Modern Theatre

523-25 Washington Street,
Boston, MA 02111

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rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on May 26, 2013 at 11:59 am

In the Theatre Historical Society archive there is a MGM Theatre Report for the Modern Theatre, 523 Washington St., Boston. The Report says that the theater is in Fair condition, and has 361 seats on the main floor and 339 balcony seats, total: 700. There is an exterior photo taken April 1941. The Modern had a very unusual rectangular marquee with lighted panels for the attractions, rather than lines of letters.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on November 7, 2010 at 4:02 am

The BRA report, published in 2002, says that the Modern’s first live performance, by the musical group Sun Ra and his Arkestra and a light show called “Spacescapes”, occurred on December 19th, 1978.

It goes on to say:
[quote]The Modern Theatre continued to host less-traditional theater and musical acts, as
well as more mainstream fare, including The Helium Mime Show, GHOST (a
blend of mime, rock music, and slapstick comedy), and the plays “Survival” and
“American Buffalo”, the first dramatic play ever at the Modern. There were even
plans to host bands at the Modern Theatre in an effort to compete with more
established clubs such as the Paradise.

By 1980, the theater was still struggling, but there had been 200 performances by
visiting groups and plans were underway for the first full season by the Modern
Theatre itself. Just one year later, however, Archer decided to switch his non-
profit group to a for-profit organization in an effort to attract investors to the
project. He proposed to renovate the top floors of the building into commercial or
condominium space and to build a full-service bar above the main lobby. This
proposal failed and the building was sold in the early 1980s to the Levin Family
Trust, the [then-]current owner.[/quote]
A Boston Globe article published on November 11, 1981, said that “The last time the Modern was lighted was in May [1981] with a mime festival.”

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on November 7, 2010 at 3:45 am

I edited the description to more accurately describe the theatre’s last two years as a live stage, 1979-81. This Boston Redevelopment Authority report goes into more detail.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on November 3, 2010 at 5:54 pm

The new Modern Theatre now has a CinemaTreasures page of its own. Please use that page for any further discussion of the new theatre.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on November 3, 2010 at 2:19 pm

The new Modern Theatre now has its own website: The site contains photographs of both the old and new Modern Theatres.

The new Modern officially opens tomorrow. I have submitted it to CinemaTreasures as a separate page, and will link to it here once they put it up.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on October 29, 2010 at 5:13 am

The Modern and neighboring Paramount will be used as venues for First Night on New Year’s Eve, according to

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on October 24, 2010 at 11:15 am

Why do these photographers apologize for their work? His photos look great. The vertical sign is very nice, and wasn’t there when I went by not long ago. Notice how the arch is open. This is how it looked originally. But from the time I first knew this facade circa- late-1940s, the arch was all covered and plastered over.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on October 24, 2010 at 10:43 am

Some photos of the fully restored and unveiled façade here:

View link

Notably, the theatre has a brand-new (but old-fashioned looking) vertical sign.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on October 19, 2010 at 6:57 pm

The Suffolk press office e-mailed me back and confirmed that the open house is from noon to 6 pm on November 5. (Not much good for working people, unfortunately.)

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on October 19, 2010 at 3:23 pm

I found the Downtown Crossing newsletter here. I’m e-mailing them (and Suffolk) to ask about the discrepancy.

It also says that the Boston Preservation Alliance will hold its 2010 Preservation Achievement Awards this Thursday, October 21 at 5:30 pm at the “newly restored Modern Theatre”. One of the honorees will be the neighboring Paramount Center. The event is sold out.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on October 19, 2010 at 11:41 am

Their announcement was sent in their weekly news recap to their mailing list. I know someone who lives downtown and is on the Downtown Crossing Association e-mail list.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on October 19, 2010 at 11:04 am

Suffolk University’s press release is also here and says noon to 6 pm. Where can I find the Downtown Crossing Association announcement?

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on October 19, 2010 at 10:22 am

The Downtown Crossing Assoc. office sent out a release which says that the new Modern Th. Open House on Fri. Nov. 5 STARTS at 6PM, when it appears that it ends at 6PM !

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on October 18, 2010 at 3:32 pm

I found this press release from a Google Blog search, but don’t see anything like it on Suffolk’s own web site:

Modern Theatre to Open 11/5
…The University will welcome the general public to the new Modern Theatre during a Friday, Nov. 5, 2010 community open house, part of a two-day grand opening that begins with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 4, for invited guests. Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who has supported the University’s preservation efforts and whose vision for the revitalization of Boston’s Theater District has become a reality, will be the guest speaker….

The CBT architectural firm designed the new jewel-box theater and residence hall in harmony with the restored Modern Theatre facade, which was rebuilt in the exact spot where it previously stood.

The interior of the theater also draws on the original. Tony-award-winning theater scene painter and designer John Lee Beatty created a mural design for the stage house walls, inspired by colors and themes from the earlier theater.

