Oriental Theatre

636 Washington Street,
Canton, MA 02021

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Oriental Theatre

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The Oriental Theatre is located in Canton, a suburb to the southwest of Boston. Originally opened as the Orpheum Theatre, it later became the Strand Theatre. It was taken over by a local showman in the late-1970’s and converted into a veritable “movie palace museum” – a must-see stop at that time for cinema/theatre fans. It has now been converted into retail use.

Contributed by Ron Salters

Recent comments (view all 8 comments)

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on May 1, 2007 at 8:10 am

Located at 636 Washington Street, Canton where today a wedding video/photography business operates from. Could it be from the old theatre building or was that demolished and replaced?

The Strand Theatre is listed with a seating capacity of 572 in 1941 and 500 seats in 1950.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on May 1, 2007 at 3:31 pm

There is a MGM Theatre Photograph and Report form for the Strand Theatre in Canton with an exterior photo dated March 1941. The theatre entrance was the second bay from the right end of a one-story brick business block. The theatre had a fancy boxy marquee with “Strand” in big neon-outline letters on the front and lots of other neon zigs and zags. Attraction was Fredric March in “Victory”. Beyond the building to the right were some trees and an Esso gas station. The Report states that the Strand has been a MGM customer for 5 years; that it was built about 1915, was in Fair condition and had 500 seats. Nearest competition was the State Theatre in Stoughton. The 1940 population of Canton was 6,300. The Strand was taken over around 1978 by exhibitor/showman Fred McLennan, who is also a cinema/theatre/nostalgia historian. He installed an organ, and decorated the house with artifacts and equipment from the Oriental in Mattapan and other theatres. The seating was reduced and the theatre was renamed the “Oriental”. It was a popular single-screen theatre for a number of years and was an attraction for visiting enthusiasts (like those who frequent the Cinema Treasures website!) I understand that there is a set of 12 photos made around 1980 of this theatre in the collection of the Philadelphia Athenaeum. Some time after closure, the theatre was gutted out and turned into commercial space.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on November 9, 2010 at 7:59 pm

The 1927 Film Daily Yearbook lists one movie theater for Canton MA: the Orpheum with 600 seats, open 6 days/week. Is it this theater?

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 8, 2011 at 10:18 am

The March 2, 1918, issue of The American Contractor published a notice saying that work had started on a one-storey theater that was being built on Washington Street in Canton. The project had been designed by local architect S. L. Milton. The owner’s name was not mentioned.

As the MGM report Ron Salters cited says that the Strand was built “about 1915,” it seems possible that it was this project. Canton had fewer than 6,000 people in 1920, so could conceivably have supported two theaters, but being a commuter suburb of Boston there would have been fairly easy access to that city’s many theaters, which makes it more likely that it would have had only one of its own.

charliepeepers on August 27, 2012 at 11:13 pm

I worked for Fred at the Oriental in Canton in the early 80’s….Lots of fun

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on February 18, 2014 at 7:14 pm

The Canton Citizen newspaper of Feb 18,2014 has an article in its “True Tales” series called “The Last Picture Show” by George T. Comeau. It’s about the Oriental Theatre. He says that it opened in 1918 as the Orpheum Theatre/ 600 seats; name later changed to Strand. It was closed and in unkempt condition when it was taken over by Fred McLennan. He says that the organ which Fred McL. installed was originally in the Community Theatre in Dedham. It had been sold to a church in Saulnierville, Nova Scotia from whence it was purchased and shipped back to the States.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on February 18, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Thanks for the update, Ron. As this theater opened in 1918, then it must have been the project designed by S. L. Milton that was recorded in the American Contractor item I cited in my previous comment.

I’ve found only one earlier reference to architect Milton, from 1914, but there are several references to a contractor named S. L. Milton from the early 1920s. Maybe he found there was more money in contracting. But then the clean lines of this little building are quite modern for 1918. Maybe he was just too far ahead of his time as an architect.

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