Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Review: The Theatres of Boston

In an effort to learn more about the history of movie theatres in Boston, I searched out The Theatres of Boston, by Donald C. King. Much of the book's focus is on theatres proper, rather than cinemas, but the latter part of the book does feature cinemas, and the two naturally go together.

The book goes back to the Colonial era, with Puritan Boston's aversion to theatre - both John Hancock and Samuel Adams were firmly against. You get the full history of theatre development, slowly at first, and then the buildup of the first theatre district, the growth of vaudeville, and the gradual shift to moving pictures. For those who bemoan the lack of cinemas today, I found it interesting to learn just how much was lost by the end of the 1960s. I also learned that the first porn theatre in the Combat Zone was actually in 1960 - before the tearing down of Scollay square. The story that's usually told is that such businesses moved to lower Washington street after Scollay square was razed, which was 1962.

The book alternates between story telling and more reference-like passages. Some chapters are little more than descriptions of theatres - size, seating, interior design and materials, etc. This is of interest to the specialist, but for readers like me, such passages are easily skipped.

There are drawings, photos and posters to liven things up. I'd call this a good library book - not something I'd buy, but worth a read-through.


  1. The whole Scollay scene was before my time. I do however remember the lower Washington street area vividly. As A child growing up in the Boston area I used to hear adults making reference to the " old Howard" . And hearing lower Washington street referred to as the " combat zone" conjured up ideas of soldiers actually guarding the area.
    Love your Blog
    By the late sixties the adult book stores became a mecca for rock and roll fans seeking out bootleg music of their favorite bands. I still have more than a few of these including some Bob Dylan live performances, some with Joan Baez. Every weekend we would be hitting these stores and thumbing through the stacks of records. And learning all about some of the other items they sold. Some good clean memories of those days still are recalled. Not once did I ever see those " combat soldier memories " that filled my head. Some great music though.

  2. This is a great book! It's hard to find good resources like this on the Boston Theatre scene. I'm glad you found it too. I also love your blog!