Empire Theatre

260 Westminster Street,
Providence, RI 02903

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The Empire when it was Keith's

Viewing: Photo | Street View

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, 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”.

Contributed by Gerald A. DeLuca

Recent comments (view all 37 comments)

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on February 7, 2009 at 10:59 am

In the 1897-98 edition of the Julius Cahn Official Theatrical Guide, there are 2 theaters listed for Providence: the Providence Opera House and the Keith’s Opera House. There are no street addresses in this Guide, unfortunately. The Keith’s OH was managed by J.T. Fynes. There were 750 seats in the orchestra, 551 in the balcony, and 500 in the gallery, total: 1,801. Ticket prices ranged from 15 cents to 75 cents. The theater had both gas and electric illumination and was located on the ground floor. The proscenium opening was 32 feet wide, and the stage was 35 feet deep. The population of Providence in 1897 was 155,000. Hotels for show folk were the Narragansett, City, Perkins, Perrin and Dorrance. There are 3 ads: the Hopkins Transfer Co. at Union Station, handles scenary and baggage; Old Colony Bill Posting Co., 212 Union St., posts ads, as does Charles F. Haskins, Bill Poster, at 230 Westminster St.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 13, 2010 at 2:52 am

Item in Boxoffice Magazine, December 27, 1947:
“Al Colagiovanni, former relief manager for Associated, has taken over the managership of the Empire Theatre, succeeding Nick Trifolletti, who has resigned."
[Note: about two months after this piece, on February 29, 1948, this theatre would close for good and be demolished a few months after that.]

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 16, 2011 at 10:06 am

An article on theatre-manager Foster Lardner appeared in Providence News on November 11, 1929. At that time he managed both the Victory (Keith’s, later called Empire) and the Albee.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 21, 2011 at 5:52 am

An article appeared in the Providence News, September 3, 1919, describing the renovations of this theatre which had been known as Keith’s and was now, after months of extensive work, re-christened the Victory Theatre. About seventeen years later, in 1936, it would be renamed the Empire Theatre and last twelve more years after that.
CLICK HERE FOR ARTICLE titled “Victory is Popular Movie House."

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 21, 2011 at 6:00 am

Further renovations were done to this popular first-run movie theatre in 1924 when it was the Victory. CLICK HERE for story from The Providence News, August 25, 1924 on page 18.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 25, 2011 at 6:39 am

This theatre opened on March 4, 1878 as Low’s Opera House and would survive under various names until 1948. Low’s Opera House is not to be confused with the even older Providence Opera House on Dorrance Street.
Opening day ad from the Providence Morning Star:

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 28, 2011 at 11:42 am

Here is a low-quality but rare interior shot of the Victory Theatre and its stage area, taken on June 3, 1924 during a “Baby Peggy” contest.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on February 8, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Interesting piece reporting on Christmas parties at this theatre and two others in 1922:

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on March 3, 2014 at 3:54 am

After World War I Keith’s became the Victory Theatre until the late 1930s when it became the Empire. Here is a photo of the theatre as the Victory. VICTORY THEATRE

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