Central Theatre

151 Highland Avenue,
Somerville, MA 02143

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The Central Theatre, located at Highland Avenue and Central Street was in the geographical heart of Somerville. It is part of a large apartment building that also has retail space on the ground floor.

The Central Theatre was an average neighborhood theater, seating 910, that had closed by the 1970’s.

Today the theater itself is largely intact, though missing seats. The former lobby is used by retail and was formerly a recycling center. Until recently, the tall stagehouse was used by a faux rock-climbing organization.

I believe that in it’s last years the theater was part of the American Theaters Company chain.

Contributed by Ian Judge

Recent comments (view all 12 comments)

IanJudge
IanJudge on March 4, 2006 at 2:50 pm

Warren – I can tell you that David Guss is himself the man resposible for how incredible the website is – you should have seen the exhibit! It was fascinating.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on April 10, 2006 at 4:31 pm

The MGM Theatre Photograph and Report form for the Central Theatre in Somerville has a facade photo taken in May 1941. It had a 2-sided triangle-style marquee. The Report lists the address as 151 Highland Avenue and states that the theatre had been a MGM customer for over 10 years; that it was over 15 years old; was in Fair condition, and had 665 seats on the main floor and 265 in the balcony, total: 930.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on May 11, 2010 at 1:57 pm

According to David Guss’s website Lost Theatres of Somerville, the theatre opened in November 1921 and “operated for nearly forty years”.

I don’t yet know what exact year it closed. I don’t think it was still operating by the 70s (as the Description currently says).

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on May 21, 2010 at 11:17 pm

The current tenant of the second floor (where I think the theatre was located) appears to be a Portuguese-language church, Tabernáculo dos Pentecostais. I may try to stop in some Sunday morning when services are going on.

On the first floor is an empty storefront (at the corner), a painting company called First Nick, and a laundromat. An Italian social club is in the basement. The building has 16 apartments, 6 entered from Highland Ave. and 10 from Central Street.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on May 23, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Today at noon I attempted to visit the church, only to find the front door locked up tight. I have no idea whether the congregation actually exists, or celebrates the Sabbath on a day other than Sunday, or what.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on May 24, 2010 at 12:33 am

A Sports Illustrated article from 1990 about Boston Rock Gym, back when they were still in the Central Theatre and the whole concept was still quite novel. It says that this was the first indoor rock-climbing gym east of the Rockies.

From the article: “The four-story building had been a performance theater until the 1950s; from the 35- by 17-foot floor, the four walls of the former fly loft, behind what was the stage, soar upward 40 feet. The three partners couldn’t have asked for a better set for the type of play they had in mind. They spent 2� months converting the structure. There are 17 separate climbing routes up the four brick sides; artificial hand- and footholds are screwed into the surface. Near the top of one is a plywood overhang covered with textured panels, for friction, and also fitted with handholds and footholdsâ€"for experienced climbers. Another wall has a 22-foot section that is kicked-back, or slightly inclined. Compared with the other three in the room, it looks like a downright easy ascent.”

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on May 25, 2010 at 9:40 pm

I talked to the minister of Tabernáculo dos Pentecostais. He said that the church has been in this builidng since 2003, and normally has services on Sunday morning, but didn’t this particular week when I visited. He was unaware that the space used to be either a movie theatre or a rock-climbing gym. It has probably been extensively modified and subdivided since a major fire around 1994 forced the rock gym to leave. I’ll try to stop by again on some other Sunday and have another look.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on May 30, 2010 at 9:51 pm

David Guss’s article “Lost Theatres of Somerville”, from the First Quarter 2006 issue of Marquee, the journal of the Theatre Historical Society of America, is now online at View link .

Besides an extensive history, the article also contains many old photos of and advertisements for the various theatres in Somerville.

(This is a 17-page scanned-image PDF, so unfortunately you cannot search or copy the text.)

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on November 10, 2010 at 7:20 pm

There is a “Central Square” theatre listed under Somerville in the 1927 Film Daily Yearbook with 1,200 seats, open 6 days/week.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on November 10, 2010 at 7:22 pm

To my knowledge, this corner in Somerville was never called ‘Central Square’.

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