Cathedrals of Cinema : The return of the Cinema 57

*please note new “feature” at the bottom of each post going forward, the “Twin Peaks Image of the Day”. I know, random. But nice, yeah?

A few years ago I was walking around my downtown neighborhood and for the first time realized a particular building on Washington St (between Water and State streets; see below) looked like it had some sort of marquee attached to it, one that really didn’t make sense as to why it was there at all.  Why did it take me so long to notice this? Maybe the sight of it became too familiar and thus I didn’t pay much attention to it.  But, being the smart guy that I am (ha), I put two and two together and realized that, along with the small brick tunnel under the marquee that still has cases lining it’s walls to display movie posters, this could have been a movie theater.  My sense was it wasn’t – WHY WOULD THERE BE A MOVIE THEATER HERE? – WHY WOULD THERE STILL BE REMNANTS THERE? – but after doing some searching online, I realized it was indeed a movie theater back in the day, called the Pi Alley, which apparently was around for a long time.  Here is a picture in it’s current form, still sporting a sign calling this now functionless building “Pi Alley”.

Pi Alley - 12 Pi Alley, Boston (Downtown)

This instantly made me sad, thinking of all the old 1, 2, and 3-screen cinemas that were scattered around the city (and the country for that matter) up until about 15 years ago, but have now been replaced with just a few of these multiplex theaters that have degraded the movie going experience in many ways.  Granted, for sure, theaters are better now – sound systems are incredible, stadium seating is comfortably ideal, etc. The care (most) filmmakers put into their craft are able to be displayed in the most modern up-to-date environments possible.  I am all for that.  What is still missing with the multiplexes however is the experience of going to different theaters – depending on the movie you were seeing.  For instance back in the day, when a new Woody Allen movie would be released here in Boston (which is once a year to this day I might add), you would go to the single screen Paris on Boylston St to see it as they premiered his films exclusively …

Paris - 841 Boylston St, Boston (Back Bay)

Or when A Clockwork Orange had it’s long Boston run, you had to haul over to the Cinema 57 downtown…

Cinema 57 - 200 Stuart St, Boston (Downtown/Chinatown)

Or when Star Wars was released, it had it’s exclusive run in 70mm at the biggest screen in Boston at the time, the Charles (next to MGH) …

Charles Cinema - 185 Cambridge St, Boston (West End/Beacon Hill)

Charles Cinema - 185 Cambridge St, Boston (West End/Beacon Hill)

Today no matter what movie you are going to see you basically have 2 theaters to choose from (the Boston Common & the Fenway).  Where’s the fun in that? No more cute and cozy twin cinemas to visit anymore.  We of course do still have the Coolidge, the Brattle, the Somerville Theater, which are all fantastic.  But when art-house theaters have also gone the way of the big chain multiplex (for example, Landmark Theaters, with their theater in Cambridge’s Kendall Square), the quaint factor is just gone.  My dream is that we still had all these lovely small theaters all over town, but those were updated and modernized to the standards of today.

So now two years later and I am finally finishing this entry, thanks to a good friend of mine who inspired me after sending me some lovely pictures of old theater marquees from the 70’s.  It made me go back and search around online, and in doing that found out that the downtown Cinema 57 has re-opened! Strangely, it’s been open over a year now, and still so little publicity that this cinephile had no idea.  I remember going there with my friend Maria just one time back before it closed, which unfortunately at the time was playing second run films and first run B-movies.  The charm of the theater to me was one; it was just the fact one of these old twin cinemas that was still around, and two; it’s location, tucked away in a hotel where you had to go through the lobby to get to the entrance. A little cinematic hideway for the nerds in all of us! Now for the amazing news – it’s back! It is now independently owned and operated as a single screen cinema under the name Stuart Street Playhouse, showing exclusively art-house films.

Cinema 57 - 200 Stuart St, Boston (Downtown/Chinatown)

I know having this theater making it’s return is more than I can ask for in this day and age, but at the same time hopefully it could mark the beginning of the return of these small churches of film and cinema into our cities and towns.  There’s nothing cinematically more exciting than to go to theaters that are owned and run by other passionate film obsessives, instead of these film factories that shovel such mass-market/churn ‘em out/maximize profits drivel like ‘Eat Pray Love’ and the next Tyler Perry fiasco.  Don’t let the ‘Cecil B. Demented’ cinematic terrorist side of me come out!

Below are a few pictures of some more victims of cinematic down-sizing here in Boston that should not and will not be forgotten …. at least by this sentimental fool!

Beacon Hill Theater - 1 Beacon St, Boston (Government Center/Beacon Hill)

Cheri - 50 Dalton St, Boston (Back Bay)

Janus - 57 JFK St, Cambridge (Harvard Square)

Other great honorable mentions:
Allston Cinemas – Boston
Copley Square Cinemas – Boston
Nickelodeon – Boston
Orson Welles Cinema – Cambridge

All photos courtesy of CinemaTour.  I recommend checking out that site, as well as CinemaTreasures, for a bit of nostalgia.

love ALLways,

Andrew W. Bush
43rd President of the United States of America
_______________________________________

TWINPEAKSIMAGEOFTHEDAY

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6 comments
  1. jen k said:

    this really brings me back! i remember seeing “this is spinal tap” at the orson welles theatre with my parents in 1980 or so?, a revival of “a clockwork orange” at the janus in harvard square, and “sid and nancy” at the nickelodeon by kenmore sq.

    • ghostlife said:

      So cool, Jen! I definitely used to go to the Nickelodeon a bunch, and went to Cinema 57 a few times, and I think I went to Janus once. Wish I could have gone to the others. The Harvard Square theater is closed now too as of last week. :(

  2. Gibson Levi said:

    Well now I’m feeling old…. not only did I work at the Pi Alley for a couple of years during high school starting with Lovers and Other Strangers ; but I also worked at the Beacon Hill ( the new one that replaced the old one ( Jesus Christ Superstar) but before it was turned into a triplex) as well as occasional times working at the Gary and the Cheri’s ( The Fortune) . When I wasn’t working at these theatres I was busy going to them. ( One of the advantages of working at a Sack Theatre was that you could go for free to any of the others.) For me though, it was the programming at the Brattle, the Symphony Cinemas, the Orson Welles, and the Harvard Square Theatres that gave me the opportunity for a real education in movie history. Watching DVDs of great films in wonderful restorations is fine, but sitting in a dark theatre with like minded individuals watching a classic film – The 400 Blows, Citizen Kane etc. for the first time, without any distractions, was deeply satisfying.

    • ghostlife said:

      Great post – thanks for sharing your memories. I wish I was around to experience a lot of these old theaters. It’s truly a shame they are gone – including the Harvard Square theater which closed last week. Sigh.

  3. The picture of the Charles above does not show the huge 70mm screen. Is this in the later years after Star Wars and Ryans daughter and other 70mm films I saw there or is one of the smaller theatres downstairs which I was never in?

    • ghostlife said:

      I had the impression that is the main hall, but the screen is small to present a non-70mm print. I sure could be wrong!

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