Empire Theatre

166 S. Main Street,
Fall River, MA 02720

Unfavorite 1 person favorited this theater

Showing 16 comments

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.’”

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

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.

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.

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 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.

DickMorgan
DickMorgan on July 29, 2005 at 3:55 pm

I am familiar with some New Bedford Theaters but only attended just a few movies there. I do remember seeing “Journey to the Center of The Earth” at the old State Theater (now the Zeiterion Theatre) back at Christmas of 1959. I recall being struck by the fact that the concession stand sold hot dogs. The other thing I remember from this theater was is grand marquee. I never attended Movies at the Empire Theater in New Bedford but have fond memories of my two aunts telling tales of their days of working as usurer-etts during the silent era in the 1920s. How I wish they were still around to retell those tales. My Aunt Donalda also told me of her dating a the gentleman who owned the Arcade Theater in New Bedford.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on July 29, 2005 at 11:42 am

This is a great breakthrough. Maybe you know something about New Bedford theatres as well.

DickMorgan
DickMorgan on July 29, 2005 at 10:42 am

I had visited the Durfee Theatre many times and will have some recollections to post on its page. Just discovered this website and already severly addicted! If you and anyone has information on any of the Fall River Theaters I loved when growing up there please contact me at

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on July 29, 2005 at 10:32 am

Ha ha! That’s great. I too “appreciated” Yul Brynner. Do you have any other recollections that you could post about the Durfee on its page? Growing up in the Providence area, I never had much opportunity to go to Fall River theatres. The Academy was the only one I visited, much later, when it was the only one left. And I regret most not having been to the Durfee, especially the night Lillian Gish appeared there to show some of early films and also because it was considered Fall River’s finest.

DickMorgan
DickMorgan on July 29, 2005 at 10:08 am

Growing up in Fall River during the 1950s and 1960s, the Empire Theater was usually the theater that showed most of the horror flicks of this era; House on Haunted Hill, The Screaming Skull, 13 Ghosts (filmed in Illusion-O!), The Angry Red Planet and anything Vincent Price.

The Empire also featured some Walt Disney films as well, a reissue of the 1950 Cinderella (which I saw when I was 6 in 1956), Darby O'Gill and the Little People in 1959 (Staring a very young and extremely handsome pre-James Bond Sean Connery).

This theater had a narrow long corridor (gray and black highly polished marble?) to the lobby, much like the Durfee Theater. As a child would spend much time dawdling down this corridor before and after movies looking at the many posters and lobby cards on display.

I also recall for a period of time (1959 or 1960) the Empire, along with the Center and Durfee theaters had some kind of promotion where you could turn in a wooden token for a free box of popcorn. I don’t recall how one received one of these tokens but all I know is that my older sister and I figured a way of beating the system and we were chopping down box after box of free popcorn!

It was also at the Empire where upon viewing previews of the 1959 Solomon and Sheba, my sister covered my eyes during a shot of Gina Lollobrigida, wearing a costume exposing her rhinestone covered navel. I was prevented from committing a moral sin as most likely this film had been condemned by the Catholic League of Decency. Little did she know I was too busy looking at Yul Brenna <g>.

razook
razook on December 14, 2004 at 11:00 pm

I used to play in a rock band in Fall River in the mid-60’s. The Empire Theater used to have a Battle of the Bands every weekend between the double features shown there. They even hired two go-go girls that danced in cages on either side of the stage. The winner was judged by the applause from the crowd (way before the Apollo did it). Many local bands performed every weekend at the Empire and it was a blast, win or lose.