37 N. Main Street,
37 N. Main Street,Woonsocket, RI 02895
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A good early history of Woonsocket’s theatres can be found in The Woonsocket Call, June 1, 1942. Find that issue by searching here: http://woonsocket.advantage-preservation.com/
The Theatre Historical Society archive has the MGM Theatre Report for the Park; it’s Card # 564. There is an exterior photo taken April 1941. The marquee displays Vaudeville on Sundays. The condition is Fair. It was over 15 years old and was not showing MGM films. The seating was 800 on the main floor and 400 balcony, total 1,200.
The Park Theatre was sued in 1928 by the Vitaphone Corporation.
This theatre was part of the September 1923 6th Paramount Week. In this advertisement from the (Providence) Evening Tribune, September 1, 1923, we see a fascinating list of Rhode Island area theatres, many long-gone and long-forgoten, or even unheard of, as well as what they were showing during that week. CLICK HERE
From an article on Woonsocket theatres in The Providence Journal.
Copyright Providence Journal/Evening Bulletin May 16, 1985
“The life breathed into the Stadium to rescue it from its X-rated days in the 1970’s is a spin-off of the interest in historical preservation and incubating the local arts scene stirred by the Woonsocket Opera House in its final years.
“The Opera House, a six-story giant that was one of New England’s finest which, in its posterity, will probably always lay claim to being the largest stage ever in the state, opened to rave reviews in 1888. Monument Square hotels and guest rooms were packed as 1,700 people crowded the 1,500-seat Opera House to see Maude Banks in "Ingomar the Barbarian.”
“In 1910, as road shows lost popularity to the "flickers,” boxing was tried. Three years later, as the Park Theatre, the typical bill combined three vaudeville acts with six film reels, but was short-lived because the Bijou was the dominant vaudeville house. By 1915, it was mostly all movies.
“What one later-day critic dubbed "a gaudy middle-aged fling in vaudeville” was attempted during World War II when the Stadium’s builder, industrialist Arthur I. Darman, made $25,000 in renovations and reopened the New Park Theater on Labor Day, 1942.
“It proved a money-loser, but a cultural boost for Woonsocket and a big hit with big-time performers. As with the Stadium, Darman designed meticulous facilities for the troupers. He arranged limousine rides from Providence’s Union Station and lavish post-show buffets. The favorable reputation was summed up in the title of a 1945 Saturday Evening Post article, "Book Me in Woonsocket.”
“The New Park’s ads proclaimed its "2-in-1 stage and screen shows… All for 40c and 50c plus tax… The Best Fun Investment” in town. But as the red ink mounted Darman sold out in 1945.
“DESPITE innovations such as a CinemaScope, screen movie audiences waned in the 50’s. By 1961, the Park’s twin horseshoe balconies only saw action on weekends and closed altogether in 1963, a "Watch for Reopening” sign presiding sadly over increasing vandalism and sporadic small fires. When the city took control in 1970 because of unpaid tax bills demolition bids were sought.
“A battle ensued in which preservationists and arts buffs tried to convince city fathers that grant money could be assembled to revive the Opera House. A state offer of $250,000 helped convince the city, but as the legal formalities were being ironed out, two weeks before the transfer to the Opera House Society the building mysteriously burned on September 22, 1975.”
As the Opera House, this theatre is listed under Woonsocket in the 1897-98 edition of the Julius Cahn Official Theatrical Guide. The Mgr. was G.C. Sweatt and the seating capacity was 1,716. The theatre had both gas and electric illumination; admission prices were 25 cents to $1. The auditorium was on the ground floor; the proscenium opening was 29 feet wide and the stage was 56 feet deep. There were 7 in the house orchestra. The 1897 population of Woonsocket was 25,000. Newspapers were the “Reporter” and the “Call”, both daily. Hotels for show folk were the Monument House, St. James, Hotel Woonsocket, and the Music Hall Hotel. Railroad was the New Haven Railroad. Also listed in this Guide under Woonsocket is the Music Hall. It had 1,400 seats, was on the second floor, and had a large stage 60 feet deep.
