50 Scollay Square,
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Previous Names: Star Theatre
The Star Theatre in Scollay Square opened around 1906. It was initially open from 9 am to 11 pm, and ran movie shows as short as 12 minutes. Gradually the shows increased in length to an hour.
In a 1911 photograph, the advertised feature is “The Hold-Up In Buckeye Canyon”. It also had a sign reading ‘ADMISSION 10c ALL SEATS FREE’. I don’t know what that means.
In the 1920’s, new management renamed it the Rialto Theatre. In the 1930’s it earned the nickname ‘The Scratch House’. David Kruh’s book “Always Something Doing: A History of Boston’s Infamous Scollay Square” explains that nickname:
“Open all night, at only a dime for admission, it became a de facto boardinghouse for some of Boston’s homeless. If you were brave enough to go inside for a show and unlucky enough to sit in the wrong seat, you soon found yourself scratching your way through the matinee. A regular spraying of the theater didn’t seem to do much to rid the seats of vermin, although the perfume smell of the spray did manage to cover up the smell of some of the people who slept there”.
A photograph in Kruh’s book shows the Rialto advertising “OPEN ALL NIGHT - 10 - 2 FEATURES - 10. The marquee advertises "Criminals Within” with Eric Liden and “So Dark the Night” with Steven Geray, as well as news and shorts. That would date the photo to the mid-to-late 1940’s.
In September 1951, a writer for the Harvard “Crimson”, Stephen O. Saxe, visited Scollay Square. He reported:
“This past winter also witnessed one of the brighter events in Scollay Square’s recent history. The Rialto Theatre, which had been closed and out of repair for a year recently reopened as the only all-night movie house in Greater Boston. If you’re lonesome, you’d be surprised how much of an old friend ‘Rocky’ Lane can be toward 4 a.m.
Upstairs in the same building is the Calvary Rescue Mission. The Mission does its best as a refuge, but it can’t compete with the Rialto Theatre by staying open all day and night. Consequently most people with nowhere to go end up at the Rialto Theatre, which seldom turns away a man who has a quarter".
In the early-1960’s, nearly every building in Scollay Square, including all of its stage and movie theatres, was demolished to make way for Boston’s Government Center.
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