Fays Theatre

60 Union Street at Fountain Street,
Providence, RI 02903

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Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on May 25, 2015 at 8:35 am

1941 PHOTO OF FAYS THEATRE IN MGM REPORT Thanks to Theatre Historical Society of America.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on May 1, 2015 at 12:13 pm

The Theatre Historical Society archive has the MGM Theatre Report for Fay’s Theatre. There is an exterior photo dated April 1941. The address is 60 Union, and the theater is in Fair condition. It was over 15 years old, and was not showing MGM films. It had 1,938 seats. The 1940 population of Providence was 253,500. Card # 544.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 25, 2011 at 5:48 am

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

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 25, 2011 at 4:38 am

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 3:51 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 12, 2011 at 5:18 am

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 June 21, 2010 at 11:49 am

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 June 11, 2010 at 5:58 am

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.]

Brad Smith
Brad Smith on February 13, 2010 at 2:14 pm

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

moshasuk
moshasuk on December 10, 2009 at 1:21 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.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 18, 2009 at 1:24 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”

gina22
gina22 on August 3, 2008 at 12:24 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 September 14, 2007 at 7:45 am

In his book Downcity: Downtown Providence in the 1950s, Carmen Maiocco wrote of Eddie Fay and Fays Theatre:

“Just around the corner from the Biltmore Hotel was Fay’s [Fays] Theater. The owner of the popular movie house was Edward M. "Eddie” Fay. For the first 50 years of the tewntieth century, the name Eddie Fay was synonymous with music and theater in Providence. Fay was often referred to as the Dean of Rhode Island Showmen. Born in 1875, he got his start as a child prodigy playing the violin. By age 15, he was performing solos with the Providence Symphony Orchestra. By age 25, Fay was the most sought after band and orchestra conductor anywhere in the region. Around the turn of the century Fay and his brothers, James and Bernard, built their first dance pavilion at Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet. People lined up to get in. In 1914, Fay constructed an even more popular dance hall, Hunts Mills, in East Providence. Hunts Mills eventually burned down, but before it did, it became one of the hottest spots in the area. The way customers paid for their fun at Hunts Mills is kind of interesting. Fay would strike up the orchestra. The dance floor would fill with people. After a minute or so the music would stop. Six collectors would move among the dancers gathering a nickel from each couple. When everyone had paid, the head collector would blow a whistle and the music and dancing would start again.

“All during this period, Eddie Fay was known as ‘The Dance King.’ Sometime after 1910, Fay began branching out into vaudeville and silent movie theaters. In 1916, Fay bought the former Union Theater and renamed it after himself. He used the Fays as the center of his ever-expanding theatrical empire and kept his office on Union Street for almost 40 years. In the mid-1920s, Fay took over five theaters in downtown Providence in a million dollar deal with the A.C. Emery entertainment chain. Included in the deal was the stately Majestic Theater on Washington Street, which today hosts the nationally renowned Trinity Repertory Company. Eddie Fay’s holdings extended far beyond the confines of Providence. He owned theaters in New York and Philadelphia and was part of a chain that controlled houses all over the eastern United States. Many of the brightest stars to shine in Providence were brought here by impresario Fay: Gentleman Jim Corbett, Harry Houdini, Sarah Bernhardt, Ed Wynn, Jack Dempsey, Ethel Barrymore, Tallulah Bankhead. One tale tells how in 1925 Fay lured English Channel swimmer Gertrude Ederle to come to Providence. Fay paid Gertrude $6,000 to swim around in circles in a water tank he built especially for the occasion. The show sold out. Fay introduced the first talking picture equipment into Providence, at the Majestic Theater. People who remember Fay report he was a friendly, generous man, who always made time for causes, whether it was selling war bonds during World War II, or raising money for the Jimmy Fund. The photographs that survive of Fay, however, show him as a rather dour looking gentleman, with a shock of white hair, wearing pince-nez glasses, holding a cigar. The Fays Theater was knocked down in 1951, putting out of work a number of individuals, including lon-term projectionist Phil Sugarman. The building was replaced by -what else? – a parking lot. After. the Fays was closed, Eddie M. moved his office up to the Majestic Theater. The final curtain came down on Eddie Fay in 1964, when he left the stage for good at age 88.”

134turner
134turner on September 11, 2007 at 6:13 pm

My grandmother took me “up city” to Fays in 1948-49 to see one of her two favorite movies— Tarzan and/or Roy Rogers. I remember there was an animal act, seals maybe, onstage after the movie. My one brush with the end of vaudeville.

ChetDowling
ChetDowling on June 22, 2007 at 8:33 pm

Another fond memory regarding Fays Theatre in Providence. The long-time 7 piece Orchestra Leader was Buddy Page. When the theatre closed in 1951 Buddy Page went on to New York City and worked with Ted Mack, auditioning talent for “Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour” on NBC Television.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on April 17, 2007 at 10:51 am

On February 2, 1919 Fays Theatre hosted the great Russian pianist in a recital. Prices ranged from $1.00 to a top of $2.00.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 30, 2006 at 12:49 am

The 1949 Film Daily Yearbook lists the seating capacity as 1,704.

Marialivia
Marialivia on October 6, 2005 at 6:36 am

Yes, now I recall our previous discussion. The second Empire existed for a time simultaneously with The Bijou. This would have been in the mid- to late 40s when I walked that way to my piano lessons. Yes, I remember exactly where Grant’s was located!

