Harvard Square Theatre

10 Church Street,
Cambridge, MA 02138

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AMC Loews Harvard Square Theatre, Cambridge, MA.

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The University Theatre opened in November 1926 with 1,915 seats and a huge 40 foot screen. The lobby faced Mass Avenue, looking straight into the heart of Harvard Square. The balcony had box seats and a loge section with wicker rocking chairs and velvet cushions. The asbestos fire curtain had a scene of George Washington crossing the Delaware.

Decorated in a very reserved Italian Renaissance manner, with many murals, and two great organ grilles bordering the proscenium, this theater was built as the University Theatre, before changing its name in the 1960’s.

It became well known as an art house, hosting many special screenings and double features. Alfred Hitchcock screened “Torn Curtain” here, and directors like Sidney Lumet and Woody Allen have also used the theater. Concerts began in the 1960’s, with such notables as David Bowie, Iggy Pop, The Clash, and Bob Dylan.

The first US live performance of the ‘Rocky Horror Show’ also took place here, while the cult film itself found a home at the theater in 1984, after it’s old home, the venerable Exeter St. Theatre, closed. It still plays every Saturday night, with live accompaniment.

In 1981, the balcony was partitioned into two smaller screens. Additionally, the lobby was turned into retail space, moving the entrance around the corner to Church Street.

In 1987, two more screens were added one on top of each other on the former stage. Most of the decor is still in place, though hidden behind new construction and dropped ceilings. A mural for the awareness of Breast Cancer was painted on the side of the building recently, with space for the mural donated by Loews, who owns the building.

The Harvard Square Theatre was closed on July 8, 2012.

Contributed by Andy Blesser

Recent comments (view all 101 comments)

orsonwellescinema
orsonwellescinema on July 8, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Hey all;

A bunch of us film critics, cinephiles and whatnot will be gathering at the Border Cafe (near the Harvard Sq theater, on the corner to its right) tonight (Sunday, July 8th) at 8pm .. for a beer and to share some memories of this old place on it’s last day of operation. Feel free to join us!

Steve

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on July 24, 2012 at 5:44 am

Boston.com yesterday reported that AMC has sold the Harvard Square Theatre for $6.5 million to Cambridge-based Carpenter & Company, who own the Charles Hotel several blocks away.

“Richard Friedman, the president and chief operating officer of Carpenter & Company, said the company bought the building last week and he expects a plan will be place for the future of the property within two months.” He said that re-using the building as a theater is one of many options that will be considered.

PopcornNRoses
PopcornNRoses on January 17, 2013 at 9:13 am

Anyone hear anything about the latest plans for the location yet? Been keeping an eye out but haven’t seen anything yet…

PopcornNRoses
PopcornNRoses on March 29, 2013 at 9:54 am

Stopped by the location on Wednesday night. You can still see inside through the front door and they haven’t done anything with it as yet. I wish Alamo would seize the opportunity and grab this location to come to metro Boston…::sigh::

rivest266
rivest266 on May 11, 2013 at 1:47 pm

This reopened as Harvard Square on December 27th, 1961.

rivest266
rivest266 on May 11, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Also the 1927 ad has been uploaded in the photo section.

mrchangeover
mrchangeover on September 29, 2014 at 5:10 pm

A night-time photo of the University Theatre (Harvard Square Theatre) from the early 1940’s was included in Episode 7 (A Strong and Active Faith) of Ken Burns' outstanding documentary “The Roosevelts”, shown last week on PBS. The marquee advertised “All That Money can Buy” (1941) and “The Clipper”. The photo can be seen briefly at the 22.55 mark of Episode 7. The narrator mentioned that one of FDR’s former Personal Secretaries went to a movie in Somerville, Massachusetts in July 1944 and saw a newsreel showing FDR after he was nominated to run again for re-election as president.She remarked on how ill he looked. Thanks to Dr David Guss at Tufts for confirming where the theatre was located.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on September 29, 2014 at 7:36 pm

What theatre in Somerville did she attend?