Thank you, thank you for all the photos and comments on the Park Theatre. My father used to dance there during the 40’s with Hilda’s dance studio. I had been searching for pictures. I had gone to the Historical Society on 10/07 hoping they had information but they didn’t. I was so happy to find your web site. My parents and grandparents are all from Woonsocket and my mom was an avid movie buff/goer growing up so I was so happy to find information/pictures on all these theatres that she has talked about for ages.
ghr October 8, 2007
After the extensive refurbishing of the New Park Theatre; Arthur Darman re-opened it on Friday Nov. 6, 1942. The Vaudeville Bill featured “The Arnault Bros”, Cy Reeves",“Bob Easton”, “Grace Drysdale” and “The 3 Poms”. The new House Band was conducted by Stuart Allen, whose theme song was “Diane”. Every live performance began with The National Anthem" as an off-stage electric fan unfurled an American flag on stage right. The feature movie that weekend was “One Thrilling Night”.In competition, the Stadium was playing “A Yank At Eton”. “Flying Tigers” was at The Bijou. The Laurier ran “Hello Annapolis”, The Rialto “Dangerous Lady” and The Olympia featured “The Man Who Came To Dinner” The local paper had no Theatre Reviewer.
The theater was closed for a while in the early thirties, according to this lawsuit brought in 1937:
As a small child, my mother often when shopping or to have her hair done in the Monument Square area of Woonsocket. I remember staring at the Park with fascinating. It was closed and boarded up at the time (this would have been the late 1960’s or early 1970’s). I would walk around the ticket booth, and press my face against the doors trying to peer in through the slats of wood. My mother told me the Park had two balconies, but I could not picture what a balcony was. My aunt had worked there as an usherette. Shortly before the fire in 1975, I recall reading a newspaper article that some people had broken into the Park (apparently it was not too difficult to do that in the rear of the building), then, once inside, hammered through a wall to break into an adjacent store with the intentions of robery (I believe it was a jewelry store).
The 1949 Film Daily Yearbook gaves the seating capacity as 1,257.
060621- dougvbrown files
Thanks Gerry for the added comments and photos on the Woonsocket,RI
theaters ….After a careful study of all the Woonsocket material
and looking at aerial photos I have determined that one(1) theater
that I went to was located on North Main St and probably was
the PARK Theater- 37 No. Main St
Circa 1946 traveling by bus (U.E.R.) from “the MALL” (now Kennedy Plaza) Providence…..
to Woonssocket via Charles St and the old Louisquisset Pike (Rte 146) for
a weekend visit my Aunt/Uncle/Cousin ….There was a movie showing that I
had seen several times and I convinced my cousin that we should go see it.
The Picture was “A Song To Remember” Cornell Wilde/Merle Oberon/Paul Muni
a story of Chopin’s life and music – Jose Iturbi ,unseen ,did all the piano
I remember that we walked to No Main St all the way from Cold Spring Park
Harris Ave—down Blackstone St and short cut thru Corey St across
No. Main St to The PARK Theater
Everything ,from the main entrance to the balcony seats seemed
small townish compared to even the smaller Prov theaters
For me,the movie was just so powerful super that the surrounding theater short comings didn’t really matter.. also on the program was a short
short of Ethel SMITH on the Wurlitzer playing her hit “ TICO TICO"
I never saw fingers-hands-and arms move so fast
Later in 1948-1949-1950 I had my own TV Antenna Installation &TV Service
business located on No.Main St near Prospect St I was familiar with the
Woonsocket theater bldgs and locations but in the 3 years never attended
any Woonsocket theaters ,I lived and returned every nite to Providence
Tragic end of the Woonsocket Opera House.
From Woonsocket, Rhode Island – A Centennial History, 1888-1988:
By the early 1970’s the Woonsocket Opera House was a sadly-neglected, unused movie theater—the New Park Theater. The last movie had been shown in 1963, and by the end of the decade vandals had done their part in wrecking the interior. The exterior of the building, although still impressive and imposing, showed signs of decay. The marquee fronting North Main Street was in danger of collapsing.
In 1970 the city took over the theater in lieu of back taxes. By 1972 the vacant and accessible building was a public hazard. Police were frequently called to the building to evict intruders. The fire department feared a conflagration and neighboring businesses were fearful of the dangers posed by the vacant building. This was a far cry from the building’s former splendor as the centerpiece of the bustling Monument Square area.
