21 N. Ayer Street,
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Previously operated by: Alliance Amusement Corporation
Previous Names: Palace Theater, Saunders Theater, Show in Harvard
Opened in 1913 on Ayer Street as the Palace Theater, this theater moved into a new building just up the street in 1925, and was renamed the Saunders Theater at this time. The new theater could seat about 500. It was closed in 1969. It was reopened on February 23, 1970 as the Harvard Theater. From April 1974 it began showing pornographic films and was renamed The Show in Harvard on September 18, 1975. It reverted back to its Harvard Theater name in 1981 and returned to screening first run movies. It was closed in 1982.
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In 1970 the Saunders was operated by the Alliance Amusement Co. President was Spiro J. Papas.
I think they got the information for the motion picture almanacs about six months ahead of time, so it could have closed in 1970. I’ve seen a few 1970 entries where the theater had already been demolished the year before.
Boxoffice of December 6, 1947, said that the Saunders Theatre had been taken over from Bertha Saunders by the Papas brothers and their father, John. The theater was to be remodeled and renamed the Harvard. Apparently they changed their minds about the renaming. Perhaps they decided it was cheaper to refurbish the existing signage. As I found C.J. Papas mentioned in Boxoffice as owner of the Saunders as early as 1943, the 1947 item must have meant that Bertha Saunders had sold the building to them.
A November 7, 1942, Boxoffice item says “C.J. Chapin has resigned as manager of the Saunders Theatre in Harvard after being associated with its operation for 35 years.” If there is no error in that report, that would push the opening of the theater back to at least 1907.
Eventually, the Saunders did get renamed the Harvard Theatre. Boxoffice of April 29, 1969, made the announcement that Robert and Roberta Hume of Harvard would renovate and reopen the old Saunders Theatre, which had been closed for several years.
A Boxoffice article of March 23, 1970, says that the Harvard Theatre had opened on February 23, after a year of remodeling which converted it into a “…luxurious 400-seat showhouse.” The last mention of the Harvard Theatre I’ve found is in Boxoffice of September 18, 1972, when operator Hume, Inc., was charged with showing an obscene film. The name of the film was not given, but the address was given as 21 N. Ayer Street. (I checked Google and sure enough, there’s no “s” on the street name.)
The current occupant of the building at 21 N. Ayer Street is a restaurant called Pico de Gallo, according to the Internets. On Google Street View it looks like a single floor, but the 1970 item about the Harvard Theatre said there was a balcony. Perhaps the upper floor has been chopped off, or maybe it was actually in the two-story building next door (probably 23 N. Ayer) and Boxoffice was off a bit.
I don’t think the theater was actually showing pornography in 1965. I think the charge was probably over one of the early X-rated movies, perhaps Midnight Cowboy. The local officials of this small town were most likely a bit overwrought.
Oh, wait. Midnight Cowboy came out in 1969. The book was from 1965.
In any case, the 1970 article said that the theater had been closed for several years before reopening that year as the Harvard Theatre, and it wasn’t a cheap remodel. The Harvard was a first-run theater. What film got the shorts of the local police in a wad in 1972 I don’t know, but there were plenty of mainstream Hollywood movies then that could have had such an effect in a small town.
The Google view has it right. It’s the tall building in the center.
September 18th, 1975 grand opening ad as The Show in Harvard can be found in the photo section. Adult movies were shown.
After the Saunders Theatre closed in 1969, February 23rd, 1970 marks the reopening to the Harvard Theatre which only lasted for 4 years and 2 months during its first-run attractions until April 1974. In April 1974, X-Rated movies begin playing at the Harvard Theatre and was a huge success. The Harvard Theatre changed its name to The Show in Harvard on September 18th, 1975.
However in 1981, The Show in Harvard then was later changed its name back to the Harvard Theatre and turned upside-down big time and went back to its original first-run attractions. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a failure-in-disgrace for the city and the theater ended up closing in 1982.