Meanwhile, the first exhibit in the lobby gallery will feature artifacts from the original movie house, vintage photographs of the building, and images of the movie posters and Hollywood stars once featured there.

Modern performances will include a reading by F. Murray Abraham of The Last Will and the Actors' Shakespeare Project’s production of Antony and Cleopatra, featuring Paula Plum.

The theater will host a documentary film series with DocYard Productions, and its Conversations lineup includes comedian Lewis Black, Daily Beast political journalist Peter Beinart, author and columnist James Carroll, psychiatrist-author Robert Jay Lifton, and author Maxine Hong Kingston.

The grand opening celebration will be held from noon to 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 5 with a community open house featuring tours of the lobby gallery and theater, and original site specific entertainment as part of the tour.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on October 14, 2010 at 10:30 am

I posted a link to a November 4 event earlier in this thread:

View link

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on October 14, 2010 at 10:24 am

There is a brief item in the business news in today’s Boston Herald which says that Suffolk Univ. will open the new 185-seat Modern Theatre on Thurs Nov. 4th. No details about what will take place, or the time.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on October 8, 2010 at 11:01 am

“What’s in a Name?” Whether they call it the Newman Theater, the Salters Theatre, or the Modern Theatre, it doesn’t alter the fact that it’s a brand new building, and that the predecessor has been demolished !

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on October 7, 2010 at 6:13 pm

One difference between this situation and all of the others mentioned in that thread: the new theatre here will have the same name as the demolished one. In the other cases, the new theatres behind the old facades didn’t continue to have the names Harris, Selwyn, Henry Miller, etc.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on October 7, 2010 at 10:57 am

Sounds good to me. As I mentioned in my comment of October 4, the new Modern will show movies. So we’ll need to create a new page for it, with a link back to this one.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on October 7, 2010 at 10:37 am

Ron Newman- for a discussion of this issue, see the CT page for the Henry Miller’s Theatre in NY (2629), especially the posting made by “cwalczak” on Sept 15, 2010. When the new Modern opens, if it has any movie-showing capability, a new “page” can be created for it in CT. The new page can indicate that the new theater is on the site of the original, contains a few artifacts, and has the original reconstructed facade. It simply is not accurate or realistic to say that the new Modern is the same as the old one, which is gone.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on October 6, 2010 at 6:13 pm

I see Cinema Treasures has changed the status again to ‘Closed/Demolished’. When the new theatre opens, should we create a brand-new page (which won’t have any of this discussion on it), or just change the status here back to ‘Open’ ?

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on October 6, 2010 at 11:03 am

I recently heard an interesting story about the Mayflower Th. in the 1950s. Two burlesque/movie houses in Scollay Square, the Old Howard Theatre and the Casino Theatre, were under the same management. When the Old Howard was closed due to police action in Nov. 1953 (it remained closed until it was demolished in 1962), the owners looked into operating burlesque/2nd-run movies at the Mayflower. They either purchased or leased it. However, nothing came of this plan. Since it was small and had no real stage or backstage space, their plan would have been difficult to implement. And there would have been resistance to this plan by area businesses and the City.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on October 4, 2010 at 2:53 pm

According to , Suffolk’s programming of the Modern Theatre will include movies, as well as ‘conversations’ (lectures) and live performances. DocYard Productions will move their documentary series here from the Brattle Theatre, and Actors' Shakespeare Project will produce Antony and Cleopatra next spring.

The page also says that “selected interior elements are being restored and re-installed”, including a “decorative frieze that formerly covered an "acoustic hole built into the three-story wooden proscenium wall.”

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on September 26, 2010 at 4:19 pm

From :


Modern Theatre Encore: Breathing New Life into the Theater District, at the Adams Gallery through Feb. 6, 2011, celebrates the history of the Washington Street Theater District as well as the many tradespeople and artists who labored to restore the Modern Theatre.

Photographs by Renee DeKona document the painstaking process of refurbishing each stone from the facade of the historic movie house, reassembling it like a giant puzzle, and adapting historic interior designs for the new theater.

The Adams Gallery is free and open to the public from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. It is located in the first floor of David J. Sargent Hall, 120 Tremont St., Boston.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on September 25, 2010 at 12:02 pm

I visited the site of the demolished Modern today. The blue tarp which Ron Newman mentions above had been rolled up to 2nd floor level. The original facade has been re-erected- the only trace of the vanished Modern. The lobby of the new theater is much bigger and deeper than the tiny lobby of the original. I went down the alley to the left and found both doors open. The alley was full of construction stuff; there were open cans of paint right in front of the rear auditorium exit. I got a quick glimpse of what looked like curved, stepped rows, but with no seats installed. The new Modern is finished, except for lots of final detail work. It will apparently have about 180 seats. The original building had rows of windows along its south wall overlooking the alley. The new building also has rows of windows up there. The facade, now cleaned up and re-erected, looks great. They have even re-erected the top part of it, above the white marble section. But everything behind it is brand new.