Astor Theatre

176 Tremont Street,
Boston, MA 02108

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RogerA
RogerA on October 24, 2018 at 2:51 pm

Good list. There was a lot of mag back in the day.

MSC77
MSC77 on October 24, 2018 at 10:31 am

The Astor’s 70mm and roadshow engagements are noted in this new article on Boston’s large format and roadshow history.

RogerA
RogerA on June 24, 2018 at 5:45 pm

The mag pickup heads at the Astor were worn down to where they were flush with the plastic 35 and 70 on both machines. The only mag heads in good condition were the ones made special for House of Wax. The four track 35mm heads were worn worse than the 70 heads no high frequency. The original mag heads from the Saxon and the Gary were worn down to nothing too.

The Astor was the only theater where the 70mm picture was wider and taller than the Scope picture. The liked to book 70mm pics there but it was obvious they ran a lot of 35mm mag films too.

RogerA
RogerA on June 24, 2018 at 1:49 pm

Go back and check the records like I did and see what you can find but they ran a lot of 70mm in those ten years. Spartacus, Ryan’s Daughter, The Ten Commandments (re-release),2001 House of Wax 70mm 3D I’m not sure what CinemaScope movies they ran but it was common practice for A class theaters to get a print with mag sound. There was a mag only print of The Exorcist that played at the 57. The Gary ran a lot of mag it might have all been mag or 70mm. I know for a fact there were mag prints of Mary Poppins. It didn’t have to be roadshow to have mag prints. Mag was really popular in that era especially in the cities.

MSC77
MSC77 on June 24, 2018 at 10:55 am

RogerA: It seems highly unlikely the Astor (or any venue) would’ve booked only prints with a magnetic soundtrack for an entire decade (save for the one example you cited). Even the Gary, which played more roadshows than the Astor, didn’t play mag exclusively. I think the closest example of a decade’s worth of mag-only titles would’ve been the Boston Cinerama.

Redwards1
Redwards1 on June 22, 2018 at 4:00 pm

Boston theatre histories credit the Tremont/Astor as the first building in Boston actually designed from its outset for stage performances. Seems incredible all the interior changes to it were never documented as it transitioned to film presentation. At least we still have the Colonial and the Majestic as living history. Thanks to all who shared memories of the Astor.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on June 22, 2018 at 10:37 am

Yes,the Astor was very old (1889). I admired it on the outside, on Avery Street and the wide alley which ran along its east side. As a kid, I had an interest in old theatres and rail stations. I thought the Astor was really interesting, until I bought a ticket and went inside. What a disappointment ! (I was about 15 at the time). There was a fire (not major) inside about 1915, and one or more small fires in the outer lobby circa 1980. During demolition you could see traces high up on the auditorium walls of some fancy gilt decoration.

RogerA
RogerA on June 21, 2018 at 1:45 pm

1950 that was a long long time ago. Pictures would be nice. The Point I was making is the Todd-AO conversion was a major install. Did you see some of the roadshows like Spartacus. Dr. Strangelove 2001 when it was released to general release. Ryans Daughter ran there and about 20 feet of the end credits was sitting in the parts cabinet until the theater closed.

The theater was old very old. The electric and steam for heat came directly from Edison there were no meters just a flat fee. There were electric meters in the basement but they were for DC and no longer in use. The theater itself was a fire hazard. There were sprinklers and a fire call box in the theater that was wired directly into the fire department. It was an automatic four alarm fire if there was a fire. There was a lot of old dry wood. The side walls were brick while the the rest was wood. There had been several fires in the theater before the fires that destroyed it.

I wasnt there in 1950’s but I spent enough time there in the 70’s.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on June 21, 2018 at 10:35 am

The stage floor, proscenium arch and side boxes were removed years prior to 1959. Possibly as early as the late-1930s, or in 1947. I first went to the Astor in the early-1950s. It was what was known as a “draped house” – the entire front half of the auditorium was covered in long, dark drapes. The screen was on the rear stage wall, and where the stage and orchestra pit had been, there were rows of seats.

RogerA
RogerA on June 20, 2018 at 4:09 pm

When it was the Tremont it was one of the first theaters to get electricity. When they started running movies they were one of the first theaters to have motors on the projectors. As the Astor CinemaScope was replaced by Todd-AO in 1959. The company supervised the install the auditorium was widened by removing the queens boxes stage and proscenium. A new projection booth was built in the balcony. The projection lenses were custom made by American Optical. There is a picture posted of David K holding an American Optical projection lens. They opened after the 1959 remodel with Porgy and Bess in Todd-AO.

