Colonial Theatre

106 Boylston Street,
Boston, MA 02116

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Colonial Theatre, Boston, MA

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Boston’s beloved Colonial Theatre was built inside a new office building on the site of the old Boston Public Library. The sumptuously decorated house quickly eclipsed the nearby Tremont Theatre (later the Astor Cinema) as the Klaw and Erlanger syndicate’s Boston flagship. It is a richly rococo Victorian-era playhouse, home to both touring shows and pre-Bway tryouts. The opening production was the stage spectacular “Ben Hur”.

The advent of full-length feature “photo plays” after 1910 created “road-show” movie presentations in legit houses. A number of these movies played at the Tremont Theatre and in February 1913, “The Miracle” in “Lyricscope” opened at the Colonial Theatre. Sound films came to the theater in October 1927 with the local premier of “Don Juan” using the Vitaphone process. The feature was accompanied by a number short subjects which were also designed to show off Vitaphone sound. When the engagement ended, these films went into other Boston houses at regular prices.

The Shuberts controlled the theatre from the 1930 to the mid-1950’s. At that time, it boasted a square cinema-style marquee which used white letters on a black background. Around 1956 it was thought that the house would be sold to a movie exhibitor, but that did not happen. Emerson College, which also owns the Cutler Majestic Theatre around the corner, owns the Colonial Theatre and leases it to the organization that operates the Wang Center. In 2014, the Colonial Theatre is operated by Citi Performing Arts Center. In January 2017 it was taken over by the London(UK) based Ambassador Theatre Group and will reopened in January 2018.

Contributed by Ron Salters

Recent comments (view all 63 comments)

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on November 14, 2015 at 6:57 pm

Today’s Quincy Patriot Ledger has a lengthy opinion piece by JoAnn Fitzpatrick which discusses the current plight of the Colonial and of the Boston University Theatre. She says that there was push-back by faculty, students and others against Emerson College’s plan for the Colonial and that there is a protest petition circulating which has garnered many hundreds of names including show composer Stephen Sondheim and the Rodgers & Hammerstein organization. She reports that the college trustees have now appointed a committee to study the situation. What’s to study? – the plan is a dumb idea.

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on November 27, 2015 at 8:06 pm

1966 photo added courtesy of the Dirty Old Boston Facebook page.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on February 20, 2016 at 6:38 pm

Just a short walk down Boylston St. to the west of the Colonial Theatre is a long-closed small concert hall called Steinert Hall. It was in use from the 1890s to about 1942 when it was closed by the owner, the M. Steinert piano company. Seats removed, it is intact and even the lights still work. But it’s 2 floors underground at its front end. I think it has issues with regard to the number of emergency exits. The old building was recently sold to one of M. Steinert’s customers who is a developer. He plans to rehab and update the building, with the piano company remaining as a tenant. And if he can get approval from a public safety point of view, he plans to restore and reopen Steinert Hall. (This auditorium would have made a great art-house cinema, with a name like Underground Cinema or The Lower Depths Cinema.)

Rtprovencher
Rtprovencher on March 4, 2016 at 7:42 pm

Great news! In today’s (03/04/16) Boston Globe (p. B1) there is a feature story, entitled: “Emerson sees new life for Colonial Theatre”. Emerson College has decided to keep the Colonial intact as a performance space. It has also pledged to update the building’s support systems, such as: air conditioning. So, the Colonial’s future seems secure. I believe that all of the community pressure brought to bear (both internally and externally) made the difference to Emerson’s administration. One educator referred to, “…our collective responsibility as stewards of theatrical history.” It is unfortunate that more people do not share that view.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on January 9, 2017 at 1:09 am

The Colonial Theatre will reopen in January 2018 under the management of London’s Ambassador Theatre Group, according to a Boston Globe article.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on January 12, 2017 at 2:15 pm

Channel 7 Boston local TV news had a short item which stated that prior to opening in January 2018, various refurbishment and updates would take place in the Colonial.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on January 12, 2017 at 2:42 pm

I hope that will include somehow adding more legroom to the balcony seats. I’m 5'4" and I don’t comfortably fit into them.

JAlex
JAlex on January 12, 2017 at 4:17 pm

Astonishing that not a single photo of the interior appears on the photo page.

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on January 12, 2017 at 4:22 pm

There are 5 interior pics from 2000, in a March 17, 2007 comment if you scroll back. Most other links going back are dead.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 19, 2017 at 2:11 am

Here’s a handy link to the comment DavidZornig refers to.

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