Cranston Historical Society

CRANSTON'S THEATERS by Gladys W. Brayton

Town Council records of March 26, 1824 show that Gordon Ladd was licensed to exhibit Public Shows and Theatrical Exhibitions in Cranston for ten days by paying a fee of $5, but the records do not say where a suitable place was available. Cranston had no theaters then. Doubtless some hall or even a tent sufficed.

It was eighty-nine years later that Town Councilman Alfred Barolet built the Auburn Theater on Park Avenue near the corner of Elmwood Avenue. In February of 1913 he showing "Motion Pictures and Illustrated Songs." Admission was five cents, reserved seats ten cents. Pictures changed three times a week and the current program consisted of "The Ranks," "The Burning Brand," and the "The Vengeance of Fate."

The same year the Edgewood Theater was advertised to open at Firemen's Hall, but due to a misunderstanding of insurance laws this project fell through.

Mr. Barolet, being a public spirited man, allowed use of his theater on off nights for benefits of various kinds, including such affairs for the Fire Companies of the city. It was advertised as "The Small Theater with the Big Features," In 1915 it was showing "The Political Feud" (two reels), "Giddy, Gay and Ticklish" (a Keystone production), "Two Kisses," "The Old Maid" and "Mabel's Flirtation." On Saturdays it featured "Tess of the Storm Country" with Mary Pickford as the star.

In 1916 Abraham A. Spitz, a veteran theater man and owner of a number of theaters in Providence and elsewhere, opened the Palace Theater at 1520 Board Street. His manager for twenty-two yeas was Charles H. Steadman who had supervised the building of the theater. It has a seating capacity of 1000. His license but $25 at the time, but by the end of year was changed to $1 for each performance. The price of the seats went up a bit, too. Reserved seats in the balcony were fifteen cents.

The Edgewood Library Civic Club gave a play there soon after it was opened. Occasionally concerts and entertainments took place there. On Saturday mornings a children's program was offered with three chaperones in attendance. The popular "Wizard of Oz' was featured at one of these sessions.

In 1920 the Palace offered its patrons a special feature, a midnight who at which the elections returns were given, for there were no televisions in those days to keep up to date on the news.

In 1918 the Auburn Theater was entirely destroyed by fire, but the leaving flooring of the theater saved the elastic and shoestring factory housed in the basement of the building. Rebuilt and renovated, it became the home John R. Casey, Inc, which sold Sanitary Supplies.

A new theater, called the Park Theater, was erected by later erected at the corner of Park and Pontiac Avenues and opened November 19, 1924 with Mr. Spitz of the Palace Theater as President and General Manager. He now had three theaters in Cranston, for he had also opened the Star Theater in the Silver Lake District at the corner of Dyer Avenue and Armington Street.

The Knightsville section accommodated at Pocasset Hall where Helliwell and Hyde had a license to show pictures. No theater was ever built in that section although attempts had been made at various times.

In the 1920's Mr. Spitz petitioned for Sunday movies in Cranston but there was remonstrance against this innovation by the churches and Mr. Spitz was given permission in 1927 to withdraw his petition.

The next big move in the Cranston theater project came when the Drive-in-Theater was built in the Oak Lawn section on the Cranston-Warwick line. The novelty of its giant screen drew large crowds. On July 1, 1951 six hundred people joined in the state's first Drive-in-Vesper Service there, held under the auspices of the Pawtuxet Valley Churches, the first of a series of five such meetings.

Fire finally closed the Palace Theater in 1952. Some years St. Paul's Church in Edgewood became interested in the property and in the 1960's brought it for use in its expanding parish. Renovated within and without, it now serves as St. Stephen's Chapel.

In 1967 the General Cinema Corporation of Boston built Cranston's latest and most modern theater, the Garden City Cinema. Air conditioned and with the finest equipment, like the old Palace it had 1000 seats and presented the latest offering of pictures.

Many changes have taken place in the theater world in Cranston, as elsewhere, in equipment, prices and range of entertainment but each house has offered diversion geared to the tastes of its generation.

NOTE: The only movie theater left in Cranston is the Park which recently underwent renovations. The Cranston Drive in was destroyed in the 1970's a shopping plaza stands where the scenes on the silver screen of the Drive in reminded us to get our ‘Pic' to chase away the mosquitoes and not to drive off with the speakers in the car.

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