The decaying building still proudly bore its name “Woonsocket Opera House” on its upper facade. Built in 1888, the building opened in the same year that Woonsocket became a city. It was a symbol of Woonsocket’s cultural hopes. In spite of the dreams of the Opera House’s builders, Woonsocket never became a leading stop for major theatrical groups. The really big shows and really big stars played elsewhere. The Woonsocket Opera House became the stage for traveling repertory companies and secondary road companies. For two decades it was Woonsocket’s only theater to offer legitimate stage attractions. In 1913, now called the New Park Theater, the Opera House attracted vaudeville shows. By 1915 the Opera House was Woonsocket’s leading movie theater with occasional stage shows, usually local productions. It remained a movie theater until its closing. In 1941 the theater was extensively remodeled and in 1942 new owner Arthur I. Darman brought vaudeville back to its stage for the brief reprise of vaudeville during World War II.
After World War II the Opera House suffered the fate of most American downtown theaters. Inability to compete with television and drive-in movies, population moves to the suburbs, and the general decline of movies as the prime form of American entertainment permanently closed the New Park Theater in 1963.
In June, 1972 Mayor John A. Cummings called for the demolition of the structure because of the hazards it posed. Bids were sought to raze the Opera House. The Woonsocket Historical Society, under the leadership of President Phyllis Thomas, sought to stay the demolition, proposing instead that the building be preserved and rehabilitated as a cultural center for Woonsocket.
Mrs. Thomas and Martin Crowley, Woonsocket High School history teacher, appealed to the City Council to postpone demolition. They asked for time to restore the Opera House. City Council members agreed with the sentiments of Councilman Gerard J. Bouley: “The building has been around for 84 years; a few more years won’t hurt.”
Demolition was postponed. With this new breath of life, full-scale restoration plans began. Community support for the efforts was evidenced when 22 community groups pledged to support restoration efforts. In 1973 the Opera House was entered into the National Register of Historic Places. That same year National Guardsmen and military reservists joined others in a “Clean up the Opera House Day.” In January, 1974, noted Woonsocket liturgical composer C. Alexander Peloquin presented a concert of sacred music in Saint Ann’s Church for the benefit of the restoration fund drive. The Woonsocket Opera House Society was formed to oversee the plans for and actual restoration of the building.
In August, 1975 the City Council voted to transfer the property to the Opera House Society, although lack of a clear title held up this transfer.
As hopes for the building’s salvation grew, disaster struck. In the early morning hours of September 22, 1975, a fire of suspicious origin roared through the Opera House. The building was destroyed as well as the top two floors of the adjacent Brown-Carroll Building. An 85-year-old resident of the Colonial Apartments, Mrs. Anne E. Tavnon, died in the blaze. The fears of area residents and business and public safety officials were realized; the hopes of the Woonsocket Opera House Society were dashed. An editorial in The Woonsocket Call summed up the entire Opera House story of the seventies. The editorial writer called not only the blaze but the entire Opera House episode tragic:
“It is a tragic ending for one of the city’s best-known landmarks….It is tragic, too, that those who felt so strongly that it could be renovated and refurbished…were not given a chance to implement these plans.”
From Woonsocket, Rhode Island – A Centennial History, 1888-1988:
World War II years at Woonsocket theatres
Throughout the war years, local movie houses supplied war-weary citizens with much-needed entertainment. At that time the city boasted six theaters: the New Park and the Stadium at Monument Square, the Bijou on lower Main Street, the Olympia and the Rialto in the Market Square area, and the Laurier in the Social district.
Movies not only boosted patriotism and morale, but they also were instrumental in raising millions of dollars in war bonds. Theatergoers were constantly reminded on newsreels and by screen actors that there was “a war on.”
These same movie houses were also used for bond rallies which included live stage acts. One such rally was held at the Stadium Theatre on June 13, 1944. Billed as the Fifth War Loan, the spectacle included a local war hero, Captain John T. Godfrey, and Woonsocket’s young Eileen Farrell, who music critics claimed was on the verge of a “brilliant operatic career.”
