Crown Theater

72 Middlesex Street,
Lowell, MA 01852

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Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 28, 2018 at 1:46 pm

Although it said that the building was to be only two stories, this notice from the June 3, 1916, issue of The American Contractor was probably about the Crown Theatre:

“Lowell, Mass. — Moving Picture Theater: $25,000. 2 sty. 44x97. Archt. Harry Prescott Graves, 18 Shattuck st. Owners Crown Theater Co., Sam'l Orback, pres., care Owl Theater, Central st., taking bids.”
It’s possible that the “2 sty” referred only to the auditorium, which had a balcony, or that a decision was made to make the head of the building taller before construction was complete. The March 11, 1940 obituary of architect Harry Prescott Graves in The Lowell Sun didn’t mention the Crown among his works, but did mention the Strand and Merrimack Square theatres. I’ve also found a reference to Graves designing a theater in Worcester in 1913, but I haven’t been able to identify the house.

Rtprovencher on February 7, 2016 at 12:51 pm

Here’s a copy of my letter to the editor of the LOWELL SUN:

January 16, 2016


Dear Sir:

I have read with distress about the current use of the Crown Theater Building at 74 Middlesex Street. I’d like to suggest that the city consider enabling the Crown to return to its original use: a theater.

The Crown’s history is mentioned at the web site: Cinema Treasures. It was never much of a theater…small, architecturally undistinguished, very small stage space…but it was, after all, a performance space, something we are sorely lacking in Lowell.

Opened in 1914, the theater had 900 seats on the floor and in a small balcony. By the 1950’s it had morphed into The Allen Theater before it closed in the 1950’s. It is entirely possible that most of the original interior exists underneath, behind, and above new construction done during the re-purposing of the building (as was done with the Royal).

Lowell very much needs a catalyst in order to establish a lively night life and aim it toward the performing arts, not the drinking arts. As our city continues its impressive and remarkable re-birth, moving from an industrial to a service economy, a rescued Crown could have significant impact.

Currently, there are two kinds of performance space in Lowell: huge and small, ranging from the Tsongas Center and Auditorium to Liberty Hall which houses the Merrimack Rep. And, I think we’ll all admit that Merrimack Rep. is absolutely jammed into Liberty Hall…no room for a decent stage. They do the best they can with what they have, but imagine certain of their productions given the space of a larger venue, such as the Crown. For point of reference, the Colonial, the Shubert, and the Wilbur theaters in Boston all seat about 1,700, so the Crown’s 900 seats would provide a workable alternative to Lowell’s current venues.

A restored Crown would have a positive economic impact on Middlesex Street, the downtown, and all of Lowell and its suburbs. There are many studies on the Internet, but check out those of the Theater Historical Society of America, which show the kinds of businesses which flourish in the shadow of a working theater.

Generally, a theater like the Crown comes back on line when concerned citizens take action. After forming a non-profit corporation to raise funds, to buy and restore it, the Crown would become a performing arts center. Future productions would sustain it. The list of possible tenants is impressive.

It seems ironic that of more than 20 theaters in Lowell, both small and great (again, visit Cinema Treasures for a complete list), all we’ve got to show in 2016 is the remains of the Crown. But we should be thankful we have that much. Imagine what we could do.


Robert Provencher

Roger Katz
Roger Katz on November 11, 2012 at 6:00 am

For sale on Loopnet

rabourassa on May 2, 2012 at 2:55 pm

This is the Crown Building I know I own it. I was my place of business till 2010 when I retired.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on March 26, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Further to the discussion of other theates named “Crown”, -in a list of theaters and halls receiving state licenses in MA as of Oct. 31, 1914, are Crown theaters in Amesbury and Everett.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on November 9, 2010 at 10:42 am

The Crown in Lowell is listed in the 1927 Film Daily Yearbook as having 900 seats and open 7 days per week. on September 8, 2010 at 5:50 am

I was going by the place last night and noticed it all lit up. The Electrical Distrubutor place is now gone and the building is now operated as a gym to teach Karate, Mixed Martial Arts, Self Defence and Kun Khmer (Cambodian) Kick Boxing. I walked through it a little and they have a full size boxing ring in the area where the fron to the stage would be. After the theater moved out years ago they built a floor/cieling from the balcony to the rear wall. I was told there are still remnants of the balcony upstairs and was invited to tour the place some time during the day if I go back. Maybe this weekend.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on July 4, 2010 at 11:08 am

Boxoffice Magazine for April 28, 1958 has a feature article about Ben Sack and the Sack theater chain of Boston. Sack says that he got his start in movie theaters in Lowell. In 1950, with partners Irving Sisson and Joe Cohen, he began operating the Allen Theatre. A year later, the 3 moved to Fitchburg and after getting established there, they closed the Allen in Lowell, which Sack called a “dog”.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on February 25, 2010 at 8:36 am

tto Prov. and Jim Roy- what casts doubt in my mind that the 1929 Crown is the Crown/Allen in Lowell is the height of both the theater and the building to its left. They are both one story shorter than what’s there now. There was a very fancy building to the right, where Middlesex Supply is now. Looks like it could have been a bank building, for example. We know that it’s a NETOCO theater because the sign above the marquee says so. The Crown photos were with some old NETOCO company photos of Boston neighborhood theaters, with no info about where it was located. Someone I know says that there was no Crown Theatre in Boston and the only Crown was in Lowell.