Instead of doing an extensive remodel Ben Sack just put the screen on the stage and Todd-AO projectors in the booth. The two other Todd-AO theaters in 1959 were the Saxon and the Gary. Condemned as stage theaters Ben Sack picked them up cheap and installed Todd-AO in both. The Astor had incredible picture and sound and Ben Sack hated the fact. They were also very good at booking some big pictures. The Astor was a roadshow house. Up until 1970 when they were shut out of the market Sack started block booking every movie that came out. In the ten years from 1960 to 1970 they ran just one film with optical sound and that was Dr. Strangelove and it was shown 1:66 not 1:85. With a movable masking top and sides any aspect ratio within reason was possible. The 70mm picture and sound was incredible 13.6 carbon arcs Todd-AO projectors with American Optical lenses those Altec speakers and tube sound system sounded sweet.

dickneeds111
dickneeds111 on June 18, 2018 at 2:23 pm

To ASOK 10: I loved the Astor’s huge screen and 70mm projection. Here is an answer to you Raintree County being in 65mm. It was shot on 65mm and printed on 70mm stock for projection. From what I understand it was never released on 70mm at the beginning because not enough cities had enough 70mm theatres available at the time. Look this up on Wikipedia. It was originally supposed to be a 70mm roadshow but ended up as a 35mm roadshow on original release. From what I read is that Louisville, Ky played the only 70mm print available.

DICK3570
DICK3570 on February 9, 2017 at 6:42 am

About 6 months before the Astor was torn down,the auditorium was left abandoned with all the doors pushed out. Crawling over the debris I could still see the wall to wall screen which was heavily torn up but still in place. I had forgotten how big that screen was. If I remember from the early sixties they had a bright red curtain with a slight curve. I remember seeing “EL CID” on 70mm roadshow with perfect projection.

Redwards1
Redwards1 on May 10, 2016 at 8:40 pm

Donald C. King book has the familiar exterior photo of the Astor when it was the Tremont, but no interior illustration or photo. Apparently there is no visual record of the theatre’s major interior alterations. Soon there will be no one living who can describe them. This theatre was a key player in Boston’s stage and screen history from its construction in 1889 onward.

mstrsims2
mstrsims2 on May 3, 2016 at 3:54 pm

The Theaters of Boston: A Stage and Screen History by Donald C. King I believe there are pictures of the interior of the Astor/Tremont Theater. I will double check my copy.

RogerA
RogerA on November 20, 2015 at 6:02 pm

The Astor auditorium was very plain and drab. When they did the Todd-AO install they ripped out all the boxes the stage and put in a screen that was wall to wall.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on July 4, 2015 at 10:56 am

Rewards1 – I have never seen any photos of the Astor interior as far as I can recall. I did see a nice pen and ink black and white drawing that was made when the theater was fairly new. The artist was on stage at the stage-left side and was looking out at the left side of the auditorium. He drew the tiers of boxes and the left side of the two balconies. The theater was very ornate and was something like the Colonial Theatre on Boylston Street, if you have ever been inside it. The proscenium arch was removed either in the 1937 renovations or in the 1947 work. When it reopened in 1947 it was what they called a “draped house”. There were huge long dark drapes from the ceiling down to within a foot of the floor, starting on each side of the screen and going round to the edge of the balcony. Very dull and uninteresting.

Redwards1
Redwards1 on July 3, 2015 at 11:16 am

Does anyone have interior photos of the auditorium? There have been many comments about this theatre’s history of major remodels, including the 70mm installation that covered the proscenium.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on July 3, 2015 at 10:39 am

The name was changed from Tremont Theatre to Astor Theatre in November, 1947 at the conclusion of heavy renovations. There were prior heavy renovations in 1937. Yes, there were several floors of dressing rooms at stage-left (west side of the former stage) – they were still there during demolition.

asok10
asok10 on July 2, 2015 at 3:56 pm

These comments about the Astor Theatre are intersting and I would like to put in my two cents as I worked there as an usher briefly after graduating from high school in 1956. When I started they were playing Raintree County in 65mm which I thought was was an odd film size. This was being played on a Roadshow basis. After that closed they went back to the “grind” with a dreadful film whose name I cannot recall now. At the time I worked there the stage and pit had already been removed and seats went right up to the main curtain. They ever sold that many seats but can you imagine trying to look up at that huge screen from the first few rows for several hours. The projection booth was in the second balcony and was a long climb up there. I had to assist brining up the film for the grind movie which was in 35mm. I would have hated to carry the 65mm prints up all those stairs. Some dressing rooms still existed on stage left and were being used for storage. Backing up a few years, a friend of the family took me to see Joan of Arc there when it still had a stage and pit and was probably still called the Tremont Street Theater.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on May 7, 2014 at 11:20 am

