RKO Albee Theatre
320 Westminster Street,
320 Westminster Street,Providence, RI 02903
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1941 PHOTO OF ALBEE THEATRE IN MGM REPORT Thanks to Theatre Historical Society of America.
The Theatre Historical Society archive has the MGM Theatre Report for the RKO Albee; it’s Card # 551. There is an exterior photo taken in 1941. The theater is on Westminster St. Condition “Good”. It’s over 15 years old (as of 1941) and does not show MGM product. The seating is listed as 938 on the main floor and 1264 in the balcony. (I’m not sure these figures are very correct).
My brother Gerald and I went to the RKO Albee Theater starting in 1957. My Grandmother Clara and Great Uncle Albert took us there. The Albee was my favorite theater in downtown Providence. I vividly remember the posters and lobby cards from Roger Corman’s “The Undead” and “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” and many, many other movies that played there.
I have a box of Jean Harlow photos that belonged to Albert. In the box is a large envelope from RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. in New York that is addressed to “David Levin, Mgr., RKO Albee Theatre” and another envelope from “Irving Klaw” in NYC. I believe this is where Albert may have purchased or was given these black and white photos.
I am in the process of writing a book on the late actress Sandra Dee who I met in 1994 for an interview. I saw many of Sandra’s Universal Pictures at the RKO Albee.
I have collected several RKO Albee postcards through the years. In my book, I plan to talk about what it was like going to the Albee to see her films.
I am looking to correspond with anyone who has any knowledge and memories about the subjects I have written here.
I can be reached at
Thanks for this great website!
The Lost World, the silent 1925 dinosaur adventure film, played the Albee on a twice-a-day roadshow policy with reserved seats.
SEE AD HERE
Arturo Toscanini conducted the La Scala Orchestra at the Albee on March 20, 1921. Sunday classical concerts were very common in an era when Providence theatres could not present movies, vaudeville, or plays on Sundays. These mouth-watering concerts and recitals have nothing to compare with them today in Rhode Island, sorry to say.
The new E.F. Albee Theatre opened on April 21, 1919. The opening night gala (with George M. Cohan) and the theatre itself (“beautiful beyond words”) were discussed in The Providence News, April 22, 1919.
Also, this ad appeared in newspapers the following day.
In November 1929 the Albee Theatre was hosting silent screen star Claire Windsor. “Shake hands with Miss Windsor. The famous star will hold receptions in the Italian room of this theatre following afternoon and evening performances,” said the ad. The film on the program was Frank Borzage’s 1929 silent and part-talkie The River with Charles Farrell and Mary Duncan.
NEWSPAPER AD for November 2, 1929.
An article on theatre-manager Foster Lardner appeared in Providence News on November 11, 1929. At that time he managed both the Victory (Keith’s, later called Empire) and the Albee.
Charlie Chaplin’s silent film masterpiece The Gold Rush opened at the E. F. Albee Theatre on September 7, 1925. Here is a nice ad from a local newspaper the day before:
First 3-D picture plays Providence at the R.K.O. Albee. Item in Boxoffice magazine, February 21, 1953:
Bwana Devil, third-dimensional picture, was highly exploited when it played at the RKO Albee. Dave Levin set up a battery of third-dimensional viewers in the outer lobby, and crowds were lined up at all hours, scanning views taken from the picture. The Albee charged $1 top for evening and Sunday performances.
(Stock comes to an end at the Albee. Ad in the Providence paper on August 30, 1926.)
to the 26th Edward F. Albee Stock Company, oldest and best of all.
CLOSING WEEK STOCK SEASON
is the funniest farce yet
WE’VE GOT TO HAVE MONEY
A tornado of laughs.
Lots of closing week fun at every performance…
Starting Labor Day
VAUDEVILLE and PHOTOPLAYS
A pretentious array of Keith-Albee stars and a perfect feature picture will inaugurate our Fall-Winter season of continuous performances, Boxes, loges, stalls reserved, except Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
In Gerald’s reference posted on Jun 19, 2005, he describes a collection of images at Prov Public Library. They are all quite fascinating. Image #80 shows a section of Albee lobby with a large painting on the wall of someone in a robe and dog at their foot. Do we have any information who is the subject of that painting?
