Empire Theatre

260 Westminster Street,
Providence, RI 02903

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Showing 1 - 25 of 38 comments

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on May 5, 2015 at 11:15 am

Thanks, Gerry! I didn’t look at the photo on Card #543 after my initial view, otherwise I would have realized that something was amiss.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on May 4, 2015 at 12:30 pm

Ron, To clear up your concern in your comment, that photo is actually of the Bijou Theatre, which in its last months was renamed the Empire or “New Empire,” after the earlier Empire (Keith’s) down the street had closed a couple of years earlier. It looks like they transported the marquee up the street! This “New Empire” didn’t last more than a year. If you look at the marquee of this closed theatre, it urges patrons to patronize the Victory, further up the street, which was also at times named the Modern and Westminster Playhouse.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on May 2, 2015 at 11:57 am

The Theatre Historical Society archive has the MGM Theatre Report for the Empire; it’s card # 543. Unfortunately, no one filled out the form. There is an exterior photo dated June 1950, but that date conflicts with the information above that it was demolished in the spring of 1948.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on March 3, 2014 at 3:54 am

After World War I Keith’s became the Victory Theatre until the late 1930s when it became the Empire. Here is a photo of the theatre as the Victory. VICTORY THEATRE

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on February 8, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Interesting piece reporting on Christmas parties at this theatre and two others in 1922:

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 25, 2011 at 6:39 am

This theatre opened on March 4, 1878 as Low’s Opera House and would survive under various names until 1948. Low’s Opera House is not to be confused with the even older Providence Opera House on Dorrance Street.
Opening day ad from the Providence Morning Star:

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 21, 2011 at 6:00 am

Further renovations were done to this popular first-run movie theatre in 1924 when it was the Victory. CLICK HERE for story from The Providence News, August 25, 1924 on page 18.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 21, 2011 at 5:52 am

An article appeared in the Providence News, September 3, 1919, describing the renovations of this theatre which had been known as Keith’s and was now, after months of extensive work, re-christened the Victory Theatre. About seventeen years later, in 1936, it would be renamed the Empire Theatre and last twelve more years after that.
CLICK HERE FOR ARTICLE titled “Victory is Popular Movie House."

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 16, 2011 at 10:06 am

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.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 13, 2010 at 2:52 am

Item in Boxoffice Magazine, December 27, 1947:
“Al Colagiovanni, former relief manager for Associated, has taken over the managership of the Empire Theatre, succeeding Nick Trifolletti, who has resigned."
[Note: about two months after this piece, on February 29, 1948, this theatre would close for good and be demolished a few months after that.]

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on February 7, 2009 at 10:59 am

In the 1897-98 edition of the Julius Cahn Official Theatrical Guide, there are 2 theaters listed for Providence: the Providence Opera House and the Keith’s Opera House. There are no street addresses in this Guide, unfortunately. The Keith’s OH was managed by J.T. Fynes. There were 750 seats in the orchestra, 551 in the balcony, and 500 in the gallery, total: 1,801. Ticket prices ranged from 15 cents to 75 cents. The theater had both gas and electric illumination and was located on the ground floor. The proscenium opening was 32 feet wide, and the stage was 35 feet deep. The population of Providence in 1897 was 155,000. Hotels for show folk were the Narragansett, City, Perkins, Perrin and Dorrance. There are 3 ads: the Hopkins Transfer Co. at Union Station, handles scenary and baggage; Old Colony Bill Posting Co., 212 Union St., posts ads, as does Charles F. Haskins, Bill Poster, at 230 Westminster St.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on August 10, 2008 at 11:51 am

The important event of the 1880-81 season of this theatre when it was known as Low’s was the only appearance in Providence up to that time of the great French actress Sarah Bernhardt. (Per George O. Willard’s book History of the Providence Stage 1762-1891.)

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 27, 2008 at 3:01 pm

There are photos and images of the exterior and interior in previous postings on this page. Just scroll, click on the highlighted links, and see what few are available. I wish there were more.

matrinidad on June 27, 2008 at 1:50 pm

We found love letters from the year 1919 hidden in the ceiling of an old house. They are charming and very sweet. The lovers mention going to Keith’s Theater in 1919. I would love to see true photos of this theater and learn more about how life was back then, in this area of New England.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on May 18, 2006 at 3:24 am

This old postcard shows the front of the theatre and adjacent businesses on Westminster Street around 1907.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on April 12, 2006 at 7:36 am

A 1940s or late 1930s postcard view of Westminster Street. The marquee for the Empire Theatre can be spotted on the right, across from the Shepard’s clock that is between Cherry & Webb and Boston Store. Expand for better view.
This is a closer view.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on April 11, 2006 at 2:20 am

