Empire Theatre

17 Water Street,
Block Island, RI 02807

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Empire Theatre, Block Island, RI

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This old wood-frame theatre is one of the oldest existing theatres in Rhode Island and exudes a certain kind of summer-camp charm. It operates summers as Block Island’s only movie theatre at this time.

Contributed by Gerald A. DeLuca

Recent comments (view all 21 comments)

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on November 24, 2007 at 12:08 pm

Scott, what a fascinating recollection! I knew who King Odell was. We both had experience teaching Italian, he at Moses Brown, I at La Salle. And when I ran the Italian Film Society of RI at the Cable Car Cinema in Providence, I believe he occasionally patronized our programs.
Here is a photo of the Empire’s antique ticket booth which I took in 2005.

SEHarker
SEHarker on November 24, 2007 at 2:29 pm

Gerald,

First, I want to “Thank you” for your compliment. Second, I was stunned by our connection with King O’Dell (I was one of the worse Spanish students he ever had the misfortune to teach at Moses Brown). A word to the wise, tho, I would not want King to know we were referring to him in the past-tense, as he continues to thrive, in retirement, as MB’s Historian (and, as to not detract from the purpose of these “Comments” we should take that discussion off-line).

As for my recollections of the Empire Theater, I can honestly say those three summers (’64 to ’66) were among the most enjoyable of my life, and that the Sixties under King’s ownership, may well have been the first real “hey-day” for the theater (in the hope, under its current ownership, it will experience a second). Your picture of the Ticket Booth, clearly “spiffed up” since I last saw it, brought back sharp memories of King standing inside with his black rimmed glasses and a cigar. All he lacked was a green eye shade. King, to those who know him well, aside from being a consummate linguist, and track coach is (or was at that time), a dyed in the wool “Capitalist”.

As such, I suspect profit was paramount in the operation of his BI enterprises, including the Theater, and while he insured it did not crumble further, I have often felt more could have been done to protect that investment. I also suspect, in addition to management indifference, the quality of films I saw being produced beginning in the late 60’s may have contributed to, not just the Empire’s decline, but to that of many single screens around the country.

If I may, back to your pictures for a moment. One picture of yours which I find fascinating is the Post Card shot taken of the Empire back in what may have been the late Twenties or early Thirties with the Stature to “Temperance” in the foreground. The fascinating aspect is that you really can’t tell when it was taken. But, the front façade would not indicate the building was being used as a “Theater” at the time. If you can share any additional comments on same I’d love to know more about it.

At the moment I am writing a (relatively) short “Comment” on the Reading (, MA) Theater. I learned my Projectionist skills there just prior to going down to BI in ‘64, and it represents the quintessential example of the demise of a 1940’s small town theater in the 60’s. Look for it in a few days.

fpokeeffe
fpokeeffe on November 29, 2008 at 9:01 pm

Does anyone know who King O'Dell bought the Empire from? I grew up with paintings from Block Island that my Dad said he got when visiting his Uncle Larry who ran a movie theater there. He would have been in his seventies when Gerald was working there.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on November 30, 2008 at 4:12 am

“He would have been in his seventies when Gerald was working there.”

If you are referring to me, I never said I worked there. That 1970 image was scanned from a book. I am simply interested in the topic of old R.I. theatres and have posted my own photos of the Empire as well as historic ones I’ve found, many of them on vintage postcards.

fpokeeffe
fpokeeffe on November 30, 2008 at 6:57 am

Sorry for my confusion. Thanks for the great old photos though. I am particularly interested in this one, due to my Great Uncle and the idea of a theater as a centerpiece of someplace isolated like an island would be off season.
Thanks,

SEHarker
SEHarker on November 30, 2008 at 7:10 pm

Gerald & “fpokeeffe”:

I got a “Notification” of your query this AM and contacted King “Doc” Odell for a comment. King is currently living a very active retirement, and out of respect for his privacy (which I promised to protect) I am giving you his written response sans any electronic identification:

“I did know Gerry DeLuca from the Italian teaching days, and I did at times see movies at the Cable Car Cinema when he showed some Italian movie that struck my fancy.

I bought the Empire from Margie and Larry O'Keefe at a date too vague to recall. I have kept all the little programs of all the movies I did show at the Empire.

I sold it to Bob Huggins who made some improvements. He got caught up in the Credit Union fiasco in Rhode Island and had to sell it to the present owner who has made many changes (food, bar, etc.). I have never met him. His name is Gary Pollard and he comes from New York. From what I gather, he has a full-fledged apartment on the upper floor. He is frequently in the BI Times, fighting the zoning and Historial Boards over what he wants to do. He has made a considerable financial commitment to the building.

He keeps it open far longer than I did for a season. I had to get back to school (Moses Brown School, Providence, RI (SEH)).

DeLuca has always been a theatre buff, and is quite a pleasant guy."

Hope this helps.

Rgds,

SEHarker (MBS, ‘64)

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 17, 2011 at 3:40 am

This theatre was part of the September 1923 6th Paramount Week. In this advertisement from the (Providence) Evening Tribune, September 1, 1923, we see a fascinating list of Rhode Island area theatres, many long-gone and long-forgoten, or even unheard of, as well as what they were showing during that week. CLICK HERE and move image to see all theatres.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 20, 2011 at 11:06 am

In September 1922 this theatre was part of Rhode Island’s Paramount Week. Click to see the ad in Providence News, September 1, 1922, which contains a list of all participating theatres as well as the films shown that week.

PART ONE OF AD
PART TWO OF AD

bicyclereporter
bicyclereporter on July 5, 2011 at 2:47 pm

I will be in Block Island next Wed on a bike vacation. I plan to stop by at both places and take pictures and perhaps take in a movie.

CSWalczak
CSWalczak on July 29, 2012 at 7:44 pm

This theater, like so many others, is threatened by the the impending move by the studios to only supply theaters with digital prints of films: View article

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