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Washington Street Theaters

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1928 Opera House (B. F. Keith Theater), Thomas Lamb. 539 Washington St. 1914 Modern Theater, Clarence Blackall. 523 Washington St. 1932 Paramount Theater, Arthur Bowditch. 549 Washington St.
  • Washington Street Theaters (Peter Vanderwarker or Antonina Smith)

As a result of a design charrette sponsored by the Boston Preservation Alliance in 1995, restorations are bringing back to life three important theaters along Washington Street, the heart of the original Theater District. B. F. Keith dominated this stretch of Washington Street from 1883 until his death in 1925. He pioneered the concept of theater for the everyman, family variety shows that eventually grew into a national empire of nearly four hundred theaters. One of those he acquired was the old Boston Theater (1854), once a center of elite culture in Boston. After Keith's death, his heirs announced the construction of the B. F. Keith Memorial Theater, built partially on the foundations of the Boston Theater to designs by Thomas Lamb. One of the most lavish theaters ever constructed in Boston, the Keith has a flamboyant Baroque facade in white-glazed terra-cotta, Italian marble columns, walnut woodwork by C. H. Rugg, and plasterwork cast by the John Evans Company. Renamed the Savoy and then adapted as Boston's Opera House, the theater was closed in 1999. Finegold Alexander + Associates designed the restoration of this theater, opened in 2004.

Flanking the Opera House on Washington Street are the Modern and the Paramount, classic examples of their types. Set within a commercial building designed by Levi Newcomb in 1876, the Modern Theater was created on the lower floors in 1914 by Clarence Blackall for the Boston philanthropist George R. White. A sober classical entrance in marble (below the earlier limestone and sandstone upper stories) led into an 800-seat house, the first in Boston to be designed without a stage for showing movies. The Jazz Singer premiered here in 1928. In 2003, the Boston Redevelopment Authority seized the building by eminent domain, spent $350,000 on stabilization, and is now working with the Sager Family Foundation to find a suitable nonprofit use for the building. On the other side of the Opera House, the Paramount, the last of Boston's palace movie houses and one of the city's most flamboyant example of Art Deco design, has recently been restored on the exterior by CBT/Childs Bertman and Tseckares, for Millennium Partners, the developers for the adjacent Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Boston Common (TD7). Millennium is now working with the American Repertory Theater and ten other nonprofit organizations to structure a new use pattern for the theater. Graham Gund Architects will supervise the renovation of the interior.

Writing Credits

Keith N. Morgan


What's Nearby


Keith N. Morgan, "Washington Street Theaters", [Boston, Massachusetts], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Massachusetts

Buildings of Massachusetts: Metropolitan Boston, Keith N. Morgan, with Richard M. Candee, Naomi Miller, Roger G. Reed, and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009, 124-124.

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