Rialto Theatre

50 Scollay Square,
Boston, MA 02108

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Additional Info

Previous Names: Star Theatre

Nearby Theaters

Star Theatre, Scollay Square, Boston, 1910

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.

Contributed by Ron Newman

Recent comments (view all 28 comments)

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on October 5, 2009 at 6:56 pm

Note the movie playing “Criminals Within” – that sums up what one would have found circa-1946 among the patronage inside this dumpy movie house.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on April 16, 2011 at 7:02 pm

When it was the Star Theatre in 1913-14, the comedian Fred Allen appeared there in small-time vaudeville, according to his autobiography. I always assumed that it offered only film entertainment.

EdwardFindlay on April 23, 2011 at 5:04 am

A shot of the facade that was recreated for the movie “The Brinks Job”

EdwardFindlay on April 28, 2011 at 12:17 am

A shot from the mid 50s: View link

EdwardFindlay on April 28, 2011 at 12:35 am

Another shot from the 50s this time head on of the facade: View link

EdwardFindlay on May 11, 2011 at 1:41 am

Since Mr. Salters mentioned Fred Allen…a shot from that timeframe from the Bostonian Society’s collection View link

MarkB on November 15, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Star Theatre location, 1917. Notice that the Peter Bent Brigham hospital owned the building. http://i1080.photobucket.com/albums/j324/MarkBul/startheatre1917.jpg

MarkB on March 22, 2012 at 2:31 am

This photo comes from the book Boston in Motion,from the Images of America series. The camera is at Hanover and Court sts. looking across and down the square. It’s dated Nov. 28, 1912. I believe you can see the Theatre Comique just up the street – note the arch on the front of the building. To answer the puzzle above – it says “Admission 10 (cents sign).” http://i1080.photobucket.com/albums/j324/MarkBul/hanoverandcourtsts.jpg

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 21, 2012 at 10:04 am

This article in the December, 1910, issue of the trade journal The Nickelodeon says that the Star Theatre opened on November 1, 1907. The auditorium originally seated 453, and boasted an early example of indirect lighting.

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