drama on its large stage. Its ornate auditorium boasted three balconies and spacious foyer areas. In the second half of the 19th Century, it was Boston’s largest and most prestigous theatre. During the 1908-09 season it was taken over by the Keith interests which operated two theatres, the Bijou and Keith’s, just to the south of the Boston Theatre.

They continued to run it as a legit house until about 1914 when, with the advent of full-length feature movies, they converted it into a “road-show” film house. Then it became a “vaude-filmer”, presenting continuous performances of movies and vaudeville. It closed with a gala farewell performance on October 4, 1925.

The Boston Theatre, along with an old fire station adjacent to its north wall, were demolished in the spring of 1926 to make way for the Keith Memorial Theatre (now the Opera House) on the same site.

Contributed by Ron Salters

Recent comments (view all 15 comments)

AlLarkin
AlLarkin on May 16, 2006 at 6:46 pm

Didn’t the Keith-Albee Boston, RKO, eventually become the Cinerama Theater?

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on October 27, 2006 at 3:25 pm

There is some info about the Boston Theatre on pages 185-6 of the book “National Trust Guide to Great Opera Houses of America” by Karyl Lynn Zietz (1996, John Wiley & Sons). The author points out that the B.F. Keith organization paid $1M for the theatre in April 1909. She contends that when it closed there was no gala farewell performance. The Boston Herald of October 4, 1925 carried an item that the theatre would close that night. After the usual Sunday evening movie (title not given) ended at 1045PM, the curtain was lowered with no further fanfare.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on November 25, 2006 at 4:38 pm

The Boston Theatre is listed in the 1897-98 edition of Julius Cahn’s Official Theatrical Guide. The seating capacity is given as 3,172. Admission prices range from 25 cents to $1.50. Eugene Tompkins was the manager. The proscenium opening was 50 feet wide x 40 feet high, and the stage was 90 feet deep. The orchestra had 14 members.

DeborahY
DeborahY on July 4, 2007 at 7:28 pm

I have a program from the Boston Theatre from 1894. Can anyone tell me where I can get it appraised?

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on July 4, 2007 at 8:48 pm

Can you scan it in and post it somewhere, then link to it here?

DeborahY
DeborahY on July 4, 2007 at 9:58 pm

I’ll try tomorrow. Thanks.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on June 15, 2008 at 6:48 pm

During Christmas week of 1921, the movie “The Iron Trail” plus News, plus Vaudeville acts on stage, was playing at the Boston Theatre.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on February 11, 2011 at 6:49 pm

In a 1918 Boston street directory, the Boston Theatre is listed at 539 Washington St. Out back, there is a Boston Fire Dept building listed at 20 Mason St. This housed Engine 26, plus the Fire Chief’s office. This fire station was adjacent to the Boston Theatre’s stage, just to the north. In the 19th Century, one of the fun things that the firemen and the stagehands did was to run horse-drawn fire engines from the firehouse through the scene loading door and onto the Boston’s big stage. Ed Albee purchased this fire station and demolished it along with the Boston Theatre, to make a larger footprint for the RKO Keith Memorial/ Opera House.

EdwardFindlay
EdwardFindlay on March 29, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Old sign visible just months before closure of the theatre and adjacent firehouse: View link

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