Durfee Theatre

30 N. Main Street,
Fall River, MA 02720

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Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on July 19, 2013 at 1:43 pm

According to a biographical sketch in The First American Women Architects, by Sarah Allaback, the Durfee Theatre was designed by the local architectural firm Darling & Parlin. The principals of the firm were George S. Darling and his sister, Maude Darling-Parlin. She was one of the few women practicing architecture during her era, having joined the family firm, which had been founded by her grandfather, in 1921.

The firm designed many of the buildings that were erected in Fall River following the 1928 fire which had destroyed much of the city’s business district. Several other theaters in Fall River were designed by members of the Darling family, both before and after the fire. Among them were the Rialto (Savoy), Capitol, Strand, Bijou, Park, and Empire Theatres.

paradoxfox
paradoxfox on May 5, 2009 at 10:54 am

I grew up in Fall River, and was privileged to have a grandparent who took me to the movies every Saturday. Often to the Durfee. Even as a child I was struck by the grandness of the place. The marble, the gold fish pond, even the velvet rope that separated the lobby from the area up stairs. Any movie I saw at the Durfee was special, felt like an event, due to it’s accoutrement and the relative seriousness it’s employees gave their jobs.

I’d stair at the goldfish, and marvel at the surroundings, as much as the film. I miss the Durfee, and what Fall River was.

Thank you so much mr DeLuca for the photo links.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on July 2, 2006 at 4:36 am

According to a recollection of manager John McAvoy, the Durfee’s biggest hits were The Sound of Music, which played for 37 weeks, Boys Town, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which played in 1938 to many sold-out showings.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 30, 2006 at 4:01 am

Here is an old postcard booklet image from the 1930s or 1940s showing the relationship of the Durfee to Fall River City Hall.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 28, 2006 at 4:06 am

The Durfee Theatre opened on August 31, 1929 and was termed a “showpiece” among New England theatres and was said, perhaps hyperbolically, to be unrivaled east of Chicago. It is certain that no other Fall River Theatre surpassed it in beauty, and its loss is one of the saddest that ever befell the city. The first film attraction presented was The Coconuts with the Marx Brothers. The Spanish-Moorish decor was modeled after the Alhambra Palace in Spain, including the ceilings, wall-hangings and drapes. The lobby was lavish, had a beautiful staircase, a marble pool for fish on the ground level and an elaborate chandelier. A great deal of information on and many memories about this magnificent lost theatre have been found in the clippings file at the Fall River Public Library and will appear in these pages over the coming weeks.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 26, 2006 at 7:11 am

The actual date that Lillian Gish appeared at the Durfee to show some of her films was November 5, 1969. The Fall River Herald had an ad that day which said:
ON STAGE
Tonight at 8:30 P.M.
LILLIAN GISH &
THE MOVIES

with Miss Gish in person and in a program of rare early films.
A dramatic and exciting performance.
See Way Down East, Blood and Sand, Broken Blossoms, Keystone Cops and a Host of Others. You’ll Roar at Chaplin and Keaton. You’ll Thrill to Valentino —– An Evening of Unsurpased Fun and Delight.
(Note that the Fall River Library clippings-file has an abundant amount of material on the Durfee in its “Theatres” folder.)

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 3, 2006 at 5:09 am

jmed…These are incredibly good pictures. Many many thanks! I can’t wait to see links to pics of other Fall River theatres posted on their pages.

musirama
musirama on June 3, 2006 at 5:00 am

Thank you for the direct link,Chuck. You’ll have to show me how to do this sometime. I plan to add photos of other Fall River theaters to my site, and would like to link them to the specific theaters. (I have already added photos of the Empire Theater)

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 2, 2006 at 12:59 am

jmed: Where is the link to the Durfee photos on your Photobucket site? Can you link it here? I’d really like to see those pictures.

musirama
musirama on June 1, 2006 at 5:21 pm

I posted a link to some Durfee Theater photos on my Photobucket site.

musirama
musirama on June 1, 2006 at 5:21 pm

I posted a link to some Durfee Theater photos on my Photobucket site.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on May 4, 2006 at 7:36 am

Gerry- there is a discussion of the MGM Report project on the Page for the Warner Theater in Worcester. When the project started in 1941, MGM had 50,000 blank forms printed! They apparently intended to profile a large number of movie theatres. I have almost 300 of them, but my copies are Xeroxes of the originals, maybe even 2nd or 3rd generation Xeroxes, so the photos on them are all washed out, some worse than others. There is a good selection of the original Reports in the THSA Archive above the York Theatre in Elmhurst IL. One of the Cinema Treasures members obtained a good-quality copy of a Boston-area theater’s MGM Report from the THSA, but it cost him over $50 for it, last Fall.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on May 2, 2006 at 9:31 am

Ron, is there any way of scanning those MGM report form photos you refer to? And where might that material be available? I never visited the Durfee, though I had ample opportunities to do so and drove by it a number of times. I missed Lillian Gish when she came here in the 1970s (much to my everlasting regret) and I have never been able to see a photo of the place.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on May 2, 2006 at 8:11 am

The MGM Theatre Photograph and Report form for the Durfee has a facade photo dated May 1941. The attraction is James Stewart and Hedy Lamarr in “Ziegfeld Girl”. The theater entrance was at the right end of a one-story commercial block. The Report states that the Durfee has been presenting MGM product for over 10 years; that it’s over 10 years old; that it’s in Good condition; and has 1391 seats on the main floor and 838 in the balcony, total: 2229 seats. Competing theatres are: Empire and Center. 1940 population was 115,400. I recall someone telling me when I was in high school in Quincy MA in the 1950s that the best and biggest theatre in Fall River was the Durfee.

bcnett
bcnett on April 27, 2006 at 5:42 pm

What happened to the organ from this theatre? For a while in the late ‘70s the console was backstage in the Columbus Theatre in Providence, then it disappeared.