In his book Downcity: Downtown Providence in the 1950s, Carmen Maiocco recollects the Albee:
“When the tore down the RKO Albee Theater next to Grace Church in 1970, more than one stroller along the Mall stopped near the demolition site and stood for a moment, quietly, remembering the good times they had at the grand old theater. The Albee was hard to forget. For one thing, the building had a five storey high facade to which was attached a gigantic vertical marquee which glowed like a torch visible all up and down Westminster Street. Opened in 1919 on the site of a long line of entertainment enterprises, including the well-known Nickel Theater, the Albee originally offered live performances played to full houses. By the 1930s, the Albee was part of the large RKO Theater chain, and hereafter was known primarily as a motion picture house. By the ‘60s, like most of the downtown movie palaces, the Albee was having problems filling its nearly 2,300 seats. In 1965, the downtown developer B.A. Dario purchased the building. Dario attempted to convert the theater into a performing arts center. The idea never panned out. The wreckers eventually came in to do their work and today the site is a parking lot. There’s a little plaque on the sidewalk indicating where the proud Albee Theater once stood.”
I worked at this theater from 1966 until its closing and demolition. It was truly one of the most beautiful theaters I have ever seen. I was an usher (which meant seating people, keeping the place clean, especially polishing those big brass doors leading into the building – gallons of Noxon and tons of rags over the years).
We presented many first run movies right up until the end, including the RI premier of “Valley of the Dolls”, “Bonnie & Clyde”, “Oliver”, and one of my favorites “Madame X” with Lana Turner and Keir Dullea!
Valley of the Dolls was probably the most successful of all the runs since the theater’s reopening under Dario. I remember several weekends of sold out performances. I would have to lead the way to the upper balcony to those lucky (or unfortunate) enough to have this unique view. It was several flights of stairs with lots of jokes and a few stops to catch our breath as we made our way to the “nose bleed” section. From the upper balcony you were looking down at about a 30 degree angle at the screen.
The areas of the building the public didn’t get to see were the best. There was an animal holding area below the stage for the early vauldeville days. At one time there had been an elevator to bring animals up onto the stage. On the right side of the backstage area (in the back) was a stairway and small elevator that lead to dressing rooms.
The manager during this time was Al Rodrigues.
I remember the day they started to demolish the building and how I smiled when the wall crashed down on the Grace Church next door. The grand old lady wasn’t going down without a fight!
Here is a nice photo of the Albee, Grace Church, and Westminster Street with trackless trolleys on February 21, 1946.
Here is apost World War I postcard of the E.F. Albee Theatre and businesses on Westminster Street. Grace Church is seen on the near left. (Expand for clearer image.)
The legendary soprano Mary Garden sang at the E.F. Albee on March 7, 1920. This was less than one year after the theatre had opened. Admission prices ranged from $1 to $3.50 for the sole Sunday-afternoon matinee. By law Providence theatres could not offer movies or plays on Sundays at the time. Musical events were permitted. As a result many of the downtown theatres had concerts and recitals by classical and popular artists.
The world premiere of Republic Pictures' The Eternal Sea took place at the R.K.O. Albee on April 20, 1955. In attendance were stars Sterling Hayden and Alexis Smith, Herbert Yates, president of Republic, Adm. William F. Halsey. Also present was Rear Adm. John M. Hoskins himself, a R.I. resident at the time as Commander of Fleet Air at Quonset Naval Base, and the hero on whose life the film was based. The film narrates his efforts to retain active command despite a World War II injury in which he lost a foot.
Here is the newspaper ad on the day of the premiere.
Albee Audience Stages Sit-Down Until Second Feature is Shown
That was the headline of an article in the Providence Journal on February 2, 1939. The night before, 500 customers who had wandered in after 7 o'clock howled in protest at 10:45 when the lights came on but they were demanding to see It Happened One Night.
