History: Theater District

historic exterior.jpg

Signage at the Modern Theatre evolved over the years. In the era before neon and marquees, the name of the theater is spelled out in light bulbs, the ticket booth is visible, and printed signs advertise two movies released in 1926. The silent film, The Sea Beast, was based on Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and featured John Barrymore as Captain Ahab.  Courtesy of John Toto


Movie tickets cost 15 cents in the Modern’s Theatre’s early days. Courtesy of John Toto


The Modern Theatre could accommodate an audience of 800 in its long, narrow auditorium and balcony. Courtesy of Sager Family Foundation Archives

Businessman George R. White purchased the Dobson-designed carpet warehouse in 1913, with the idea of turning it into a theater expressly designed for showing motion pictures, which were growing in popularity.

At this time, movies typically had been shown in nickelodeons: storefronts or lecture halls jerry-rigged to show “flickers.”

The commercial building was transformed into the first Boston theater designed specifically for the presentation of motion pictures. The Modern Theatre featured a classical white marble veneer superimposed over the original polychrome facade. The basement and first three floors of the former warehouse were converted into an 800-seat movie theater, decorated in Florentine Renaissance style. The rest of the five-story building was leased to businesses.