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Theater District

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West of Chinatown—along Tremont, Washington, and Boylston streets—arose the Theater District from the mid-nineteenth century until the Depression. Despite the history of “improper” plays being “banned in Boston,” the city welcomed its first theater in the late eighteenth century. The American Revolution also brought liberation from the constraints of Puritan morals as symbolized by Charles Bulfinch's design for the Boston Theater (1793). Old patterns died slowly, however, with major theaters not being built until the mid-nineteenth century—the 2,000-seat Music Hall (1852, now the Orpheum Theater, 1 Hamilton Place, off Tremont Street) and the 3,000-seat Boston Theater (1854, now destroyed). Not until the late nineteenth century did Boston acquire a substantial, indeed impressive, group of theaters. The hero of the neighborhood was Clarence H. Blackall, the architect who designed more and finer theaters, from 1891 through 1925, than any of his competitors. The shadowy underside of the Theater District, the Combat Zone peep shows and “art” houses on Washington Street have now nearly disappeared. New residents of the neighborhood—such as Emerson College and the new Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Boston Common (TD7)—have done much to stabilize this fragile environment.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Keith N. Morgan

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