But because of the length of the double-bill program of revivals of Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and It Happened One Night and added attractions that included a WEAN spelling bee on the stage, newsreels, and trailers, the last scheduled showing (as published in the paper) of It Happened One Night was 5:38 P.M.
Unaware of or unable to accept that, the patrons who had arrived after 7 P.M. were not going to leave until seeing that movie. One large gentleman, according to the newspaper article, threatened, to “tear the place apart.” Most people just sat; others upbraided staff, ushers, even elevator operators. Pursuing an appeasement policy, the management started things happening one night all over again and the film had another, unscheduled showing at 11 P.M. Theatre manager John Kane explained it was not the theatre’s fault, but because the features and other attractions were long, customers were getting more than their money’s worth and a late showing of One Night had not been included in the program. The following day the program ran its customary length and there would be no problems.
An ad in the 1936 commemorative book Tercentenary, Providence and Rhode Island by four downtown Providence theatres, listed theatre names and managers:
PROVIDENCE DOWNTOWN THEATRES
Bernard M. Fay, Manager
Edward A. Zorn, Manager
Howard C. Burkhardt, Manager
Edward R. Reed Manager
In November of 1969 the R.K.O. Albee was showing Russ Meyer’s Vixen while Loew’s State a block away had Fanny Hill. Both were non-pornographic “adult films.” The Strand would in its last years move to hard-core, the only downtown movie palace ever to do so, but clearly it was all signalling the end for regular film programs in the city’s old theatres.
Topic: construction of the theatre that would become the Albee (E.F Albee, R.K.O. Albee.) From “The Board of Trade Journal,” Providence, April, 1915:
Plans for the New Keith’s Theatre.
“…There’s to be a new Keith Theatre in Providence, ground for which will be broken on May 1, for one of the finest houses in New England, to be ready for occupancy January 1, 1916, and it will cover the site of the present Nickel Theatre and the old structures on Snow and Chapel streets.
“The theatre proper will occupy the land in the rear and will be reached by an entrance from Westminster street. The front portion of the building will be devoted entirely to offices and will be six stories in height, the same as that of the Kinsley building, which adjoins the Keith property.
“The theatre will be fireproof throughout and in the matter of equipment will excel anything which the Keith interests now have, it is said. The frame of the structure will be entirely of steel and concrete, with light brick and marble facings. The vestibule, which will be 28 feet wide, will be faced with marble.
“Adjoining the lobby there will be a store having a frontage of 15 feet, making the whole Westminster street frontage 43 feet. The depth of the house running parallel with Mathewson street will be 180 feet, while the extensions on Chapel street will be 157 feet, and on Snow street 93 feet.
“Half of the office building in back will be used for rooms, and the front ofices will connect with the office structure adjoining. The theatre will have a seating capacity of 2600, making it one of the largest amusement houses in New England.
“One of the unusual features of a theatre for Providence will be a handsome rathskeller connecting directly with the auditorium.”
Compared to Loew’s State (now Providence Performing Arts Center), built about 12 years later, this was to be the second most beautiful Providence and Rhode Island theatre ever constructed, in my humble opinion. And with regard to the stunning Renaissance-like use of marble in the lobby area and rear of the auditorium, perhaps even the most beautiful.
Roland, I just posted that picture on the Carlton page.
I found that book on www.abebooks.com in ten seconds. A dealer in California had it, but there were no other copies listed. Several other Providence area libraries have it and you can take it out. Check the CLAN catalog. The photo you refer to was of the demolition of the Carlton in 1954. Mr. John E. Toohey was the man standing amid the rubble (like Gloria Swanson at the Roxy) and was the manager of the Carlton in its last years. I’m going to post that photo on the Carlton site shortly. It also appears on the above mentioned “Images of Rhode Island” site of the PPL.
The book deals pretty much only with downtown Providence theatres. At some point I will try to find out when the Fairlawn in Pawtucket opened, using old city directories.