When it opened its doors in 1918 it was called “New England’s most beautiful theatre” by the Boston Sunday Post, which declared it “a lasting monument to an ideal—the ideal of building a great people’s theatre” with tickets “at prices so moderate that all the people could easily pay.” It is still is a majestic building with, as Boston magazine described it, “Corinthian columns, ornate boxes adorning the auditorium and a triumphal arch and a parapet proclaiming the theater’s name.” The Strand Theatre was owned by local entertainment mogul Nathan Gordon. It was one of 75 movie houses he owned. The Strand Theatre was designed by Funk & Wilcox, the same Boston architectural firm that created Davis Square’s Somerville Theatre.
Yet if you were to ask anybody who lives within the city of Boston about the Strand Theatre the response would be the same across the board. “Why does it feel like nothing’s ever going on at the Strand Theatre?” The answer to that may not be as complicated as it may seem; the Strand Theatre simply suffers from a case of identity crisis. Why? Because for all its splendor and beauty that once inside the Strand Theatre may make you think you could be in any theater district, anywhere in the United States or in even in the world. The surprise comes when you walk outside the door and you are in Dorchester’s Uphams Corner, perhaps the city of Boston’s most diverse neighborhood.
The Strand Theatre does have performances just about every weekend of the year. Some of these performances only bring in about 300 customers and they still use “a pay what you can” ticket arrangement with its customers. How does the Strand Theatre stay in allegiance and service its Cape Verdean, Latino and African-American neighborhood residents and and still present entertainment which will attract those from outside the neighborhood to help fill up the Strand Theatre. This has long been an issue with the Strand Theatre and predominantly the issue that keeps the Strand Theatre from filling up the house.
Despite the peaks and valleys and the highs and lows that the Strand Theatre has had over the last 50 years, the Strand Theatre has played host to some of the biggest local acts and national acts to come through Boston. Rock acts like Joe Perry Project, Tracy Chapman, LL Cool J, Phish, and BB King have all played the Strand over the years. Not to mention the many stage performances as well, by The Urban Nutcracker, The Boston Ballet, the Boston Choral Chamber and a number of plays and local neighborhood performances. All had the opportunity to adorn the beautiful Strand Theatre.
Over 20 million dollars over the last decade has been poured into the Strand Theatre for renovations and it does look absolutely beautiful. One can only hope that somehow someone does steer the ship of this beautiful venue so it is utilized for all of the city of Boston and not forgetting its roots in the Uphams Corner neighborhood where it exists. One can make the argument that when it comes to neighborhood venues that have served up entertainment on a large scale nothing comes close to the Strand Theatre and its 100 year legacy. It just seems as if it could do much more and hopefully it will. The Boston Preservation Alliance, the primary non-profit historic preservation advocacy serving the city of Boston has recognized the Strand Theatre.
(by Edwin Sumpter)