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.