Majestic Theatre

201 Washington Street,
Providence, RI 02903

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The Emery Brothers were vaudevillians who wanted to build the greatest legitimate and vaudeville theatre that Providence had ever seen. They had already built the Emery Theatre (later called Carlton Theatre) on Mathewson Street in 1914. They commissioned the architectural firm of Walker and Son to design their new theatre, which bore the name “Emery’s Majestic” at the top of its magnificent white terra-cotta facade. It opened on April 9, 1917 with vaudeville acts and movies, and it could seat 3,000, more than the Imperial Theatre and Providence Opera House combined. The Strand Theatre, opened in 1915, was the Majestic’s only rival in size. The E. F. Albee Theatre would not open until the following year. Loew’s State Theatre, now known to us as Providence Performing Arts Center or PPAC, wouldn’t arrive for another decade.

The vaudeville acts were ultimately not successful enough to fill a theatre of this size and it switched to films-only programs within a short time but also presented a number of plays, especially when it was known as the Shubert Majestic Theatre. Over the years patrons were able to see stage productions like “Hello, Alexander” starring McIntyre and Heath, “Cinderella on Broadway,” “The Whirl of New York,” and Al Jolson in “Sinbad”. “Chu Chin Chow,” the largest musical production ever to play a
theatre in Providence, was at the Majestic Theatre, complete with elephants on the stage.

The Majestic Theatre continued on over the decades as one of Providence’s premiere first-run movie theatres, generally showing the best in Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox productions. When then manager Edward Fay offered the Vitaphone on Christmas Day in 1926, the Majestic Theatre was said to be the first theatre in the world to be wired for sound. Fay had paid Warner Brothers $25,000 for exclusive Providence rights to the sound system.

In 1953 the Majestic Theatre was the first in the area to show a CinemaScope picture when “The Robe” opened here. The theatre went into decline in the 1960’s as new suburban theatres with easier parking opened and as first-run movies would no longer be the exclusive domain of Providence’s still-existing movie palaces like the Strand, Albee, Loew’s State, and Majestic. By the early-1970’s the theatre was sold to the Trinity Repertory Company.

Trinity Repertory Company moved in 1973 to the former Majestic Theatre, naming it the Lederer Theater Center. Except for removal of the Majestic marquee, the exterior retains its stunning original elegance. But except for a part of the lobby area, the entire interior was gutted and restructured. The original stage with its great proscenium arch, and the auditorium’s palatial decorations, were all ruthlessly destroyed to create the more functional and flexible auditoriums that Trinity sought. The historic building now houses two performance spaces: the 500-plus seat Chace Theater and the 300-seat Dowling Theater, as well as offices, production shops, rehearsal halls, and conservatory studios.

Contributed by Gerald A. DeLuca, Charles D'atri

Recent comments (view all 51 comments)

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 15, 2010 at 12:54 pm

The gala premiere of the 1953 The Robe, as reported here in the November 14, 1953 issue of Boxoffice magazine, was complete with 70-piece La Salle Academy band entertaining the crowds trying to get into the theatre. As an eleven-year-old, I went with my parents shortly after the opening of this first movie in CinemaScope at the first RI theatre, the Majestic, to have that presentation capability. Read here:
View link

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on June 15, 2010 at 5:32 pm

What Great theatre Marquee and the two classic Horror films playing.Thanks for that picture.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on June 15, 2010 at 5:33 pm

1970 photo i wrote about above.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 16, 2010 at 6:20 am

Item about theatre organs in Boxoffice Magazine, December 22, 1956:

“The Sunday Journal devoted the entire front page of the amusement section to a feature story on the removal of the once-famous organs in the Strand, (Loew’s) State, and Majestic. Carrying a picture of Chester McLean, Strand house-manager, and pictures of the relics of the organs, the article stirred up many nostalgic memories for older moviegoers. A resident of nearby Hope Valley, Theo Smith, is buying up the instruments "to save them from the scrap pile.” He repairs the organs, donating them to churches. He is also assembling a complete unit for his home."

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 24, 2010 at 10:02 am

Item in Boxoffice magazine, October 25, 1952:

“The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima” packed them in at the Majestic. It was scheduled to move to the Carlton for an undetermined period."

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 15, 2011 at 4:45 am

In September 1926, this theatre was part of the eleven-theatre Celebrate Paramount Week.
Newspaper ad.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on February 27, 2011 at 2:54 am

Opening day ad for Emery’s Majestic Theatre, April 9, 1917:
NEWSPAPER AD

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on March 7, 2011 at 2:49 am

Opening day for Emery’s Majestic as a full-time motion picture venue, March 31, 1923.
NEWSPAPER AD

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 22, 2011 at 4:07 am

In the October 30, 1961 issue of Boxoffice Magazine, an ad was run showing how many mainstream theatres were showing Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, a subtitled Italian movie. This theatre was one of those in Rhode Island. LINK

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on December 26, 2011 at 4:28 am

In April 1920 the silent screen vamp Theda Bara (anagram for “Arab Death”) appeared in the live play The Blue Flame at the Majestic Theatre. NEWSPAPER AD

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