This photo shows Weybosset Street and Loew’s State in the 1940s. On the left, with the blue roof, appears to be the rear of the building block which contained the Empire Theatre. Its front was a block over on Westminster Street.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on April 7, 2006 at 4:34 am

This postcard shows the theatre at the beginning of the 1900s. The arched entrance can be seen in the center of the photo. The vertical sign with the name “Keith’s” hangs above. Enlarge the image for greater detail.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on September 17, 2005 at 2:43 am

The name EMPIRE
About five weeks after this theatre shut down on February 29, 1948 to be soon demolished, a “New Empire Theatre” opened up a couple of blocks away at 368 Westminster Street, according to newspaper ads. The address was given in the ads for the opening program on April 4, 1948. Now, 368 Westminster was the address of the Bijou Theatre, which seemed to be given the name Empire once more. (It had previously been called the Empire from about 1915-1924.) This “New” Empire would itself shut down a year later on June 18, 1949, to be demolished in the winter of that year.
History of “Empire” as a theatre name in Providence:
1) 410 Westminster Street (1899-1915) = Empire
2) 260 Westminster Street (1936-1948) = Low’s-Keith’s-Victory-Empire (this theatre)
3) 368 Westminster Street (1915-1924) = Westminster-Empire-Bijou-Empire
4) 368 Westminster Street (1948-1949) = Westminster-Empire-Bijou-Empire

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on September 16, 2005 at 12:10 am

The last film program at the Empire, judging by ads in the Providence Journal, seems to have been on Sunday, February 29, 1948. It was a typical older double bill of Betrayed, a.k.a. When Strangers Marry (1944) and Western Gold (1937). No ads appeared after that date. On February 27 a Journal article had announced the impending closing and planned demolition: “Herbert M. Copellman, managing director of the theater, explained today that the last showng of movies at the Empire will be either tomorrow night or next Tuesday night.”

The article said too that the the theater auditorium had been admired increasingly during the previous few years by students of the architecture of its period and was praised for its “quaint charm.” The interior boasted attractive moldings, paintings, and decorations. Asked if any attempt would be made to save them, Copellman chuckled, “They can give it to an art museum as far as we’re concerned.”

When the theatre opened as Low’s Opera House on March 4, 1878, a theatrical production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was featured. By the time of its demolition in 1948, the theater was Providence’s then oldest theater: 1878-1948 or exactly 70 years.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on September 12, 2005 at 4:49 pm

An excellent picture article entitled “Mr. Low’s ‘Hall’ Comes Down,” written by Robert L. Wheeler, appeared in The Providence Journal on May 30, 1948 at the time of the demolition of this venerable old theatre. The author traced the history of the place from its opening as Low’s Opera House in 1878 and enumerates many of the illustrious performers who had graced its stage, including Ethel Barrymore, Oscar Wilde (1883), Sophie Tucker, Lillian Russell (1911), Sarah Bernhardt (1881), Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor, George Jessel, Fred Allen and others. In one of Wheeler’s concluding sentences, he asserted, “But in 1937 the Empire gave up and settled back to drowse out its twilight years in a coma of shopworn cinemas. Nobody mourned when they caved in the roof a few days ago.”

I was only six years old when this theatre ended its days, and I am certain I never was taken to it, but of all the lost Providence theatres I have read about in my research on the topic in recent years, this is the one I now most regret not having known.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on September 7, 2005 at 3:06 am

During its years as the Victory, the theatre was also known as the R.K.O. Victory for a time.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on August 28, 2005 at 2:34 am

After having been known as the Victory for about sixteen years, the theatre re-opened on August 2, 1936 as the Empire. Some extensive renovations, in and out, had been done to the place and cost, according to a newspaper ad, over $35,000. The theatre saw a new marquee, new booth equipment, refurbished plumbing, new upholstery and drapery, rugs, linoleum, attendants' uniforms. The first program in the theatre’s incarnation as the Empire was Let’s Sing Again and The Ex-Mrs. Bradford. Admission prices ranged from 15 cents to 30 cents. The ad boasted of Alaskan Air air-conditioning system and a new sound system. The theatre was under new local management and was part of the local chain, Associated Theatres, Inc. of R.I. Doors opened daily at 10 A.M. The theatre, opposite the Shepard Company department store, would shut down thirteen years later and be razed to create another downtown department store, W. T . Grant’s.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on July 1, 2005 at 2:06 pm

This nice 1940s photo of the theatre when it was known as the Empire was just brought to my attention.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 25, 2005 at 7:21 am

Here is a photo of the interior of the Low’s-Keith’s-Victory-Empire. In his book Temples of Illusion Roger Brett calls this “the most graceful sweep of balconies ever to be seen in a Providence theater.”

He adds, “It had only the lower balcony when built; the gallery was added in 1882. As in the Providence Opera House and the Westminster, gallery gods sat, not on chairs, but on hard wooden benches.”