Modern Theatre

440 Westminster Street,
Providence, RI 02903

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Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 24, 2011 at 3:49 pm

In Providence News, July 22, 1924, there appeared a full-page column by columnist “Sally.” In “Seeing the Shops With Sally” she discusses a day in the city of Providence, places to shop, things to do…and much more. Yesterday, she writes, after buying some candy at the Arcade, she headed to a movie program at the Modern. Her words:

“There is nothing like a good picture to break the monotony of a week’s housework. Consequently the Modern Theatre is the selected place for the one day vacation. "Sally stole a few hours from her work yesterday and went to see the picture ‘Recoil,’ that is playing there now. This Rex Beach production is entertaining to the extreme and when shown with the comedies ‘Wedding Showers’ and ‘Powder Marks,’ it makes a very interesting bill.”

For the complete article, with lots of nostalgic material on the city of Providence and other places in Rhode Island, go to this DIRECT LINK to the entire page.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on February 28, 2011 at 4:16 am

Low-quality images of the Westminster Playhouse in 1957, not long before it was demolished in November of that year:
Outside and inside.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 21, 2011 at 6:37 am

Offering at the Modern in 1922.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 20, 2011 at 10:56 am

In September 1922 this theatre was part of Rhode Island’s Paramount Week. Click to see the ad in Providence News, September 1, 1922, which contains a list of all participating theatres as well as the films shown that week.


Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 17, 2011 at 4:24 pm

In September 1920, this theatre was part of the celebration of the 3rd annual Paramount Week. CLICK HERE for all participating RI area theatres and the titles of the films shown.

RickB on January 17, 2011 at 6:07 am

I counted 28 theaters and at least as many features in that Paramount Week ad. At the top of the page, a city councilman wants “proper trolley car service” back on Broadway instead of buses. Radio is the newest technology, Babe Ruth is the king of baseball, Ford is still selling Model Ts by the millions…a different world.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 17, 2011 at 4:22 am

This theatre was part of the September 1923 6th Paramount Week. In this advertisement from the (Providence) Evening Tribune, September 1, 1923, we see a fascinating list of Rhode Island area theatres, many long-gone and long-forgoten, or even unheard of, as well as what they were showing during that week. CLICK HERE and move text to see all theatres.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 12, 2011 at 5:19 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 July 4, 2010 at 7:36 am

Small fire at the Playhouse. Item in Boxoffice magazine, April 27, 1940:

“Fire in the booth of the Playhouse resulted in the loss of only two reels of film.”

[Note: nitrate film stock, the standard of the time, was highly flammable.]

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 25, 2010 at 3:14 am

Item in Boxoffice magazine, September 18, 1937:

Renovated Modern Theatre opened Labor Day unde its new title of “The Playhouse.” A. A. Spitz has done a good job of changing this theatre into a legit house. Anthony Romano is managing it. Firts week’s attraction, “Brother Rat,” did fair business but dollar top shows played at the Empire during summer have got the public wary of laying down $2.20 top and businesss last week was heaviest on the lower scaled balcony seats.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 24, 2010 at 5:20 am

Another related item in Boxoffice magazine, November 19, 1938:

“Captive of Nazis” is Providence Roadshow
BOSTON—-Harry Segal, Imperial Pictures head, who has taken over the New England distribution of “I Was a Captive of Nazi Germany,” opened a roadshow engagement at the Play House in Providence which he leased for the occasion.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 24, 2010 at 5:14 am

Item in Boxoffice magazine, November 19, 1938:
“The Playhouse has temporarily dropped its vaude-film policy and is playing "I Was a Captive of Nazi Germany” with authoress-star Isobel Lillian Steele making a personal appearance with the film over the weekend."

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on November 28, 2009 at 2:28 am

A number of comments on and recollections of this theatre appear on the Art Cinema page

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 25, 2005 at 11:24 am

On February 19, 1935, the Providence Journal reported the Modern’s newly announced policy:


“Films not otherwise available here, will be offered at the Modern which will be operated on a policy similar to the Fine Arts in Boston and the Cameo and Westminster Theatres in New York.
"Since closing several weeks ago, the house has been repainted, chairs have been repaired, and a new sound and projection system hs been installed.”

A newspaper ad by the theatre a day before promised, “The majority of the pictures will be English speaking and there will also be foreign speaking pictures such as French, German, Polish, Jewish, Italian, Swedish and others. Foreign speaking pictures will run one day or two days only depending upon the demand.”

The first movie offered under the new policy was Robert Flaherty’s Man of Aran. The Journal reviewer Garrett D. Byrnes wrote of the film: “For its debut as an art cinema the Modern Theatre offers nothing less than a masterpiece.”

The theatre continued the policy on and off for a few years, and for a while the style of programming might have overlapped with that of the Avon on Thayer Street, whose art policy began in 1938 with its opening. Later the theatre returned to live offerings, before returning to some art-house type films in the 1950s and before the theatre was ultimately closed and demolished.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 23, 2005 at 11:41 am

In late April of 1949 this theatre was showing the Roberto Rossellini war-in-Italy film Paisan, which had premiered at the Metropolitan a month before. The theatre was then known as the Victory. The other theatre known as the Victory for a time was Low’s-Keith’s-Victory-Empire, which had closed a year before and had been located at 260 Westminster Street.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 20, 2005 at 9:08 am

History of the Modern-Playhouse-Victory-“Westminster” Playhouse.

