Fays Theatre

60 Union Street at Fountain Street,
Providence, RI 02903

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Fays Theatre, Providence, RI -- 1937

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Fays Theatre was a very popular vaudeville house with screen attractions for the decades between the two World Wars, and up to the very early-1950’s, when it was closed and razed. It was formerly known as the Union Theatre.

Contributed by Gerald A. DeLuca

Recent comments (view all 37 comments)

gina22
gina22 on August 3, 2008 at 8:24 am

My Grandfather was a bandleader at Fays in the 30s and 40s I belive. I remember answering the phone when Buddy Page would call when I was about 5. My Grampa played the piano almost till the day he died in 1985. My Dad William Chiaverini Jr still talks about all the acts he saw as a child. I would have liked to have been there to see it, it seems like such an innocent time!

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 18, 2009 at 9:24 pm

From The Providence Journal, June 20, 1999. Article on Fays by Jim Seavor:

“VAUDEVILLE STAYED ALIVE, if not exactly well, in Providence because of one man, Edward M. Fay.

“Fay took over, and gave his name to a theater at 60 Union St. in 1916. For a dime, you got six acts of vaudeville, a movie, comedy short and a newsreel. Over the years, the theater played host to the biggest names. That dime admission didn’t even go up when Sarah Bernhardt, considered to be one of the greatest actresses of all time, played a one-night stand.

“In 1925, Gertrude Ederle, who had swum the English Channel, appeared at Fay’s in what was billed as "The Most Expensive Vaudeville Act Ever Played in Providence.” Fay had shelled out $6,000. Her stay got off to a shaky start when it took firemen longer than expected to fill Ederle’s 4,000-gallon tank and she had to stand in front of the curtain and talk for a half hour.

“There were rough times over the years, and Fay’s would occasionally close for a while or revert to an all film policy. But Fay perservered. In 1934, you got a first-run movie and five acts of vaudeville. Vaudeville was still there in the early 1940s, although the movie was always an oldie, and not always a goodie.

“The final curtain came down in December of 1950, when Fay’s closed "temporarily.” The reasons given for the closing were the traditional slow business while people prepared for the holidays – and television. Fay had even installed a big-screen TV and shown pro football on Saturdays to fight the electronic intruder.

“The "temporary” closing became permanent the following year when what was then the Sheraton-Biltmore sought to lease the site, raze the building and turn the space into a parking lot.

“It did – the Washington Street Garage”

moshasuk
moshasuk on December 10, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Rhode Island author H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) won a $25 prize from Fay’s Theater in January 1917 for his review of “Image-Maker of Thebes.” He was a patron of downtown Providence theaters from his adolescence onward. Brown University Prof. Robert Kenny recalled that Lovecraft worked as a ticket-seller at a downtown Providence theater in the late 1920s (when he was living at 10 Barnes St. on the East Side) in order to make ends meet. I wonder if anyone has any idea which theater Lovecraft worked at? The RIHS Fay Theater collection has personnel records for the Capitol Theater (owned by Edward M. Fay) from 1929-30 and I wonder if Lovecraft might have worked there.

Brad Smith
Brad Smith on February 13, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Click here for a photograph of Fays Theatre taken c. 1937.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 11, 2010 at 1:58 pm

From Boxoffice Magazine, December 2, 1950:
“Fay’s Theatre recently inaugurated a new policy of presenting vaudeville and motion pictures twice a week. In the past Fay’s has run the same bill for a full week. The new setup calls for a completely new show every Sunday and thursday.”

[Note: the following year, 1951, Fays would close for good and subsequently be demolished.]

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 21, 2010 at 7:49 pm

GENE AUTRY
Item in Boxoffice magazine, November 22, 1941:
“Gene Autry was guest of Edward M. Fay at a luncheon at the Shriners Club. Later he dropped in at Fay’s to say hello to manager Sam Kaufman, publicist Jack Carroll and others of the theatre’s staff.”

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 12, 2011 at 1:18 pm

In an unusual bit of programming in February 1921, Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid was booked simultaneously in five downtown Providence theatres: the Strand, the Emery, the Modern, Fays, and the Rialto. Occasionally some highly anticipated movies might play in two downtown theatres, but never five! It seems to have run only one week, in an era when that was pretty much the norm, with films running a single week downtown, then moving to second run theatres and outlying houses. Each of these theatres accompanied this feature with short subjects or live Vaudeville acts.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 25, 2011 at 11:51 am

The Union Theatre first opened on Saturday, March 9, 1912 with a program of vaudeville and motion pictures. This newspaper ad from the Evening Tribune the following day detailed that first week’s program.
NEWSPAPER AD
Four years later the theatre would be renamed Fays Theatre and pretty much continue a policy of vaudeville and movies until it closed in 1951 and was razed.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 25, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Showman Edward M. Fay leased the Union Theatre in 1916 and in November of that year it was being readied to be reopened under his name as Fay’s or Fays Theatre (apostrophe usually omitted in his publicity.) A piece in the Evening Tribune on November 12, 1916 read:

“Edward M. Fay, the popular manager of Fay’s Band and Orchestra, and prominently identified with the popular Hunt’s Mills amusement resort, has embarked on a new enterprise that promises to surpass his former achievements, both in uniqueness and popularity.
"Associated with a newly formed company, Mr. Fay has leased the Union Theatre on Union Street, near Washington.
"A visit to that house at present will disclose a large and busy corps of artisans redecorating both the interior and the outside of the building. New draperies and carpets and an attractive stage setting are being prepared. Unique uniforms are being made for the ushers and attandants.
"When the house is ready for its formal opening next week, it will be known as Fay’s Theatre – the home of Fay’s Feature Films. Only the very best films possible to obtain will be presented on the program, and a large concert orchestra will play descriptive music in conjunction with the entertainment. The services of several well-known operatic singers have been secured to fill engagements during the coming season.
"The house in its spick and span cleanliness, and its attractive decorations is sure to become one of the most popular photoplay theatres in the city.”

In a newspaper ad, Mr. Fay explained his plans:
MESSAGE FROM MR. FAY

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 25, 2011 at 1:48 pm

The 1912 Union Theatre was revamped in late 1916 and re-opened on November 18 by Edward M. Fay under the name of Fay’s or Fays Theatre.
Ad for November 19, 1916, a day after the opening: CLICK
Ad for November 26, 1916, a week after opening: CLICK
Ad for April 28, 1917, with the addition of vaudeville: CLICK

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