Old Howard Theatre
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Architects: Isaiah Rogers
Styles: Gothic Revival
Previous Names: Howard Athenaeum, Old Howard Athenaeum
Located at 32 Howard Street (which no longer exists) in downtown’s Scollay Square area. Boston’s most famous (some would say notorious) theatre, the Howard Athenaeum opened on October 5, 1846. It was designed by architect Isaiah Rogers in a Gothic style and had 1,600 seats in orchestra, dress circle, gallery and boxes. The stage was 43 feet deep and the proscenium 36 feet wide. On August 10, 1868 it became a variety theatre. From May 1893 it was presenting spectacles and dramas. In 1897 it was renamed Old Howard Athenaeum and was presenting fight films on the Acmegraph.
A movie screen was installed around 1912, to provide entertainment during hours when the performers were not on stage – probably before noon, and between 5 and 8 pm. When the Depression hit, the Old Howard Theatre was presenting burlesque with old films between the stage shows. This was the policy on December 7, 1941 when the attack on Pearl Harbor brought many service personnel into the theatre. A new safty code was imposed on theatres from January 1, 1944 and the gallery seating area was closed.
City censors closed the burlesque performances at Old Howard Theatre in November 1953, and it went over to variety acts from February 22, 1954, but soon ‘girly’ acts came back into the bill. The Old Howard Theatre had closed by 1955. The city made plans to tear it down, along with the rest of Scollay Square, to make way for a new Government Center. A committee formed with the aim of saving the Old Howard Theatre and turning it into a national theatre museum, but a mysterious fire gutted it on June 20, 1961. It was torn down that same day. The site is now part of the Government Center.
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