A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections and events at the RIHS

Destruction of History/History of Destruction II

The architectural history of Rhode Island is a fascinating and frequently researched topic in the R.I.H.S. Collections. Buildings that housed or hosted people still hold their memories. While Rhode Island has many historical dwellings and institutions, there are those that did not survive. In this second edition of the series “Destruction of History/History of Destruction” we focus on theatres located in downtown Providence in the late 19th – early 20th Centuries.

Theatre Edition

They paved paradise

And put up a parking lot

 

BIJOU –  164 Westminster Street  Opened in 1908

 

CASINO – 126 Mathewson Street (1910-?)

 

DIME/LOTHROP’S/OLYMPIC/PARK/NICKEL  – 316 Westminster Street (1885-1919)

 

EMERY/CARLTON – 79 Mathewson Street (1914-1953)

 

EMPIRE – 410 Westminster Street (1898-1915)

 

GAIETY/CONN’S CITY – Weybosset Street (1914-1928)

 

IMPERIAL/SHUBERT/COLONIAL/CAPITOL  – 569 1/2 Westminster Street (1902-1965)

 

LOW’S/KEITH’S/VICTORY/EMPIRE – 160 Westminster Street (1877-1949)

 

MODERN/PLAYHOUSE/VICTORY – 446 Westminster Street (1917-1957)

 

PROVIDENCE OPERA HOUSE – 115 Dorrance Street (1877-1931)

 

RICHMOND STREET CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH/BULLOCK’S THEATRE & TEMPLE OF AMUSEMENTS/GLOBE – 34 Richmond Street (opened as theatre in 1909-1928)

 

RKO ALBEE THEATRE – 316 Westminster Street (1919-1970)

 

STRAND/PARAMOUNT/STRAND  – 84 Washington Street (1916-currently Lupo’s)

 

THEATRE COMIQUE – Corner of Weybosset & Orange Streets (1874-1888)

 

UNION/FAY’S – 60 Union Street (1913-1951)

 

WESTMINSTER/EMPIRE/BIJOU –  368 Westminster Street (1915-1949)

 

WESTMINSTER CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH/SCENIC TEMPLE/RIALTO –  121 Mathewson Street (1828-redesigned as businesses in 1936)

 

View down Mathewson Street from Washington showing the Casino on the left, the Scenic Temple on the right, and at the end of the street- Bullock’s.

View down Westminster Street from Snow showing the Bijou & Modern theatres.

View up Westminster Street from Empire showing the Empire & Albee theatres.

 

In 1812, Jeremiah Olney wrote an impassioned letter in support of the theatre experience and renounced those “pretended guardians of the peoples morals” for focusing their efforts to end the bad behavior of the citizens of Providence by closing performance spaces and not other “houses of bad fame”. Read the transcription of his letter below.

 

 

Theatre – Communication for

The theatre in Providence has for a long time been most powerfully assailed by the pretended guardians of the peoples morals – and finding it cannot be cawed by storm they have, of late commenced a regular siege – which it is presumed has been brought about, principally, at the persevering instance of two gentlemen, who, if they reflect with candor on the proximity of their estates to the treater, will not say that they have much reason to complain. The writers on the subject, as well as the signers of the very extraordinary petition against the theatre, have taken much pains of late to make it appear that all the immoralities, vices and fallacies of the inhabitants of Providence flow from the theatre (a place of amusement to which the inhabitants resort not more than forty-five nights in the year), while other places of resort in the tone (which it is presumed are much more dangerous to the moral of the people than any performances at the theatre) seem to be quite unnoticed by the writers against the theatre- some of which I will mention – Grog or Beggar maker shops by the hundred or more, licensed by the Honorable Town Council, gaming housesbilliard tablesoyster houses and cellarsand houses of bad fame – which are in operation the year round day and night, and to which a number of the inhabitants ignominiously resort – while the places of pollution are unnoticed, by the champions of the peoples morals – the theatre alone is selected to sustain the united fire of the whole Oath of Artillery – aided by grasshoppersblunderbusses etc. etc. and as this mode of warfare is considered by all candid men as partial- it is therefore respectfully proposed that a more liberal and generous system be adopted and preserved for the remainder of the campaign – by drawing off the greater part of the force which has been employed in carrying on the siege against the theatre and oppose its operation against the main body of the polluted places in the Town – of which there are not a few, this would be thorough work by laying the ax at once, at the root of the tree of evils that constantly assail the morals of the people – and if the siege be skillfully managed, there can be but little doubt that in a reasonable time a complete Victory will be gained over those places of pollution – which would afford cause of great Triumph, while demolishing the theater alone, would be matter of small consideration if those powerful engines of pollution were to remain unconquered and in full operation, – and after all, viewing human nature depraved as it really is, with great deference, this plain question is submitted, whether it can reasonably be expected that the present exertions in favor of the morals of the people will make them much better than they now are,  or have been for ages past, it is presumed the answer will be that they will not – in this offering, in the plain language of sincerity – a few remarks on the foregoing subject – I am persuaded that no just cause of offence has been give – and under this impression the write is will to “give up the powder horn”, because he is sure that his stock of ammunition though frequently replenished will not hold out so long as the swords of the people will remain corrupt.

-An Old Soldier

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I end this blog with a slideshow of programs from some of the theatres & movie houses featured above.

 

Jennifer L. Galpern, Research Associate/Special Collections

RESOURCES

  • A History of the Eleven Years of the Edward F. Albee Stock Company. Providence, RI 1912.
  • Brett, Roger. Temples of Illusion: The Golden Age of Theater in an American City. Bristol, RI: Brett Theatrical, 1976.
  • Cinema Treasures @ http://cinematreasures.org/
  • Ernstof, Claire. Fortunes and Misfortunes of Theatre in Rhode Island. (V.F. Subj T7374r)
  • Fay Theatre Records. (MSS 409)
  • Jeremiah Olney Papers. (MSS 18)
  • Rhode Island Historical Society Graphics Collection
  • Rhode Island Historical Society Theaters, Programs, Bulletins, etc. Collection
  • RKO Albee Theatre Records. (MSS 9001-R)

 

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