Old South Theatre

299 Washington Street,
Boston, MA 02108

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Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on September 3, 2018 at 3:54 am

In the immediate post-WWII decade the Old South programmed a good number of foreign films, including the Boston premiere of “Open City.” Many films of a musical character seem to have been a specialty, both current ones and revivals. In the photos section I have posted numerous ads from the Boston Globe of those years to illustrate this.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on June 26, 2015 at 12:28 pm

I suspect that since the second Old South Theatre was a newsreel theater with news, short subjects, ‘toons, etc. that it had a frequent turnover of audiences, and thus probably used tokens/ turnstiles. I remember the exterior of it circa-1949/50, but I foolishly never went into it, otherwise I would know what that token was for!

RickB on June 26, 2015 at 6:38 am

The other picture in the photo section shows the flip side, which reads “GOOD FOR ONE ADMISSION.” So it’s a token—maybe a freebie, maybe something you had to drop into a turnstile for entrance.

thestarofmyworld on June 26, 2015 at 6:10 am

I know my message is coming some years after the last posted, but is that a garment button in the photo?

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on April 17, 2011 at 1:18 pm

We talked about the Hub Theatre a couple years ago on the Wang Theatre’s page. It was located on Washington Street at Dover Street just north of the Grand Opera House in the South End.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on April 17, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Where was the Hub Theatre? (The State Theatre had this name for a while, but not in 1912-14.)

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on April 17, 2011 at 12:27 pm

He began performing, as a comedy juggler, “The World’s Worst Juggler”, at Amateur Nights when he was in his late-teens. This was in 1912-1914. He played the Superb/Plaza in Roxbury, the Roxbury Theatre, the National, the Scenic Temple in East Boston and the one in the South End; The Dreamland/Cobb; the Dreamland in Beverly, the Princess in Wakefield; Hamilton Hall and Winthrop Hall in Dorchester, Imperial in South Boston; Dream theaters in Winthrop and in Revere; the Star/Rialto in Scollay Sq.; the Hub Theatre. Very late in 1914/early 1915 he played the St. James/Uptown, and the Loew’s Orpheum by which time he was an established performer. I should point out that when he played the Old South, it was the first Old South, not the second one.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on April 16, 2011 at 1:18 pm

What other Boston theatres does he say he performed at?

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on April 16, 2011 at 1:11 pm

In his autobiography, the comedian Fred Allen states that he played in vaudeville at the Old South Theatre for a full week in May, 1914. He was struggling to establish himself as a Vaude performer, and he says that getting booked into the Old South was key to getting better bookings later. I never realized that the Old South offered anything but movies. But the early chapters of his book mention his stage engagements at other Boston-area theaters which I always thought were film houses only.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on February 11, 2011 at 12:39 pm

In a 1918 street directory, the first Old South Theatre is listed at 329 Washington St. The first number to the south of School Street on that side of Washington Street (west side) is 289.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on June 28, 2008 at 12:16 pm

The first Old South Theatre had an ad in the Boston Globe during Christmas week of 1921. It was headed “Gordon’s Old South” and it was presenting William Fox’s film “Over the Hill” in its second week at popular prices. Admission from 10AM to Noon was 25 cents; from Noon to 5PM was 40 cents; and from 5PM to closing was 40 cents, with a few seats at 50 cents. The theater was part of Nathan Gordon’s theater circuit.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on June 8, 2007 at 12:39 pm

In the postcard, the theatre appears to be directly across Washington St. from the Old South Meeting House (still standing). I have never seen an exterior view of the first Old South Theatre before.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 8, 2007 at 11:00 am

The first Old South Theatre appears on this postcard which was mailed in 1914.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on March 1, 2007 at 10:25 am

On my copy of the 1941 MGM Report for the Old South Theatre, the late theatre historian Don King wrote “ (I) went here once— weird layout.” I don’t know what he meant by that; I should have asked him to explain, but didn’t.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on January 28, 2006 at 10:22 am

299 is only 2 storefronts away from 295, so it’s possible that the entrance was changed. Or maybe whoever made up the 1949 list copied the address incorrectly. How I wish I had paid more attention to this cinema when I saw it, even if I didn’t actually go into it. The Borders Books building was originally the main office of the Boston Five bank, as mentioned above. The preceeding building on that site was also a Boston Five office and I went into it a few times. It had no park in front of it and its facade was right on the edge of the sidewalk on Washington St. There was a long corridor inside which led to the building adjacent on School Street which was the main office of the Boston Five before the new (Borders) building opened. If I had ever remembered or realized that the older building had contained the Old South Theatre I would have been more observant while inside it.Anyway, the Old South was gone after 1950-51 or so.

dickdziadzio on January 5, 2006 at 11:33 am

I was the one that did the initial listing of this Theatre about
two years ago. I found another list of Mass. Theatres I got from a
THS member( Posssibly Barry Goodgin) dated 1949.
It has the OLD SOUTH at 295 Washington.
Is it possible that the same auditorium remained but they kept
changing the entrance location to accomodate the retail stores
directly on the street?