Someone who worked at the Astor around 1960 managed to get into the old office suites in the Tremont Street building which contained the theater entrance and outer lobby. To his surprise, there were still some records left there. He found files for Fred Lieberman’s Proven Pictures circuit from the 1940s, old records for the Bijou and other nearby theaters. He also says that there was indeed a remnant of the old second balcony still in place above the rear of the main balcony. It appears that the original second balcony was cut back but not completly removed at some time during the drastic renovations in 1937 and 1947.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on March 27, 2014 at 7:59 am

CT member HankSykes tells me that he was looking through some boxes of old stuff in a storage area at the Cincinnati Public Library yesterday afternoon and came upon a program,in good condition, for the Tremont Theatre’s production of “No NO Nanette”. The latter was one of the great hit musicals of the 1920s and ran for 6 months at the Tremont Theatre about 1925. At the back of the program is mention of the theater’s “water curtain” which deploys in case of a fire on stage. I assume that they also had a regular fire safetly curtain (usually made of asbestos in those days). One can imagine the mess the water curtain must have made if it deployed accidentally. This water curtain apparatus and plumbing, plus the regular stage curtains, were all swept away in the late-1930s when the orchestra pit, stage floor and proscenium arch were removed so that the main floor seating could be extended forward into the stage area. (the Tremont seems to have stopped presenting live shows on stage after about 1930; films only.)

RogerA
RogerA on March 10, 2014 at 8:34 pm

Michael Coate has done his homework. He corrected me on a few points and after long hours of digging through old newspapers I have found that what he writes is correct. It is certain he knows a great deal about this subject.

Coate
Coate on March 8, 2014 at 8:14 pm

dickneeds111 wrote: “"Oklahoma was shot both in Cinemascope and Todd AO at the same time.”

Yeah, but they weren’t distributed at the same time. In North America, only Todd-AO prints, distributed by Magna, were booked for the first thirteen months of the film’s release. Then the 35mm CinemaScope version, distributed by 20th Century-Fox, became available for hundreds of general-release bookings. All of the original roadshow engagements were the 70mm version (except for the final few weeks of the Detroit engagement which had been switched to the 35mm version as a test).

On a related note, some of you may recall a while ago I posted a list of the original roadshow engagements of “Oklahoma!” This info may clarify many of the points mentioned in the discussion going on here on the Astor page. Here again is the link if you wish to take a refresher look or if you missed it when first posted. The list is complete, as far as I know, up to the point in time the 35mm general release began. (There were a few more 70mm presentations that began beyond my cut-off point — plus international — but I didn’t include them because I wanted to present a concise timeline.)

Oklahoma! Roadshow Engagements

Redwards1
Redwards1 on March 8, 2014 at 6:56 pm

I do not think there were roadshow engagements anywhere for the 35mm Cinemascope version of Oklahoma! The whole point of Oklahoma! roadshow presentations was to introduce Todd-AO. Since American Optical was headquartered in New England it would have been an embarrassment to present the Boston premiere in 35mm.

Coate
Coate on March 8, 2014 at 5:26 pm

Good grief.

dickneeds111 wrote: “As far as Oklahoma it ran at the Saxon in 35mm cinemascope roadshow for most of its engagement until Todd AO was put in and then in Todd AO for the rest of its engagement.”

Not true, dickneeds111. There’s plenty of evidence available to support the claim that the Saxon installed Todd-AO equipment specifically for the “Oklahoma!” engagement, which began in September 1956. That was two months before any 35mm prints of “Oklahoma!” were put into circulation. The timeline alone proves you wrong.

dickneeds111 wrote: “Raintree County from what I have read was filmed in Camera 65(same as Ben Hur) but was never shown in 70mm on its 1st release anywhere. MGM said they could not get any 70mm theatres in the country because they were all booked solid at that time.”

It’s a myth that there weren’t any available 70mm theaters to show “Raintree County.” The theater in which its world premiere engagement was held, the Brown in Louisville, was 70mm-equipped at the time, having previously played “Oklahoma!” and “Around the World in Eighty Days.” Also among the first few bookings of “Raintree County” when it was still a roadshow was the McVickers in Chicago, which had Todd-AO installed for “Oklahoma!.” If no 70mm prints were made for “Raintree County” it was a choice made by the distributor for reasons other than theater availability.