Empire Theatre

166 S. Main Street,
Fall River, MA 02720

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Empire Theatre

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The Empire Theatre was opened on November 18, 1918. One of the number of lost theatres of Fall River. Demolished in December 1962.

Contributed by Gerald A. DeLuca

Recent comments (view all 16 comments)

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 3, 2006 at 4:29 am

Here are a couple of photos of the Empire along with a few of the Durfee of Fall River.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 27, 2006 at 9:20 am

Some history of the Empire:
The Empire was formally opened on November 18, 1918, practically at the start of America’s entry into World War I. An earlier theatre, Rich’s Theatre, going back to around 1882, had existed on part of the same land with an entrance a block over on Second Street. It had been razed along with some tenement property for the construction of the Empire. The Nathan Yamins interests were the new owners. The James H. Kay was mayor of Fall River at the time and attended the opening night presentation of D.W. Griffith’s Hearts of the World with Lillian and Dorothy Gish. Premiere-goers paid the very high price of between $1.00 to $1.50. There was one sour note at the opening. The cement had not fully hardened and some seats were starting to move about. The following week a policy of vaudeville combined with film fare became the standard for the Empire for about a decade and a half.

The theatre had a 32-foot frontage on South Main Street. Second Street frontage was 143 feet on the west side, giving the place a total area of 15,444 square feet. The Empire was the only theatre in the United States without outside fire escapes, because all the exits were directly on the street. Some of the rear exits provided means of entering without paying for young boys who would help each other gain admission. The Empire was generally considered a misshapen monstrosity and many joked that it had been designed by Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Adams. Actor Cary Grant actually played the Empire as a stilt walker in a company of acrobats! Other live performers here were violinist Fritz Kreisler,German contralto Madame Schumann Heink, Guy Kibbee, Irene Rich, The Three Stooges, the Mills Brothers, Cab Calloway, Dick Powell. The Empire stage was one of the largest on New England and with the asbestos curtain down, the stage and the auditorium became two separate buildings.

In a 1990 Fall River Herald article, John McAvoy recalled a number of things about the Empire. In the 1930s it had its box office on the south side of the lobby and was in the wall. There was a girl named Julia Lawlor who worked in the box office and another girl called Ellen McCoomb. He recalled several of the stage shows and reviews such as the Jimmie Evans Revue, Billy Rose’s Sweet and Low.

He wrote of another unusual feature of the Empire, the candy man. He always wore a white jacket and he could not talk. He was mute. He would sit in the rear at a small table or else walk the aisles with a tray of candy suspended from his neck. Everyone called him “the dummy”, not unkindly but in affection and would say “let’s buy a bar of candy from the poor dummy.” He was part of the mystique of the Empire and well-respected, according to McAvoy, who later became assistant manager at the Empire.

In November of 1953 the Empire closed for one week for the installation of CinemaScope. November 26th saw the opening of The Robe, projected on the new screen in that new process. The dimensions of the Empire’s new large screen to accomodate CinemaScope were 26 feet in height and 40 feet in width.

The theatre would survive less than ten more years. Demolition of the Empire began the last week of December, 1962 and for a time the site was turned into a parking lot, expanding one that was already there.

(Compiled from information in various articles in the Fall River Library’s clippings-file entitled “Theatres.”)

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 27, 2006 at 11:18 pm

Correction to above: “The Empire was formally opened on November 18, 1918, practically at the start of America’s entry into World War I.”

~The date of the opening was correct, but the war, of course, had ended a week before on November 11. The source I was using said that the nation had been at peace for a week.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on April 12, 2007 at 4:20 pm

The MGM Theatre Photograph and Report project form for the Empire has an exterior photo dated May 1941. There was a fairly narrow entrance with a triangular marquee above. Attractions posted were “The Black Cat” and “Man Made Mobster”. The Report states that the Empire is on South Main St., that it has been a MGM customer for over 10 years; that it’s over 15 years old and in Good condition, and has 1069 seats on the main floor and 750 in the balcony; total: 1,819 seats.

nonsportsnut
nonsportsnut on October 24, 2009 at 2:12 am

The Three Stooges Fan Club is trying to get firm start and finish dates for a Personal Appearance by the Three Stooges Larry, Moe and Curly, at the Empire around Feb. 11, 1942. They also did a Defense Stamps sale in Fall River, and were thanked by Mayor Alexander C. Murray.

If someone has the exact dates of their Empire appearance, please email Frank Reighter at

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 23, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Broderick Crawford visits the Empire. Item in Boxoffice magazine, November 24, 1951:
“A procession down the main thoroughfare, a visit to the B.M.C. Durfee High School and meeting prominent residents preceded Broderick Crawford’s personal appearance at the Empire Theatre in conjunction with the showing of ‘The Mob.’”

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on November 14, 2010 at 6:27 pm

The Empire was listed in the 1927 Film Daily Yearbook as having 2300 seats and open daily. The seat count seems too high.

spectrum
spectrum on January 14, 2011 at 6:12 pm

The Empire was recently demolished and the Fall River Justice Center constructed on its site – looks like the new complex was finished very recently.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 14, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Spectrum,
I don’t think the Empire was “recently” demolished. Demolition began in December 1962 according to my information posted above on June 27, 2006, from the Fall River Library’s clippings file. It was demolished almost fifty years ago.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on July 19, 2013 at 11:00 pm

The Empire was one of several theaters in Fall River that were designed by local architectural firm J.M. Darling & Son (Joseph M. Darling and George S. Darling.)

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