The Modern Theatre was erected in 1916 by two wealthy Providence Brothers, B. Thomas and Charles Potter. For nine years it showed movies before being converted to a live theatre, offering the city its only winter stock company at the time from September to March. Most of those productions were second-string in character. At various times over the decades it alternated between being a home to live theatre and being a movie theatre.

Mr. Edward Fay, of Fays Theatre fame, took over the theatre for a time and brought in name Broadway performers, without arousing real public enthusiasm. In 1929 he turned to burlesque and it was then that performers like Abbott and Costello were seen on its stage. In 1933 it returned to stock. Around 1937 the place was refurbished and renamed the Playhouse. Cornelus Otis Skinner, Maurice Evans, and Beatrice Lillie were among the luminaries who graced the stage. Art house type films became the policy for a time, and as I noted in an earlier entry, some Yiddish-language films and films of operatic interest like Giuseppe Verdi with Fosco Giachetti played here during that period.

There were some world premieres of stage works, one of which was Providence-native’s George M. Cohan’s melodrama The Return of the Vagabond. During the war a Mr. Edward Gould presented summer stock. After the war the theatre was renamed the Victory and became a movie house again. Mr. Gould returned to put on theatrical productions and was arrested in 1953 for putting on Tobacco Road without a city license. He was acquitted of any wrongdoing. He was to leave Providence permanently. The theatre reverted to its earlier name, the Playhouse, (Westminster Playhouse in some ads and in a surviving photo of the entrance) and became an art cinema once more for a brief time.

In January of 1955 the sensationally successful Italian movie Bread, Love and Dreams with Gina Lollobrigida moved over for a short continued run. The following month there was the first Providence showing of Giuseppe De Santis' Italian film, the dramatic and star-studded Rome, 11 O'Clock. In April of that same year there was a revival double bill of Anna and Bitter Rice, two more Italian imports, with Silvana Mangano, dubbed in English. Four Ways Out, a Pietro Germi film, and Freda’s Theodora, Slave Empress also played in what looked like a film festival concocted by I.F.E., an outfit that specialized in generally dubbed Italian imports. Other films of that type were shown at that time but never really caught on or made the theatre popular.

The Playhouse eventually shuttered within a year, if that, and was torn down in November of 1957 to be replaced by a parking lot and then later by building complex along the walkway and steps and plaza that replaced Westminster Street between Empire and Franklin.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 18, 2005 at 4:42 am

Here is a photo of the Modern from 1916 or earlier. The theatre was on a part of Westminster Street that no longer exists. That section was converted to steps and a walkway that went up to a new plaza in front of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. The Diocese of Providence Auditorium was built at the end of that former section of the street. The street then resumes. The photo shows Westminster Street at the beginning of its incline. To the left of the theatre is Empire Street. It is at that very intersection that the first Empire Theatre used to exist until in the 1910s it was demolished to make way for an extension of Empire Street out to Weybosset and Broad. I used to come by this theatre in the late 1950s by bus. noting that it was closed and wondering about it. At that time the theatre was named (Westminster) Playhouse.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 17, 2005 at 11:41 pm

A book called "Temples of Illusion,” by Roger Brett, was published in 1976. It is Mr. Brett’s detailed history of all the old downtown area theatres of Providence from 1871 to 1950. It includes numerous rare photos, a list of theatres with name changes, and a map to show exactly where they all were. The book is an invaluable resource and is owned by many libraries in the R.I. CLAN system. I found a copy for sale online and will use it as a reference for future postings.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 15, 2005 at 9:44 am

This theatre also became known as the Victory. There were two theatres named the Victory at different times. (1) Low’s – Keith’s -Victory – Empire. This was located on Westminster Street at Union Street. (2) Modern -Playhouse – Victory. This is the theatre of this posting at 440 Westminster Street. I found a map of downtown Providence theatres (1871-1950) and their name changes in the files of the Rhode Island Historical Society. That clears up a great deal of confusion for me.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 15, 2005 at 12:10 am

A 1925 PJ Almanac gives these dimensions for the Modern: seating capacity, 1400; proscenium opening, 38x28 feet; footlights to back wall, 31 feet; between side walls, 110 feet, height to gridioron, 57 feet.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 13, 2005 at 11:45 am

According to the 1940 Providence Journal Almanac, the Playhouse (formerly the Modern Theatre) was owned by B. Thomas Potter; leased by Modern Amusement Company, had a seating capacity of 1378.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on April 3, 2004 at 7:19 am

MAMELE (above, year corrected) was shown in 1939. The Swedish SOUTH OF THE HIGHWAY appeared in 1937. ELI ELI (“Jewish talking film program”) was shown in 1941. In the 1950s I believe the theatre became the “Westminster Playhouse” and showed some art fare of the type shown at the Avon.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on April 3, 2004 at 7:04 am

Newspaper ads from 1935 publicize programs from the “Modern Theatre of Fine Arts.” Among the offerings for that month were UNFINISHED SYMPHONY, Duvivier’s POIL DE CAROTTE, the German BARBERINA, the Swedish THE GIRLS FROM THE OLD TOWN, Flaherty’s MAN OF ARAN, Conrad Veidt in POWER, Leni Riefenstahl’s THE BLUE LIGHT. The theatre seems to have been renamed the “Playhouse” and in 1937 sporadic programs of foreign-language films were shown. The Yidddish THE HOLY MARTYR with Maurice Schwartz appeared in 1937, the Swedish comedy SKANOR-FALSTERBO that same year, Molly Picon in the Yiddish musical MAMELE in 193, the Swedish RENA RAMA SANNINGEN in 1939, the Yiddish TEVYE in 1940, the Italian THE LIFE OF GIUSEPPE VERDI in 1940.