Adsbyjim
Adsbyjim on October 1, 2005 at 4:22 pm

Thanks, Gerald. I have entered my comments on the Plaza Theater page. The Plaza does deserve a page of its own. Like you, I also missed Lillian Gish’s 1970’s film tour appearance at the Durfee Theater, but I do remember someone at a Seekonk motel where she stayed telling me that she was more than gracious to the staff there. And she had a rather heavy trunk she would not let out of her sight. It contained a custom rose spotlight that had to be set in the orchestra pit area. With that special baby spot, Miss Gish looked 28 again. She was quite a woman. I had also heard that she marveled at the incredible acoustics of the Durfee Theater.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on October 1, 2005 at 3:57 pm

James, perhaps you should post those interesting comments on the Plaza page.

Adsbyjim
Adsbyjim on October 1, 2005 at 11:48 am

Speaking of Fall River, Massachusetts, I am truly amazed that no one has written about the 900-seat Plaza Theater. In the mid-1940’s through the early 1950’s, Westerns ruled that North Main Street theater. But once a patron traveled through the attractive glass-blocked foyer and through the 10-foot doors, a sort of planned choas was often the rule. The Plaza didn’t have ushers; it had a 280-pound policeman named Red. At least one altercation a day accurred between Red and an unruly patron or two. No one seemed to take offense, an no one was ever barred from the Plaza. For instance, a Wednesday matinee I attended in the 1950’s featured two Gene Autry movies along with theater-goers throwing Ju Ju Bees, popcorn and Milk Duds
like rice at a wedding; then yelling and cursing and jumping along the tops of theater seats to go to and from the lobby. And those were just the senior citizens. But it was a small rpice to pay for three Warner Brothers cartoons, a double feature and a sound system that rivaled the nearby and much larger Durfee Theater. The Plaza was anything but stuffy. Attendees somehow knew that the Plaza’s staff wanted them to enjoy themselves; and they didâ€"Big time.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on August 18, 2005 at 2:00 am

Fall River never seems to have had an art house, although the more popular or more exploitable foreign films played around town in generally dubbed versions. The Swedish Elvira Madigan, for example, was booked at the Durfee in 1968.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on August 1, 2005 at 1:46 am

The theatre on Brightman Street was the Royal, a.k.a. Pastime, and it is posted here.

ftamaral
ftamaral on July 31, 2005 at 2:17 pm

I rent an office in the building next door to where the Durfee stood. I actually sell old film & memorabilia on the internet from the office. I’m not old enough to remember “free dish night” or any of that, but I did see a re-release of “Bambi” there in the 60s & some awful Emmett Kelly film………also, in 2nd grade I won tickets to the premiere of “Hello Dolly”, and went with my Dad & brother………there was some event there where one of the cast members would be there after the film, but my Father wanted to go home, and I was really dis-appointed! About 10 years ago, I asked Mr. McAvoy if he remembered the premiere, he did, but couldn’t remember who the cast member was either, but we agreed it was neither Streisand or Walter Matthau! I actually sold the wiring diagram & some projector manuals……..and the whole “CinemaScope” publicity package from the Durfee awhile back…….someone in my family owned the building that was the theater on Brightman St., I think it was the Empire, in the 60s & 70s , they made caskets there, the building , you could still see where the Marquee was, & where the frames for the outside posters in the doowrway once were…….The Capitol actually still exists, pretty much intact from what I hear, in the back of a furniture store, the tiles at the building entrance still have the Capitol logo (at least they did last I saw them a few years ago).

musirama
musirama on February 24, 2005 at 9:03 pm

The architect who designed the Durfee Theater was Maude Darling-Parlin. She also designed the Eagle Restaurant across the street,which is still standing.Both buildings were constructed to replace structures destroyed in the devastating 1928 fire.Maude was still living when the theater was demolished in 1973.She felt as if her heart was ripped out.

Feno
Feno on October 15, 2004 at 9:02 am

Yes, it’s true that at one time a single family owned just about every Fall River movie theater; but the real powerhouse behind those theaters—the man who kept them profitable and comfortable way beyond their advanced years—was the late John McAvoy. For over 40 years, that friendly Irishman managed at one time or another the Durfee, Empire, Center, Academy, Park, Strand and Embassy. But even John’s unique personality could not compete with TV and the convenient parking at suburban movie theaters. It’s also true that when John McAvoy was not physically at the Durfee, it just wasn’t the Durfee.

ghpetrin
ghpetrin on October 14, 2004 at 1:16 pm

I believe the Durfee Theatre as well as the Embassy, Empire, Center, Capitol, Park and Strand Theatres were at the end all owned by Nathan Yamins. I collect Fall River postcards and have one in my collection signed by him. Unfortunately, the card is not of a theatre.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on July 24, 2004 at 9:28 am

Jim, that is an utterly hilarious story. It could be part of a movie. If you have other stories and recollections of Fall River movie theatres, please post them. That’s what this site is all about.