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on October 6, 2005 at 6:31 am

Marialivia, that Empire was the first Empire, the one that was demolished in 1915 to extend Empire Street, not the Empire that was formerly Keith’s and Victory and was demolished to build Grant’s Department Store, or the Empire that started out as the Westminster and became the Empire, then Bijou, then Empire again and was known as “The Sink.” So three Providence theatres were named “Empire.” One of them had that name in two different periods of its history.

Marialivia
Marialivia on October 6, 2005 at 5:57 am

Wow, I never knew this and never could imagine that the Divine Sarah would appear at Fays, and especially the Empire!!

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on October 5, 2005 at 10:48 am

Sarah Bernhardt farewell performances

On Monday, March 5, 1917 the legendary French actress gave final Providence stage performances here at Fays. The matinee plays were Camille and Madame X. That evening she performed in Cleopatra and Champs d'Honneur.

The Providence Journal reported the following day: “With flowers flinging over the footlights and the audience cheering wildly, Sarah Bernhardt said farewell to this city last night in the uniform of a French soldier. With the colors of France in her hand, she stood in the center of the stage in Fay’s Theatre and bowed and smiled and smiled and bowed as one who is weary after a long day’s work, but whose spirit is still fresh, whose eye still brightens at the mention of adventure or of mischief just around the corner.”

Mme. Bernhardt had appeared earlier on several occasions in the city including at the Empire. She also performed at the Odeon in Arctic.

PatBlack1
PatBlack1 on September 19, 2005 at 6:12 pm

Fays had many stars appear on it’s stage over the years. Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Rin tin tin, Jerry Colona, the Bowery Boys AKA the Dead End Kids, and even Frank Sinatra and the list goes on and on. There were movies but always with a “live show” in between. Fays also had a “Kiddie Review” where youngsters appeared and did acts. I fondly remember singing there as a child and meeting many famous people. Some things should live on forever but that is not the way of the world. I have always regreted that my kids and grandkids could not enjoy that kind of live entertainment. We still have actors, singers, poets and musicians in the family but there is no proving ground like the stage of Fays Theatre was to me. Bitter sweet thoughts. Thanks for the memories.
Pat Conway Blackman

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on September 11, 2005 at 12:50 am

On September 21, 1938, the flood waters produced by the hurricane caused damage at the orchestra level of the theatre. Much of downtown Providence was flooded and similar damage occurred at other area theatres. Over the following month 900 new cushioned chairs were installed to replace the damaged ones. New drapes, footlights, backstage wiring, a public-address system, sound horns behind the movie scteen were also put in. The theatre re-opened on October 21, exactly one month later.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 23, 2005 at 7:53 am

The Union Theatre was built in 1911 by Charles Allen, who had had some success in recent years with the Scenic Temple on Mathewson Street. He would later be responsible for the great building fiasco of the Hippodrome, which was never fully completed but which opened anyway in 1915 and closed for good a year later. In his volume Temples of Illusion Roger Brett gives a short history of the Union Theatre, later know as Fays. (never with an apostrophe, by the way.) Here it in, in synthesis:

“It was nothing unusual either in looks or size and the original 2159 seats were crowded. The stucco exterior and plaster interior walls were equally plain. Green was apparently one of Allen’s favorite colors and the Union’s curtain and grand drape were of this hue. Ed Fay must have had similar tastes because green remained the predominant color of the theater’s decor throughout his ownership too.

“From the very first day, the Union played six acts of vaudeville, four or five short movies, and illustrated songs. The shows were as unspectacular as the house itself, but with a low overhead, they made money. (…)

“Ed Fay, through his Arcadia Amusement Company, bought…Allen’s Union Theater. By then it was no longer playing vaudeville.

“Fay continued the movie policy, originally renaming the theatre Fays Photoplays, and it opened with this euphonious appellation on November 17, 1916. Ed soon changed to a more down-to-earth sounding Fays Theater, but didn’t book the vaudeville he later became famous for until the season of 1917-18….

“Fays always looked a little too much like a side street vaudeville house, which, of course, it was…

“Fays continued with plain old-fashioned vaudeville: jugglers, singers, acrobatic dancers, and comedians, year after year, but beginning in 1931, bookings were eliminated in the summer months.

“In April, 1947, Fay, in an interview published by the Providence Journal said, regarding television: ‘I don’t think it will compete with the movies or with radio in the home. Commercially, I can’t see it at all. It’s all right for a championship prize fight or a football game, but that’s about all. I can’t see it.’

“Badly mauled at the boxoffice by a medium [television] relying heavily on vaudeville acts, Fays Theatre was the first to give up the ghost. Fays, the last old-style vaudeville house in the nation, went dark in the spring of 1951 and was demolished that summer.”

Two photos of Fays:
OUTSIDE
INSIDE

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 18, 2005 at 6:17 am

From “The Board of Trade Journal” of April, 1915:
“Too many theatres? Nothing of the sort! The Emery is turning away people at every performance. The "Hip,” with its very large auditorium, is packed to the doors. The Bijou and Nickel can’t accomodate those seeking to see “the movies,” neither can the Gaiety, the Scenic, the Union or the Casino. Out in OLneyville Spitz & Nathanson’s new theatre has all it can attend to."