Empire Theatre

17 Water Street,
New Shoreham,
Block Island, RI 02807

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Empire Theater (Official)

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Functions: Movies

Styles: Rustic

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Empire Theatre, Block Island, RI

This old wood-frame theatre is one of the oldest existing theatres in the State of Rhode Island and exudes a certain kind of summer-camp charm. It is on Block Island in the town of New Shoreham. It was built in 1882 as a roller skating rink. By 1897 it was in use as a church, ballroom and for storage. It soon converted into a playhouse theatre named Empire Theatre and in the early-1900’s it began screening movies. It was closed in the mid-1980’s and in 1986 new owners took over and began a restoration project.

The Empire Theatre reopened in 1993 with the movie “Alive”. It operates in summer months as Block Island’s only movie theatre.

Contributed by Gerald A. DeLuca

Recent comments (view all 23 comments)

fpokeeffe on November 29, 2008 at 9:01 pm

Does anyone know who King O'Dell bought the Empire from? I grew up with paintings from Block Island that my Dad said he got when visiting his Uncle Larry who ran a movie theater there. He would have been in his seventies when Gerald was working there.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on November 30, 2008 at 4:12 am

“He would have been in his seventies when Gerald was working there.”

If you are referring to me, I never said I worked there. That 1970 image was scanned from a book. I am simply interested in the topic of old R.I. theatres and have posted my own photos of the Empire as well as historic ones I’ve found, many of them on vintage postcards.

fpokeeffe on November 30, 2008 at 6:57 am

Sorry for my confusion. Thanks for the great old photos though. I am particularly interested in this one, due to my Great Uncle and the idea of a theater as a centerpiece of someplace isolated like an island would be off season.

SEHarker on November 30, 2008 at 7:10 pm

Gerald & “fpokeeffe”:

I got a “Notification” of your query this AM and contacted King “Doc” Odell for a comment. King is currently living a very active retirement, and out of respect for his privacy (which I promised to protect) I am giving you his written response sans any electronic identification:

“I did know Gerry DeLuca from the Italian teaching days, and I did at times see movies at the Cable Car Cinema when he showed some Italian movie that struck my fancy.

I bought the Empire from Margie and Larry O'Keefe at a date too vague to recall. I have kept all the little programs of all the movies I did show at the Empire.

I sold it to Bob Huggins who made some improvements. He got caught up in the Credit Union fiasco in Rhode Island and had to sell it to the present owner who has made many changes (food, bar, etc.). I have never met him. His name is Gary Pollard and he comes from New York. From what I gather, he has a full-fledged apartment on the upper floor. He is frequently in the BI Times, fighting the zoning and Historial Boards over what he wants to do. He has made a considerable financial commitment to the building.

He keeps it open far longer than I did for a season. I had to get back to school (Moses Brown School, Providence, RI (SEH)).

DeLuca has always been a theatre buff, and is quite a pleasant guy."

Hope this helps.


SEHarker (MBS, ‘64)

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 17, 2011 at 3:40 am

This theatre was part of the September 1923 6th Paramount Week. In this advertisement from the (Providence) Evening Tribune, September 1, 1923, we see a fascinating list of Rhode Island area theatres, many long-gone and long-forgoten, or even unheard of, as well as what they were showing during that week. CLICK HERE and move image to see all theatres.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 20, 2011 at 11:06 am

In September 1922 this theatre was part of Rhode Island’s Paramount Week. Click to see the ad in Providence News, September 1, 1922, which contains a list of all participating theatres as well as the films shown that week.


bicyclereporter on July 5, 2011 at 2:47 pm

I will be in Block Island next Wed on a bike vacation. I plan to stop by at both places and take pictures and perhaps take in a movie.

CSWalczak on July 29, 2012 at 7:44 pm

This theater, like so many others, is threatened by the the impending move by the studios to only supply theaters with digital prints of films: View article

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on April 27, 2015 at 11:26 am

The Theatre Historical Society archive has the MGM Theatre Report for the Empire Th.It’s Card # 522. There is a photo of the facade taken in May 1941. The Report says that the house is in “Fair” condition, and that it has “summer patronage”, and no competition. Built over 15 years ago (in 1941), and showing MGM films for over 5 years. Says it’s on “Fountain Square”, and has 500 seats. The 1940 population of Block Island is given as 1,000.

fred1 on September 7, 2016 at 1:31 pm

This is the theater’s website http://www.empiretheaterblockisland.com/

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