Leroy Theater

66 Broad Street,
Pawtucket, RI 02860

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Leroy Theatre, Pawtucket, RI in 1929

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Pawtucket’s “Million Dollar Theater” opened May 1, 1923 to a packed house, with numerous celebrities in attendence. Designed by local architect John F. O'Malley, the theater featured a mirrored lobby, an electric chandelier with 4,700 bulbs, and the largest Wurlitzer organ in New England. The theater was named for owner Charles T. Payne’s son, Leroy, who perished in the first World War.

With the exception of its soaring terra cotta spire, the Leroy featured almost no exterior ornamentation. Originally, only the narrow entrance and ticket booth were exposed to the street. In 1966, the adjacent Payne Building was demolished as part of the Goff Avenue widening project, leaving the theater’s bare side wall and the external truss supporting the balcony exposed.

After 55 continuous years as a movie and concert showplace, the Leroy was forced to close in 1978 due to fire code violations. Following several fizzled restoration attempts in the early 1980s and a demolition company citing the project as “too difficult”, the Blackstone Valley Ballet took over the theater in 1984. This was short-lived, and in 1985, the building was purchased by Albert J. “Albo” Vitali and played host to boxing, wrestling, and rock concerts. Vitali spent nearly a half million dollars renovating the theater, and it was declared fully restored on December 18, 1986, with Gregg Allman and Dickie Betts of the Allman Brothers the featured act.

A 1987 power failure caused by Twisted Sister’s amplifying equipment was reported in a trade magazine, and the Leroy could no longer draw big-name rock acts. Even the restoration didn’t last; by 1988, Vitali was petitioning the City of Pawtucket for money to fix up the theater. Aid did not come, and following a September 28, 1990 benefit concert by Britt Small and Festival, sponsored by the Rhode Island Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club to bring the “Moving Wall” to Rhode Island, the theater unceremoniously closed for good.

The theater sat dormant until 1996, when the entire block was acquired by a Boston developer for the construction of a Walgreen’s drugstore. The City’s push for economic development was greater than community efforts to save the theater; demolition began September 9, 1997 and took six months to complete. Salvage rights to the building were sold to New England Architectural Center, and most of the interior ornamentation presently resides in their Warwick, RI warehouse. Seats were donated to the Shea High School auditorium and to the Sandra Feinstein Gamm Theater in downtown Pawtucket.

The Leroy was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Contributed by Michael Pompili

Recent comments (view all 29 comments)

Marialivia
Marialivia on August 7, 2005 at 7:21 pm

Yes, I remember this event. So very sad that Pawtucket has changed so drastically. The way of life is positively diametric to the way we lived back then. Actually, right about this time on a Sunday afternoon, I’d be returning home from the movies, possibly the Leroy!

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on August 27, 2005 at 11:35 pm

I was told by someone who worked here occasionally as a projectionist that the projection booth was actually a room that jutted out from the rear of the building as though it were an attachment. I thought this might be a way of “containing” any fire that might have started with highly flammable nitrate film, because the booth was apart from the rest of the theatre. The Capitol Theatre in Worcester (later called the Paris) was like this. In fact a photo I took of the protruding booth at the Capitol can be seen on that page in a posting of mine.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 30, 2006 at 9:12 am

The 1949 Film Daily Yearbook gives the seating capacity as 2,445.

mp775
mp775 on January 8, 2009 at 5:49 pm

There is a 1947 aerial photo of downtown Pawtucket that includes the Leroy on the wall inside the Pawtucket Public Library.

rkq
rkq on October 4, 2009 at 8:53 pm

Yes thats true, about the booth. I trained there but never worked there. It was winter. You walked up thru the back of the balcony out a door back up a few stairs(outside fire escape)not for one afraid of heights and into the booth.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 25, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Item in Boxoffice magazine, May 5, 1962:
“Rhode Islanders of Italian descent were particularly interested in recent programs at the Johnston Theatre, Thornton, where "The Ten Commandments” was presented with all-Italian dialog, and at the Leroy in Pawtucket, where “Buongiorno Primo Amore” and “Guai ai Vinti” were shown for a single night.

TLSLOEWS
TLSLOEWS on June 29, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Nice vintage photos

RIROCKS
RIROCKS on January 17, 2013 at 5:36 am

Hi, Great stories on the Leroy in Pawtucket. I was a stagehand at the theater from 1977 & 78. I created a website called RI Rocks regarding the venues and music scene that happened there.

I was hoping someone would have a current picture from the outside of the Leroy before it got torn down. The one I have on the website was before my time. Any pictures would be appreciated
Thank you

Paul
www.rirocks.net

Matinee77idol
Matinee77idol on August 31, 2013 at 2:24 am

Loved the Leroy. Saw my first movie there in 1940 with Humphrey Bogart. Always enjoyed looking at the small movie posters on the outside of the theater going up the block. Frank McIlmail, Rochester, MN

TivFan
TivFan on January 20, 2014 at 5:51 am

The Leroy can be seen in the 1995 film “American Buffalo”. The theater is closed and there is a FOR SALE sign on the marquee. The theater front can be seen numerous times at: 9:45/15:32/39:43/40:31. It was issued in 2001 on MGM video/dvd.

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