260 Westminster Street,
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The Empire Theatre has a long history that began in 1878 as Low’s Opera House, when it was a rival to the Providence Opera House on Dorrance Street, opened seven years earlier in 1871. It was re-built, reopening on October 24, 1898 with a seating capacity of 1,801.
In the seventy-one years of its existence in the center of downtown Providence, it served as an illustrious home to theatre and vaudeville and films, under the later names of Keith’s Theatre, B.F. Keith’s New Theatre, Victory Theatre, RKO Victory Theatre, and finally, from 1936 to its demise in 1948, the Empire Theatre.
The name ‘Empire’ had been given to two other theatres on the same street over the decades, all within a few blocks of each other. The first was the Empire Theatre at Westminster Street and Empire Street. That was torn down in 1916. The second was the former Westminster Theatre that became the Empire Theatre in 1915 to about 1924. This one was the last Providence theatre with that name.
By the end of its life, the Empire Theatre had become a cut-rate theatre with frequently changing double bills of subsequent-run films and other revivals. It was closed on February 29, 1948 and was soon demolished in Spring 1948.
The complete detailed record of this theatre appears in the book that narrates the history of downtown Providence theatres: Roger Brett’s 1976 “Temples of Illusion”.
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