68 Franklin Street
Appeared on the 2005 List
This building first appeared on Preservation Worcester’s Most Endangered List in 2005, when it was being used as an adult cinema and many were calling for its closure and demolition. The building, now vacant, has since been acquired by the Mayo Group of Boston.
The Capitol Theatre, former Paris Cinema, is a rare surviving example of the “atmospheric” theatres that were popular across the United States during the movie palace era of the early 20th century. Architect John Eberson developed the atmospheric style of theater design in 1923, beginning with the Majestic Theatre in Houston, Texas, and designed more than 100 by 1930. Eberson wanted to distract Americans from life’s problems by creating an atmosphere of rest and beauty, “a magnificent amphitheatre under a glorious moonlit sky in an Italian garden, in a Persian court, in a Spanish patio, or in a mystic Egyptian temple-yard, all canopied by a soft moonlit sky.” Eberson had his own alliterative slogan for what he was doing: “Prepare Practical Plans for Pretty Playhouses-Please Patrons-Pay Profits”.
Originally seating 2,500, the 1926 Capitol Theatre is one of three palace theatres built in the city in the late 1920’s. The others are Poli’s Palace on Southbridge Street (now undergoing renovation to become The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts) and the Plymouth on Main Street (now the Palladium).
The first “atmospheric theatre” in New England, the Capitol Theatre allowed its patrons to live the fantasy of attending a show in an outdoor amphitheatre in Spain. Not only is its interior elaborately detailed with decorative plaster and wrought iron in the Spanish style, but the impression was enhanced by projectors that created the effect of twinkling stars and moving clouds on the arched ceilings of its auditorium and second floor mezzanine lobby. Although the building was converted to a multiplex cinema in the 1960’s, much of the interior and ornamental detailing still survives.
Behind the unattractive façade lies an elegant and historic interior. Preservation Worcester has been in contact with the Mayo Group and continues to encourage them to incorporate the unique and significant interior in future plans. Because we are not privy the any plans and in light of the desirability of property adjacent to the Common, we continue to have grave concern about the future of the building.