1007 S. Water Street,
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The Orpheum Theatre was part of a Beaux-Arts style building that was constructed by a French-Canadian Benevolent Organization known as Le Club des Francs-Tireurs (The French Sharpshooters Club).
The group hired fame New Bedford architect Louis Destremps to design this imposing building, which not only housed the beautiful Vaudeville and movie theatre, but also contained a grand ballroom, a prone-position shooting range, various offices and meeting spaces, a gymnasium and retail space on the lower level.
Construction began in 1910 and was finished in 1912. The Orpheum Theatre opened to large crowds on April 14, 1912. While the residents of New Bedford were lining up to see the evenings' opening act of the Five Musical Durands, the RMS Titanic was steaming toward her tragic end.
Throughout the decades, the theatre entertained the populace with Vaudeville, Films, newsreels and serials. The French Sharpshooters trained recruits in marksmanship for WWII in their rifle range. The grand ballroom held socials, dances, drill exhibitions, parties and wedding receptions.
The theatre originally had 1,500 seats, verified by the very first newspaper advertisements for the Orpheum Theatre. Over the years the original seats had been removed and had been replaced by more modern seats, which were then sold off, and the original seats were re-installed. Not all the seating was replaced and the seating capacity is now for around 1,200. The theatre space has a lower level, as well as a balcony and upper and lower box seats flanking the proscenium arch.
The Orpheum Theatre was closed in 1958-59. It opened sparodically after that for special events, but was eventually sold off by the French Sharpshoots Club and was later used as a warehouse by a tobacco and candy company. The building has been neglected and began to deteriorate due to lack of upkeep. The backside of the building now houses an ethnic supermarket, but the remainder of the public spaces continue to crumble.
O.R.P.H. Inc, or Orpheum Rising Project Helpers is a non-profit organization that is focused on securing and rehabilitating the Orpheum Theatre and French Sharpshooters Hall to its original grandeur, our effort is to make it a community theatre and multi-cultural center for the residents of New Bedford. Much work and funding will be needed to accomplish this.
You can learn more about the building and what it means to the citizens of New Bedford by visiting the website below.
There you will find a documentary that explains the history of both The French Sharpshoots Organization, as well as the magnificent Orpheum Theatre.
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