260 Thayer Street,
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The Avon Cinema has long been considered Rhode Island’s premiere art house. It opened in February of 1938 in a building that had seen a previous existence as the
short-lived Toy Theatre in 1915 and in the period of time around that year. The unsuccessful Toy Theatre soon closed and became a garage for over two decades until the facility was remodeled and opened as the Avon Cinema.
The policy of art and foreign films was put aside during the early 1940’s when the Avon Theatre became a second run neighborhood theatre with an emphasis on double bills of recent American releases. After World War II, the theatre became a full-fledged art house with the kind of programming that made it unique and with movies that generally were not shown anywhere else in the area. The mainstay was European films,
particularly those from France and Italy, with a very large number of British dramas and comedies as well. Some “special” American films were also premiered here, such as “Marty,” which had a long and successful run in 1955.
This first-run “class” policy continued through the 1960’s, with some occasional digressions. In the 1970’s the Avon became a repertory house and was known as the Avon Repertory Cinema. Double bills of popular foreign and American films of quality filled the screen, usually with bills changing three times a week. During that period most of the first run art-house films went to the Cinerama Theatre, located on Hope Street near Rochambeau Avenue. After the closing of the Cinerama Theatre in 1983 and the waning popularity of repertory programming, the Avon Cinema returned to its original policy, that of showing first run foreign and domestic films of distinction.
The Avon Cinema has survived as a single-screen cinema in the age of multiplexes because of its specialty programming that attracts a faithful audience, from the upscale East Side area and from the entire Providence area, and because of its advantageous location on teeming Thayer Street in the middle of Brown University. It has become a respected Providence and Rhode Island institution.
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