Cabot Theatre // 1920

Located on Cabot Street in Downtown Beverly, Mass, the aptly named Cabot Theater stands as one of the most iconic landmarks in the town and North Shore. The building was constructed in 1920 by Glover Ware and Harris Ware of Marblehead and named the Ware Theatre, at a cost of over $250,000 a century ago. The structure was designed by the architectural firm of Funk and Wilcox, who are credited for dozens of theaters in the Boston area. The lobby of the building was faced with pink marble with a gold-leaf embellished, vaulted ceiling. The auditorium, was furnished with a forty-three foot dome, chandeliers, and a $50,000 pipe organ. During the 1960s, the theater was sold to Loews who renamed it after its location on Cabot Street. In 1976, the building was purchased by Le Grand David and His Own Spectacular Magic Company, restoring the interior spaces, stage rigging, and dressing rooms. For 37 years, The Cabot hosted Le Grand David’s long-running magic show that entertained local audiences, made seven White House appearances and won recognition in the Guinness Book of Records and national magazines. The future of the theater was uncertain until it was purchased and a new board of directors was instituted who provide funding streams, new live acts and maintain the historic structure to this day.

Larcom Theatre // 1912

Why are historic theatres so dang charming??

The Larcom Theatre, in downtown Beverly, Massachusetts, was constructed in 1912, and is the oldest extant motion picture house in Beverly. The theatre was built on land that was formerly occupied by the home of Lucy Larcom, Beverly’s renowned poet and author, who wrote on the lives of the women in the textile mills of Lowell during the mid-1800s, and spiritual life in Massachusetts. Lucy Larcom was born in Beverly and after her father’s death when she was just 8 years old, the family relocated to Lowell as girls were wanted for employment in the mills. She excelled in school and later moved to Illinois and was employed as a teacher. She grew tired of the west and moved back to Beverly, later teaching at Wheaton Female Seminary (now Wheaton College) in Norton, MA. Larcom served as a model for the change in women’s roles in society. Larcom’s home in Beverly was just off the main commercial street and changing demands led to the redevelopment of the site for a motion-picture theater. Local architect George Swan was hired to design the modest theatre, which is adorned by masked faces. The theatre opened to showings of The Count of Monte Cristo, for just 10 cents a ticket! The theatre is used to this day as a multi-arts venue, under the name of Ms. Larcom.

Mohawk Theater // 1938

Local theaters once dominated the urban landscape, providing flashing neon lights and marquees on Main Street USA. After WWII, many downtowns saw populations move to the suburbs and through the advancement in technology, many of these historic movie houses were demolished. Large cineplexes with 10+ screens were built, and the death of the small movie theater coincided with the death of many Main Streets in the mid and late 20th century. Fast forward to today, we see many Main Streets thriving (before the COVID crisis) thanks to women and minority-owned businesses investing in their communities.

The Mohawk Theater in North Adams was built in 1938 and is an excellent example of Art Deco architecture in Western Massachusetts. Loews Cinemas hired the Boston architectural firm of Mowl & Rand to design the 1,200 seat theater which also featured a Native American motif at the lobby. The theater was sold in 1987 to a private investor, who opened the theater for occasional concerts and films, but efforts to maintain the Mohawk were short lived. In 1991, its doors were closed for good.

Lyric Theater // 1916

Built in 1916, this two-story former theater just off Main Street in Warren, RI evokes the recent memory of small motion picture theaters in cities and towns all over the region. The theater originally featured a large marquee and more muted colors on the exterior. After WWII, as with smaller theaters all over the country, this cinema struggled against the larger chains which featured 10+ screens and modern amenities, and ticket sales dwindled. The theater was sold in the late 1970s and converted to retail use. Since the 1990s, the building was occupied by the Imagine Gift Shop.

Coolidge Corner Theater // 1933

Believe it or not, the iconic Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline was originally built as a church. In 1906, the church was constructed as the Beacon Universalist Church and designed by C.Howard Walker. The new church building included four stores on the ground floor to both provide income for the building via rent and service the bustling Coolidge Corner area of Brookline. There was a central entrance to gain access to the church itself for partitioners. By the 1930s, the commercial character of the area overtook the need for a church, and the building was sold.

In 1933, after many years of trying to get a moving picture theater at Coolidge Corner, this building was converted at an estimated cost of $75,000 into an Art Deco movie house. Architect Ernest Hayward was hired to design the extensive remodel of the church into a theater and public hall. When completed it was called “The Brookline” and was the first theater built in the suburban town of Brookline. The movie house originally seated approximately 1,000 people, with about 700 seats on the main floor and 300 in the balcony. Most of the original fine Art Deco details still remain, notably ceiling decorations, bas-relief sculptures, and various lighting fixtures both in the lobbies and on the side walls of the auditorium. As with many smaller theaters in America in the 1970s, large cineplexes with over ten screens overtook the business of smaller, more historic theaters and the Brookline Theater was sold, but never closed!

Beacon Universalist Church ca. 1910, courtesy of Brookline Historical Society.

In 1989, the Brookline community successfully rallied together in a grass-roots campaign to save the theater. Today, the Coolidge Corner Theater Foundation runs a diverse program of art films, popular films, independent films, first-runs, local filmmaker showcases, and children’s matinees and is a great asset to Brookline and the greater Boston community.

Providence Performing Arts Center // 1928

Originally opening in 1928 as the Loew’s State Theater, this theater located at the heart of Downtown Providence exemplifies the high-style architecture at the height of motion-picture building activities. Designed by the firm of C. W. Rapp and George L. Rapp, of Chicago, who were among the most successful and prominent of American movie theatre designers, the complex building includes an elaborate 3200-seat theatre as well as offices and stores filling an entire city block. The Weybosset Street (main) facade
is entirely faced in terra cotta tile; elsewhere the brick walls are exposed and rather plain, except for terra cotta detailing.

Upon its opening, the theater was overwhelmed by an estimated 14,000 people, who jammed into the space to see the interior detailing, which included: marble columns, intricate carvings, and massive chandeliers suspended from the ceilings. As with many grand theaters in downtown settings, viewership declined as populations shifted towards the suburbs and Loew’s built new movie theaters in developing areas to capture that growing market. In 1971 under new ownership it was renamed Palace Theatre presenting movies, live performances and rock concerts. It was closed in late-1975 for refurbishment, reopening in 1976 as the Ocean State Theatre presenting first run movies. In that time, the theater’s owner applied for a permit to demolish the building, until Providence Mayor “Buddy” Cianci pledged over $1,000,000 in city funds to keep the building open.

Beginning in 1999, the theater was extensively remodeled and largely restored to its original 1928 opulence, utilizing Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits. It was also expanded to be able to accommodate traveling Broadway productions and orchestra performances. In 1996, the renamed Providence Performing Arts Center became the anchor of Cianci’s Arts and Entertainment District of Downtown Providence, which offered tax breaks to attract artists to the struggling downtown area.