Rtprovencher on February 23, 2010 at 2:38 pm

More great detective work by Mr. Roy…thanks!
First, Middlesex Supply: it was most assuredly where it is today back in 1951, and well before. By 1971 it did, in fact, undergo a major renovation, which will explain its greeatly altered appearance.
Second, there is no doubt in my mind that the 1929 shot of the Crown is the same building as the 1950 shot of the Allen, and is the same building which remains today. At first I was confused, but, if you strip away the facade of the 1929 Crown, what is left is the 1950 facade of the Allen, and that which remains today.
Third, I remain confused about how the Crown fit into the building which is there today. Did it fit entirely into that building (after all, it had only 800 seats), or was there another building involved (such as the rear of Middlesex Supply)? I wonder if the Lowell Historical Society could shed any light? I wonder if, at least, they might refer us to an old-timer who actually attended the Crown (I’m an old-timer who attended just about every other Lowell theater except the Crown/Allen!). on February 20, 2010 at 2:20 pm

I went to the UMass Lowell History center today and did somemore checking and unfortunately was unable to find anything that suggests that the photo we have of the Crown was in fact the one thought to be on Middlesex St. in Lowell. The pages I added to the gallerry suggests that the building as is was built in around 1916, and the 4 story building to the left at 60-68 Middlesex St. was built around the same time. The photo of the Crown was from 1929 according to the films advertised on the Marquee and the building to the left of that incorrect for Middlesex St.
The building to the right, which was Middlesex Supply is said to have been built around 1971 which doesn’t make sense according to the 1950 photo of the Allen. It may likley have been renovated by then. See the gallery in the link in my former post. I was able at least to get some info regarding another Lowell Theater anyway, The Strand, which Ron mailed me about and will add that entry in a bit.
Prov., I too wonder about the interior shots and the feasability of it beinjg the Allen. From the aerial view it looks about the right shape for a sloping ceiling and screen at the rear of the building. The additional height in the front would be necessary for the balcony. I was unable to go inside today. Might have to try at lunch during the week sometime.

Rtprovencher on February 20, 2010 at 11:16 am

Kudos to James Roy for the definitive collection of Crown/Allen photos. It represents much appreciated work. I remember the 1950 shot of the Allen (nee Crown), because Middlesex Supply is to right and we knew the family who owned it. It’s easy to see that the old facade of the theater had been stipped off by 1950 (perhaps to “modernize” it?), thus giving us what we see today.
Looking at the aerial shot raises questions for me. It’s hard to believe that the theater (shown in the two interior shots) was actually encompassed in that building. Looking at the back alley shot, the back of the theater building seems to be much lower than the front elevation. Further, the building which looks as if it’s the actual auditorium portion of the theater, is actually the back of the old Middlesex supply and perpendicular the the Crown/Allen building. So, I wonder if the building we’re calling the Crown/Allen is actually the head house for an auditorium in the back half of the old Middlesex Supply. The right hand shot of the two building certainly suggests some difference in construction between the front half and the rear half of the old Middlesex Supply building.
Or, another thought: since the front of the theater is so much higher that the back, maybe the theater was reversed with the stage being at the front?
Another possibility is that, if the theater were encompassed entirely in one building, perhaps the stage house was torn down to a first story level. A close look at the brickwork in the alley photo indicates that may have been the case.
The best way to solve the riddle would be to speak with the building’s owners. on February 13, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Ok, a few updates. The building that is the Electrical distributors is in fact the building that housed the Crown and Allen theater. The 1916 business directory for the city (year ending January 1917) had no listing for the Crown in thay year but did list a Colonial Theater at 84 Middlesex St. in the building adjacent and to the right in the photo of it. The first entry for a Crown theater if 1917 at 70 Middlesex St (same property likely 70-74 Middlesex St., the property to the left in the photo(s) is 68).
The last entry for a Crown Theater in the City directory id 1949 and lists it at 72 Middlessex st. and the manager as Joseph Lennon. The folowwing year is the only first and last entry for the Allen Theater (same address) and the manager is Arthur J. Stein. Unfortunately I didn’t notice the Colonial Theater entries while I was accessing the directories so didn’t pursue any research regarding them. To answer another question Ron asked, Yes, there were street car tracks on Middlesex St. in that era, from 1896 to at least the mid/late 1930s when street car service ceased in the city. More and all pictures can be found here, to which I’ll add as I get them. on February 10, 2010 at 12:05 pm

