Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Toy Theatre

Toy Theatre, from the BPL Flickr photo group.

Toy/Copley Theatre, across from Stuart street, 1917.

The photograph above, with the interesting title Toy Theatre, set me off on one of my typical investigations. I had never heard the name before, and had no idea where it was. My first stop was Cinema Treasures, the go-to online reference for old cinemas. And there I learned that the Toy was an old name for a cinema in the Back Bay that was part of the Shubert and then Sack chains, ending as the Sack Capri. The photo above shows the entrance on Dartmouth and Stuart streets - in a later incarnation, the entrance would be from Huntington avenue.

The Toy Theatre, Lime street, lower Beacon Hill.

Interior of the original Toy Theatre.

Lime street, between Mt Vernon and Chestnut streets, just before the Toy Theatre was founded. The 'X' through many buildings in the neighborhood denotes a stable, where hay was kept, and represented a fire hazard.

The Toy Theatre was founded in 1911 by an amateur theatrical group to present plays that had not been presented professionally in Boston. That included both works written by members of the group itself and playwrights from this country and Europe. The group would eventually premier some of the lesser known works of George Bernard Shaw in Boston.

The theatre was located in a former stable in Beacon Hill's stable district, between Beacon and Charles streets and the Charles river. Nineteen eleven was just the time when automobiles were replacing horses, and many larger stables were being turned into garages.

The founding group consisted of the usual high society types, including the daughter of one of the owners of the Jordan Marsh department store. In 1913, after complaints from theatre goers about profanity, Mayor Curley stepped in and censored a production of Across the Border. James Michael Himself read the script, and after removing one offending line, did allow the show to go on.

The new Toy Theatre was built in 1914 on Dartmouth street in the Back Bay. Somewhere along the line, management was turned over to a Mr. Jewett, who offed acting lessons there. In 1937, Mr Shubert bought the property and turned it into a movie theatre. When Stuart street was extended across Dartmouth street, the theatre building was moved away from Dartmouth street, and an entrance was run from Huntington avenue, where it became the Sack Capri, which would run Breakfast at Tiffany's and La Dolce Vita. The theatre and the entire block was lost in the early 1960s to a new Mass Pike exit ramp.