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on January 5, 2006 at 10:09 am

I have a list of Boston theatres as of 1921 which I copied out of a directory at the library when I was in highschool. It lists the Old South Theatre at 329 Washington St. This would have been the first Old South Th. Assuming the street numbers never changed, that would put it just one storefront to the south of the MacDonald’s mentioned above.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on January 1, 2006 at 9:08 am

Yes, I believe that the Province House was where the Jeweler’s Bldg is today. Don King’s book states that the original Old South Theatre was demolished in 1922 and that original plans were to construct a “Province Theatre” in the new building on the site. When I saw the Old South Theatre circa 1949-50 (I never went into it), I did not know that there had been an earlier theatre with that name nearby.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on December 8, 2005 at 5:29 pm

Next to the entrance to McDonald’s restaurant, at 327 Washington Street, is a plaque commemorating the Province House that formerly stood on the site. The McDonald’s is a storefront in a large building devoted to the jewelry industry; I assume the first Old South theatre was torn down to make way for this building.

This page mentions several Negro minstrel companies who performed at the Province House during the 1850s and 60s, when it was also called Ordway Hall.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on December 8, 2005 at 11:23 am

I once saw an old photo which purportedly showed the rear or side wall of the first Old South Th, within the Province House. However, the photo was of nothing more than a plain old brick wall. As a kid, I recall seeing newspaper ads for the 2nd Old South Th. and also passing it once. It was on the west side of Washington St., and I think it was just to the north of School Street. That would put it beyond the Old Corner Book Store building. The location of Borders Books was originally occupied by an older building which came right down to the intersection of School and Washington streets, that is, there was no little park there, as there is today. It is possible that the Old South was in this building – I’m just not certain. The MGM Theatre Photograph and Report form for the Old South has a photo taken May 1941. There are 5 rows on the marquee and all of them are occupied by newsreel events. It must have been a job for someone to constantly change these topics. The Report shows that MGM product was used by the theatre, that it was a Newsreel theatre, opened about 1940, in Good condition, with 500 seats on one floor. In the photo, there are large commercial-type windows on the second floor above the shops adjacent to the theatre entrance.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on August 9, 2005 at 9:50 am

Rossellini’s Open City played here in 1946. I came across this review in the Harvard Crimson from May 7, 1946.

A search of Old South in the online Crimson archives showed these films as having been programmed in these years: 1947 – Alexander Nevsky, Carmen, Children of Paradise; 1948 – Dreams that Money Can Buy; 1949 – Grand Illusion & The Baker’s Wife, The Private Lives of Henry VIII, Top Hat. Some of these were revivals.

David Wodeyla
David Wodeyla on July 28, 2005 at 6:46 pm

Does anyone know who owned the Old South of 1940-1950?

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on June 10, 2005 at 3:27 am

According to Donald C. King’s new book The Theatres of Boston: A Stage and Screen History, two different and unrelated theatres with this name have existed on approximately the same site.

The first Old South Theatre was built around 1908 “within the historic heavy brick walls of the eighteenth-century Province House”, on Washington Street opposite Milk Street. The Province House had contained several earlier theatres between 1852 and 1870 (Ordway Hall, Opera House, Lyceum) but had also repeatedly suffered fires, the latest completely gutting it in 1907.

The first Old South was built as a motion-picture house, then remodeled by Nathan Gordon in 1920 as a “first-run showcase”. It was demolished in May 1922. A new Province Theatre was supposed to replace it, but was never built.

The second Old South opened as the “Old South Newsreel Theatre” in September 1940, as part of a new office building. By 1945, it was one of several theatres “operating as first-run outlets for lesser quality films” from United Artists, Columbia, and foreign studios. It was converted to stores in 1950.

I’m pretty sure this building no longer stands and was replaced by the modern Boston Five (now Borders Books) building. So the status should be “Closed/Demolished”.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on January 20, 2005 at 9:27 am

No theatre has ever been at this location since the Boston Five building was built, so the status should surely be “Closed/Demolished”. Another question is whether this theatre every showed movies, or was it only a live theatre?

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on January 20, 2005 at 7:53 am

The current building which is now the Borders store, and used to be the Boston Five, was built in 1973.

What is the latest year of city directory that lists a theatre here?