One of the guys I work with swung by at lunch yesterday and took this quick shot.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on February 10, 2010 at 11:03 am

Looking at the 2 images posted by J.V.Roy on Feb 4, there is no question that it is the same building as in the June 1950 MGM photo of the Allen. And I’m about 60% sure that it’s the same building as in the NETOCO photos from circa-1920s. JV Roy, contact me at and I will make copies for you. on February 10, 2010 at 10:44 am

Is there any chance of seeing the photos that Ron is talking about so we can compare?

Rtprovencher on February 6, 2010 at 9:39 am

Great shots of the Crown…
It appears that the theater building is in tact. After reading Ron Salters' entry, I cannot believe that the Crown had much of a stage and the balcony was probably pretty small if it was accessed from the theater itself. It just may be that the “bones” of the old theater still exist and that the ornamentation has been pulled off, which would make a restoration at least possible. I’d love to speak with someone who knows more about the old place.
Prov. on February 4, 2010 at 11:37 am

I’m in that vicinity a lot and walked into it a month or so ago. The building I believe to have been the theater is now a company called Elcetrical Distributors Inc. (EDI) at 74 Middlesex St. The interior is/was virtually gutted. What would have been an auditorium to the the back wall is now full of rows of tall shelving. I didn’t find anyone available to talk to and didn’t want to just go browsing further unannounced.
Here are a few captures from live maps and google

kencmcintyre on January 16, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Here is a June 1921 ad from the Lowell Sun:

Rtprovencher on December 2, 2009 at 3:14 pm

The Crown sits in an area of intense historical restoration, including a new parking garage across Middlesex Street. It would be interesting to get inside and see what is left of the old place. Since its the only candidate for restoration from among a dozen theaters which once existed, I wonder if there would be any government or private agency which possesses the vision, and resources, to restore the Crown. I should imagine it would be very well patronized in this city in which a major university is located. Imagine, too, the interest which re-naming the theater after its most illustrious movie star alumna, Bette Davis, might generate?

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on November 20, 2009 at 11:59 am

The souvenir book for the 1983 Boston convention of the Theatre Historical Society contained some old company photos made by the New England Theatres Operating Company (NETOCO). All were Boston neighborhood theatres from the 1910s and 1920s. One was a “Crown” theatre. I couldn’t figure out what this was or where in Boston it was located until Someone Who Was There told me that there was only one Crown and it was in Lowell. Comparing the Netoco facade photo with the MGM Report photo for the Allen/Crown leads me to think that they are one in the same. The Allen’s front seems to be one story higher and lacking some of the detail, but it is otherwise very similar. The old building to the left seems to have the same curved window-tops in both photos. The interior shots show a fairly ornate auditorium with unique fancy staircases from the balcony front comng down to the sides of the stage. There was a 2-manual organ in the small orchestra pit. The exterior shot shows trolley tracks in the street out front.

Rtprovencher on March 30, 2009 at 4:16 pm

The Crown was a haunt of Jack Kerouac and his pals. It was renamed “The Allen”, and closed under that name. I believe that the theatre building is relatively in tact, but has been converted to other uses. I, too, would like to know how much of the original details survive. It’s about the only extant Lowell theater that could possibly be restored. BUT, since it was always a second-run, neighborhood house, it was not particularly distinguished, and might not be worth the effort. Like many others, I lament the wholesale destruction of many magnificent theaters. The sad truth is that the bulk of theaters which once existed were quite undistinguished and not worth preserving. The Roxies of this country were few and far between even at the height of their popularity, and many still exist, although not enough for my tastes. Lowell, for example, was not able to hold onto even one of a dozen theatres which once existed. The two which remain in some form, the Royal and the Crown, are not properties one would want to bring back.

meredithlee on February 13, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Here’s Jack Kerouac’s description in his book DOCTOR SAX:
“Sunday afternoon at the Crown Theater with rats in the balcony and the time we threw boxes of ice cream at the miser in the movie foreclosing the widow’s mortgage and a 90 year old cop came upstairs to try to find us."
This episode in his autobiographical novel takes place around 1936 – around the time of the largest flood there.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on August 27, 2008 at 10:27 am

The Crown/Allen still exists on Middlesex St., at least the front of it. I don’t know if the former auditorium is still in place in back. Supposedly there is a gym in there, plus a couple of other tenants. The recent photo I saw of it matches the building in the MGM Report photo.