Looking Back at Stoughton's State Theatre & Looking Forward to its Future
A brief history of the State Theatre (a.k.a. The Stoughton Cinema Pub) in Stoughton center
If you have a memory of the old theatre in Stoughton center you may recall when movies were still a dollar in recent years.
An average movie locally will cost you almost ten times that amount now. But some may not consider that a bargain. Some readers might even remember back when a movie at the Stoughton State Theatre offered a full length movie, a serial (a movie done in chapters), a cartoon and a newsreel for nickel. Times were far different then, and a nickel went a long way!
For you younger readers a newsreel was the way of getting national and international news aside from the radio or the newspaper during the 1950s and years prior. Now we would never think of attending the cinema for our late breaking news today. We take for granted our daily news from television, the internet or as email updates on our smart phones or laptops.
Before the opening of the State Theatre, black and white silent movies were shown in the auditorium of the Town Hall, in the early 1900s.
My grandmother Lillian (Poor) Lea was born in 1896. She played piano in the silent movies in Dorchester before the first World War. I recall thinking how strange it would have been to watch a silent movie with Charlie Chaplin on the silver screen, and my grandmother playing on an upright piano below that same screen. But her piano and the organs in other theatres were the Dolby Digital Surround Sound of its day.
The history of the State Theatre starts with Atwood's Stable.
At the corner of Railroad Avenue and Washington Street stood Atwood’s Stable, and in the floor above was the town offices. On February 27, 1880 this structure burned to the ground. When this fire took place it destroyed most of the block around from the railroad tracks down Railroad Avenue and Wyman Street to Washington Street.
Atwood’s Market replaced the stable, located on the exact same spot. And for the next four decades this served as a fine location for Stoughton’s shopping needs.
In 1927 the Interstate Theatre Corporation purchased Atwood’s Market with the idea of demolishing the building and placing a new theatre and store adjoining it. It was strange that shortly after this purchase that Atwood’s Market burned to the ground. I am certain there must be a further story in this suspicious fire. And soon after the debris was removed, construction of The State Theatre was underway.
On December 8, 1927 the State Theatre was opened to the public with much fanfare. The following article from The Stoughton News Sentinel describes the anticipated grand opening:
Since Stoughton’s 200th anniversary many marked changes in business and residential sections of the town have taken place. One of the biggest changes is found in the south end of Stoughton Square, near the banking based headquarters of the Stoughton Trust Co. and upon the site where the ravages of fire, in the early morning, less than a year ago, threatened the business and residential sections of the town, a sightly $100,000 theatre has been erected.
For months, John P. Curley, a Boston contractor, with his men and sub-contractors, has been rushing work on the this grand new edifice, whose beauty not only is seen on the outside, but penetrates the high brisk walls and the spacious granite frontage into the interior of the theatre with its comely decorated walls, its wonderful stage with new scenery equipment, fine new and modern equipment, a fine new and modern Estey Pipe Organ, with all attachments, and the most comfortable seats available. It has a model heating plant, with fine ventilation, and an electric sign at the front entrance.
The new theatre has been named “The State Theater,” and will present daily shows and matinees, according to schedules of both moving pictures, and vaudeville, and will afford one of the finest amusements houses in Southeastern Massachusetts for the people of Stoughton, North Easton, Randolph, Avon, Canton, Sharon and other places.
Stoughton’s new playhouse will be in a blaze of glory at its opening tonight, when it is expected to be packed to the doors with its full capacity of 1,100 people. A score or more of gorgeous bouquets of flowers from all over the district will deck the stage, and Ed Andrews, with his Nautical Garden Orchestra, will assist in the program of opening night. For the opening show that favorite picture, “Smile, Brother, Smile” [still from movie] will be shown, starring Jack Mulhall and Dorothy MacKail; also comedy, news and short subjects. On the stage will appear “Revue Le Arts.” With dancing, comedy and signing; Harris & Vaughn (waiting for the bus) with comedy and singing; Farrel & Chadwick, in singing, comedy, music and dancing sketch. Two other big Keith Vaudeville acts, with music by the orchestra and organ will make up the opening evening’s program. Mr, Harry Glickman, of Chelsea, is the manager of the theatre, and will be assisted by the following: John Kenne, organist; Walter Jones, operator; Ralph Stevens, stage manager; Miss Bessie Greenberg, cashier; Edgar S. Durkee, chief usher. The matinees open at 2 p.m. and the show starts at 2:30. The doors for the evening performance open at 6:30 and the show starts at 7.
From silent films to the “talkies,” the State Theatre would be host to live actors and show Hollywood film talent on the silver screen. Vaudeville acts with local and travelling talent would appear on stage. A weekend children’s program in the Cinema became the babysitter for many of the grandparents of today’s Stoughton residents.
A wonderful scrap book of images and playbills from the 1930s can be seen in the archives of the Stoughton Historical Society (directly across the street from the old State Theatre).
By 1940 the name transitioned from The State Theatre to the Interstate State Theatre. Hundreds of legends of the silver screen were brought to life in Stoughton over the years. Ushers would take your ticket and with a flashlight bring you down to your seat.
There were 1,100 seats in the theatre for your choosing; box seats recessed on either side of the stage and there was the balcony section. By the 1970s the box seats were closed and covered by red drapery. The balcony was still the hang out of the occasional budding teenage romance, and the mischievous kid who launched popcorn on the audience below.
The name of the cinema by the late 1970s became simply the Stoughton Cinema. This would be the theatre of my childhood and teenage years. I would attend movies with my parents, my sister and my friends. My grandmother would see her last movie there at the age of 84 when Dustin Hoffman starred in Kramer vs. Kramer-- and how the technology changed since she played piano for silent films in a similar venue.
But by this time Stoughton was not the only show around. By this time period the Westgate Mall Cinema and Sack Cinemas in Brockton offered multiple movies on multiple screens. This was something that Stoughton could only due in succession, not at the same time with the single screen.
But Stoughton still offered a lot. The theatre would serve as a temporary home for the Catholic community when construction was underway at the Immaculate Conception Church. Decades after comedians and vaudeville acts left the stage, the Little Theatre of Stoughton, Stoughton S.T.A.R.S., and the Independent Theatre Company of Stoughton put on live theatre for the Stoughton community.
In the late 1980s through the past decade you also got the best bargain--just a few dollars for a drink, popcorn and a movie.
The last ownership of the theatre was the Stoughton Cinema Pub, where a movie with a beer and pizza was possible. Due to the lack of patrons and growing fuel costs, this venture was no longer cost effective for the fabulous couple that kept the lights burning. The cinema was sold and the idea of the new owner renovating it came and went without much activity.
The current owners, however, have teamed up with local actor Michael Mustascio and a group of his family and friends to restore this majestic landmark. This includes the Facebook fan site Save “The State” Theater.
Last Saturday night I was joined by more than 300 like minded individuals who attended the benefit at Whiplash to help Save the State Theatre. Performing on stage for the benefit included two of the finest performing artists ever to come from Stoughton – Lori McKenna and Mike Viola.
Lori, Mike and myself all attended Stoughton High School in the 1980’s and have all seen the drastic changes that have taken place in the downtown. They too have also realized that preserving a worthwhile piece of our past may in fact stimulate the growth the downtown needs.
After eighty plus years the State Theatre has seen a lot of history, and as your Stoughton historian, I hope it sees a lot more. I feel that the theatre has not seen it’s final curtain call thanks to the hard work of Michael Mustascio and others.