The most impressive of these bond rallies was that of September 9, 1943. This “Salute to Our Heroes” dinner was sponsored by the local theater managers headed by Benjamin Greenberg.
Those seeking an evening, or even an afternoon, at the movies had their choice of six movie theaters in 1950. The Olympia, Rialto, Bijou, and Stadium on Main Street; the New Park on North Main Street; and the Laurier on Cumberland Street. Most of these had matinees as well as evening performances, and all featured two movies—the double feature.
Competition for customers, plus the beginnings of competition by television, led theater owners to add inducements to their movie billings. At the Olympia, viewers could play “Honey” for cash prizes, while the New Park featured Silver Dollar Nights. At the Laurier, management appealed to the distaff side by offering china and silverware as gifts. Those who sought family entertainmnet could travel to the Rhode Island Auditorium in Providence to enjoy the Ice Capades for a price ranging from $1.25 to $3.80.
Opened: September 20, 1888.
Destroyed by fire: September 22, 1975.
Age: 87 years, 2 days.
Thumbnail sketch of the Woonsocket Opera House from The Rhode Island Guide, 1976, by Sheila Steinberg and Cathleen McGuigan:
Woonsocket Opera House, 37-45 North Main Street (recently destroyed by fire). When it was erected in 1888 this was the largest theater in Rhode Island and the only legitimate theater ever built in this area. Here factory workers and tradesmen gathered to see the melodramas popular at the time. Ingomar, the Barbarian, a play of uncontrolled lust and simple virtue starring Miss Maude Banks, played to enthusiastic crowds when the theater opened in September 1888.
The theater was built by twelve civic-minded Woonsocket businessmen and was designed by Willard Kent, a civil engineer and superintendent of the local water works. With the Harris Institute, the Woonsocket Opera House added an educational and cultural dimension to what might have been a city devoted solely to industry.
Here are two old photos of the Woonsocket Opera House.
ONE: On the left is the entrance to the Opera House Pharmacy. The central entrance leads to the offices upstairs. The right arch is the theatre entrance.
TWO: Monument Square, with the Opera House in the center with the vertical “Opera House” marquee.
And this is a photo of the theatre location in the weeks after the fire of September 22, 1975.
Here is a photo of the interior from 1900. The theatre had been built 12 years earlier, in 1888. It was the last large Victorian theatre built in the state. The stage is said to have been second in size only to the later Veterans' Memorial Auditorium, still standing in Providence.
This 1974 photo shows the efforts of local preservationists to save the Opera House/Park Theatre. The following year, on September 22, 1975, the venerable old institution was completely destroyed by a huge fire.
Here is a 1945 photo of Arthur Darman behind the candy counter of his Park Theatre. See above entry.
In The Saturday Evening Post of June 23, 1945 there was a long and fascinating article that discussed vaudeville at the Park and its owner/impresario Arthur Darman, dubbed “little Napoleon.” The article is entitled “Book me at Woonsocket,” by T. E. Murphy. It was subtitled “One man’s curious passion for making pets of vaudevillians has transformed yesterday’s ‘stinkeroo’ into a paradise for performers.”
The piece paints a picture of Mr. Darman as a generous, strong-willed, civic minded person, who had spent great sums ($150,000) to beautify the Park and the backstage areas used by performers. He would wine and dine then, do all he could to get them to like the Park and want to return, despite the fact that vaudeville at this time, the mid-‘40s, was not a real passion for citizens of Woonsocket.
Among the man’s eccentricities: he built an expensive vent system to drive the smell of popcorn away from the seating area, and he kept a cooled downstairs vault for chocolate so that it wouldn’t melt. Several color photos appear in the article, but mostly of performers and one of Mr. Darman at. There are no shots of the auditorum or theatre exterior.
Here are two photos of the Park/Opera House.
PHOTO FROM 1952
PHOTO FROM 1930
One source says the Park’s last film shown was in 1963.
One of the programs at the beginning of its last decade was the June 1950 pairing of “Love Happy” featuring the Marx Brothers and Marilyn Monroe alongside “Beauty on Parade” with Ruth Warrick.
Ads for the “New Park” still appeared in The Woonsocket Call in December of 1958. By May of 1959 they were not longer to be found. The theatre had closed for good.