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Providence Performing Arts Center (Loew's State Theatre)

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Loew's State Theatre
1928, Rapp and Rapp. 1975–1978, restoration. 220 Weybosset St.

Concealed behind an embellished but unremarkable facade that shows a mild Spanish influence in what might be called 1920s Plateresque is one of the best-preserved monumental movie theater interiors of its period in New England. It was designed by a specialist firm notable across the country for movie houses in hybrid styles. The vestibule and main lobby are vintage movie-palace baroque, handled with more restraint (or a smaller budget) than in many other Rapp and Rapp theaters. Here the auditorium is the important feature. As the appropriate motif for a Providence theater, the decorous fantasy of New England's own Federal style envelops the space. Not the skimpy plaster ornaments of Bulfinch's prim Boston interiors, however: rather, the architects retreated to the source for Bulfinch's inspiration, engravings of Robert Adam's grandest salons for his most impressive town and country houses. Rapp and Rapp, however, had no qualms about consistency of style if an exotic interjection could heighten the final effect. So tent-roofed mini-buildings conjuring Eastern exoticism flank the stage as simulated boxes projecting from niches. They flatten out to become aediculated door frames around the fire exits on the side walls, topped by broken scroll pediments, between the stubs of which rococo foliage undulates to climactic wreaths around busts, much as Adam decorated many of his entrances into what he termed his “grand saloons.” Still it is the spread of Adamesque ornament across the domical enclosure which prevails. Disks and half disks of various sizes, patterned in various ways and underpinned by an interwoven lattice (more Plateresque perhaps than Adamesque) skim the curved surfaces, which are edged by decorated banding, with the banding predominating as the space funnels toward the stage-screen focus. At the summit, an oval orifice breaks through to another smooth-surfaced saucer dome above it, which is circled by lights concealed in the coving. In this other realm, seemingly beyond the space it closes, a changing pool of iridescent light accompanies the moods of the mighty Wurlizter, risen from its tomb in the basement.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.
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Citation

William H. Jordy et al., "Providence Performing Arts Center (Loew's State Theatre)", [Providence, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/RI-01-PR16.

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 45-46.

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