66 Broad Street,
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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.
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