Empire Theatre

285 Essex Street,
Salem, MA 01970

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Additional Info

Previous Names: New Empire Theatre

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Empire Theatre, Salem Massachusetts

Opened prior to 1926, the Empire Theatre in Salem was used for vaudeville, dance presentations, and some movies before closing. It was demolished and the site became the car-park for the EML Loews Salem Theatre which had been built in 1953 adjacent to the Empire Theatre.

Contributed by David April

Recent comments (view all 13 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 10, 2010 at 3:57 am

The Empire Theatre was built in 1907 by Julius Cahn (the same Julius Cahn who was the publisher of Julius Cahn’s Official Theatrical Guide.) The Salem Public Library has in its collection a “Program for Julius Cahn’s New Empire Theatre. Salem, MA: 29 August, 1907.” That might have been the opening night, though the source for the information (this page at the web site of Salem State University) doesn’t say.

As implied by the opening name New Empire Theatre, there had been an earlier Empire Theatre in Salem, also operated by Cahn and his associates. I’ve been unable to discover the location of that house, or what became of it when the New Empire opened.

By 1918, Frank Katzos was listed as operator of the Empire Theatre in an official document publishing the results of State inspections of places of amusement (the empire’s condition was listed as “Good.”) By 1922, the house had come under the control of the Koen Brothers, pioneer movie exhibitors in Salem and its vicinity. A brief biography of John Edward Koen, with additional information on his brother William Henry Koen, can be found in this History of Essex County at Google Books. It mentions several of their other theaters, which included the Salem Theatre and Federal Theater in Salem.

I’ve found references to plays being mounted at the Empire under the auspices of the Federal Theatre Project during the 1930s.

DApril on December 10, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Julius Cahn with B.L. Grant opened an Empire Theater in Lewiston, ME in 1903 seating 1,480. Cahn and Grant sold it in 1914. It was demolished in 2005, so long outlasted the Empire in Salem. There was also an Empire Theater in Portland, ME, but I found no connection there to Julius Cahn.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on April 7, 2011 at 11:05 am

On a long list of Massachusetts theaters and halls receiving licenses during the 12 months ending Oct. 31, 1914 is Salem’s Empire Theatre, along with the Federal Theatre and the Salem Theatre; plus some function/fraternal halls in Salem.

DApril on April 8, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Hi Ron,

That’s interesting info. It’s a shame that no interior pictures were taken of the Empire and Federal theaters. During demolition of the Empire I walked upup the sidewalk to the front doors of the Empire and and looked though the lobby into the auditorium which exposed to sunlight at that moment as the rear wall was already down. The interior looked beautiful. It even had opera boxes, at least one on each side of the stage.



rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on July 25, 2011 at 11:39 am

I compared the 1941 photo of the Empire on the MGM Theatre Report to the old postcard image posted at the heading. Definitely the same building, although the MGM photo was a tighter shot.

DApril on July 25, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Hi Ron,

I don’t know when the Empire was constructed exactly, but from the postcard we can see that Salem had dirt streets and very old fashion utility poles at the time. It also seems that on Essex Street, the “Main Street” of Salem, there are no trolley tracks. So this must be way back around 1900 or even late 1800s. It could be that the state of the art of photography was not as good as today’s, such that the pixels give this enlargement a coarse look. Just my theory.


Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on November 29, 2014 at 10:40 pm

David: Although the streets in the vintage photo (which is probably from a postcard) are the color of dirt, I suspect that they were paved with granite blocks. This was the most common paving material for important streets in New England towns during that period. Lesser streets got cobbles or brick, or wood blocks treated with creosote.

The colors in old photos can be misleading in any case. There were color printing presses, but no color film, so the black and white photos would be hand tinted, and the person doing the tinting usually couldn’t be sure what the exact original colors in the scene were and would just make their best guess based on a written description. Essex Street might have been paved with a pinkish granite that was quarried around Milford and was quite popular in the late 19th century.

The book Salem: 15 Historic Postcards has a later photo of the Empire Theatre (Google Books preview) which shows considerably more of the building’s detail. The Empire Theatre was on the site of Mechanic Hall, built in 1839 and destroyed by fire in 1905.

DApril1 on November 30, 2014 at 8:21 pm

Hi Joe,

Thanks for those interesting points. Yes, so many of those old postcards had that light brown sepia tone. And you’re right about the streets too. When I was living in Salem as a kid, there were several streets that had cobblestone or granite pavers in the downtown, e.g., around Central Street and some of Derby Street near the Salem Laundry and the First National supermarket (previously the old Federal Theater). I believe that Essex did as well. At that time the old trolley tracks of the Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway Co. were still embedded in the stones. I think that some of Washington Street down near the Boston & Maine Depot and up to Town House Square. That was years before Essex Street was closed to vehicular traffic.


swift on September 28, 2017 at 5:12 pm

Empire Theater


bvita on December 14, 2020 at 8:38 am

The story that I was told as a young projectionist was that E.M.Loew had tried to buy the Empire and was rebuffed. He build the E.M.Loew Salem Theatre literally next door after which the Empire became the parking lot. This was located directly across from the old Salem YMCA.

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