569 1/2 Westminster Street,
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Charles Allen announced construction of this theatre in 1900 with the plan to name it Allen’s Grand Opera House, but he ran out of money and sold the unfinished theatre to James A. Foster. The theatre was a well-designed place, one of the best ever built in the city of Providence. It opened in 1902 as the Imperial Theatre. It was located across the street from the still new Cathedral of Saint’s Peter and Paul, across Cathedral Square at the intersection (then) of Westminster Street and Weybosset Street. It began as a first-class dramatic venue with none other than the Four Cohans appearing opening night. George M. Cohan was from the city of Providence.
With a transitional interior style resembling both a 19th Century opera house and an early-20th Century theatre, it was the only house of its kind built in Providence. It was a three-decker, with an orchestra, balcony, and gallery. The theatre was less impressive from the outside, with its jungle of fire escapes over the Cathedral Square facade.
But the theatre seemed to have a jinx and after its initial promise and creeped into a slow descent. Its location just beyond the perimeter of downtown may have affected its image and potential as well. In succeeding decades the theatre moved into vaudeville and burlesque and then films and underwent many name changes later that included Shubert Theatre, Mayflower Theatre, Colonial Theatre, and ultimately Capitol Theatre or E.M. Loew’s Capitol Theatre. It met pretty much the same fate as did both the Keith’s/Victory/Empire Theatre and the Westminster/Empire/Bijou Theatre a few blocks away, becoming a skid-row theatre, the quintessential “scratch-house” featuring frequent changes of double bills of third-run and old movies at rock-bottom admission prices. It was a delight for chronic film addicts but also a magnet for derelicts escaping the outside world for a place to sleep. Not much was done in the way of upkeep.
The Capitol Theatre was located about half a block up Westminster Street from the Modern/Westminster Playhouse near Empire Street. It was demolished in 1965 to make way for a parking lot in the Weybosset Hill renewal project that eliminated segments of Westminster Street and Weybosset Street and created a plaza in front of the Cathedral and a complex of buildings adjacent to and near it.
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