DICK3570
DICK3570 on October 1, 2014 at 4:50 am

A correction on how the Theatre was split up. The balcony was divided down the middle. The main auditorium was never touched other than the balcony being sealed off. Theatres #4 and #5 were put in the backstage area on top of one another at right angles in back of the main screen. They built a long walkway down the right hand side of the building. They may have added on to the backstage area to give the theatres a better width. If you still look at the backstage area on Church St. the added on area has a slightly different color brick.

Even with the changes, this was still a first class place to go to.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 1, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Here is the article about the recently-opened University Theatre that appeared in the November 20, 1926, issue of Motion Picture News:

“Harvard Welcomes the New University Theatre

“Advance of Pictures Overcomes Opposition and a Playhouse Opens on Harvard Square

“WITH the opening of the University Theatre in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass., this week, Harvard University, oldest university in America, for the first time in its 290 years, has a theatre within its shadows. For years attempts have been made to secure permission to erect a theatre in Harvard Square, but opposition from business men and university faculty inevitably defeated the plans.

“Realizing the wonderful advance made in motion pictures and the importance of the position occupied by motion picture theatres, the conservatism which has kept theatres away from Harvard University has given way to a remarkable welcome to the new University Theatre and to its owners, Charles E. Hatfield, treasurer of Middlesex County and president of the University Theatre Co.; Lindsey Hooper, Boston financier, and Stanley Sumner, managing director of the new playhouse through whose efforts the company was organized and the theatre erected. Mr. Sumner’s success as owner of the Community Theatre in Newton, Mass., and other playhouses places him among the leading active theatre owners in New England.

“One of the features of the new University Theatre will be the showing of Harvard football game films the evening of the same day of the game. This has been made possible through arrangements made with the Pathe News.

“Co-operates With University

“The University Theatre aims to co-operate with Harvard officials, with the Harvard Dramatic organizations and other Harvard clubs, giving a type of entertainment which will appeal to Harvard students as well as to the public and providing a means in Cambridge, for the first time, for Harvard students to present dramatics. From its location the theatre Mill draw its audiences not only from Cambridge and Harvard University, but from a dozen towns bordering Harvard Square, which have direct traffic communication to this important transfer center.

“Although the theatre is now open, some of the finishing touches remain to be completed. At the invitation opening of the theatre many officials, Harvard faculty members, and those prominent in the film business were present. The opening was scheduled for eight o'clock. Not until three o'clock was work started removing the stagings inside the theatre; not until six o'clock were the first tests made with the projection equipment. The seating of the theatre was being completed as the first of the audience arrived. Yet so smoothly was the program carried out that the audience, had it not been otherwise informed, would have thought the entire program had been rehearsed until finished. The curtain, reproducing the famous painting of Washington taking command of the Continental Army on Cambridge Common, has not been completed and will be shown later. It is 33 feet long and 17 feet 4 inches high.

“Beauty of Design and Decoration

“The theatre is of the Italian Renaissance period of architecture, inspiration for it coming from the Davangatti Palace in Florence, Italy. Walls of the lobby are of imported traverline and even the ticket booth is suggestive of the windows of some dark-eyed senorita of old. The decorative scheme is a rather free adaptation of blending of the modern with the Italian and Pompeian. Carpetings were specially designed to give harmonious setting to the furnishings.

“In the seating, an advance has been made towards comfort of patrons. The seats, specially designed, are slightly higher than the customary seat and with a little more backward tilt, and heavily upholstered, adding materially to the comfort of the patron, whether short or tall.

“The house seats 1,915. It has a single balcony of cantilever type. The ladies' room is finished in Georgian style, giving a restful effect. Lighting fixtures throughout the house are a combination of wrought iron and brass and there is an emergency current supply from batteries, should the commercial circuit be closed for any purpose for a short time.

“Special attention has been given the projection room, which is patterned after that of the Metropolitan Theatre, Boston, except that it is located above the rear of the balcony.

“The policy calls for complete changes of program Sundays and Wednesdays, with Pathe News, comedy and two feature pictures, one stage presentation, and an orchestra and organ. Performances will be continuous, with three complete performances daily. Seats are reserved only for the evening performance.”

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