Empire Theatre

260 Westminster Street,
Providence, RI 02903

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Keith-Albee, RKO

Previous Names: Low's Opera House, Keith's Gaiety, B.F. Keith's New Theatre, Victory Theatre, RKO Victory Theatre

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Empire Theatre

The Empire Theatre has a long history that began in 1878 as Low’s Opera House, when it was a rival to the Providence Opera House on Dorrance Street, opened seven years earlier in 1871. It was re-built, reopening on October 24, 1898 with a seating capacity of 1,801.

In the seventy-one years of its existence in the center of downtown Providence, it served as an illustrious home to theatre and vaudeville and films, under the later names of Keith’s Theatre, B.F. Keith’s New Theatre, Victory Theatre (from September 1, 1919), RKO Victory Theatre, and finally, from August 6, 1936 to its demise in 1948, the Empire Theatre.

The name ‘Empire’ had been given to two other theatres on the same street over the decades, all within a few blocks of each other. The first was the Empire Theatre at Westminster Street and Empire Street. That was torn down in 1916. The second was the former Westminster Theatre that became the Empire Theatre in 1915 to about 1924. This one was the last Providence theatre with that name.

By the end of its life, the Empire Theatre had become a cut-rate theatre with frequently changing double bills of subsequent-run films and other revivals. It was closed on February 29, 1948 and was soon demolished in Spring 1948.

The complete detailed record of this theatre appears in the book that narrates the history of downtown Providence theatres: Roger Brett’s 1976 “Temples of Illusion”.

Contributed by Gerald A. DeLuca

Recent comments (view all 41 comments)

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 21, 2011 at 9:00 am

Further renovations were done to this popular first-run movie theatre in 1924 when it was the Victory. CLICK HERE for story from The Providence News, August 25, 1924 on page 18.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 25, 2011 at 9:39 am

This theatre opened on March 4, 1878 as Low’s Opera House and would survive under various names until 1948. Low’s Opera House is not to be confused with the even older Providence Opera House on Dorrance Street.
Opening day ad from the Providence Morning Star:

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on February 8, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Interesting piece reporting on Christmas parties at this theatre and two others in 1922:

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on March 3, 2014 at 6:54 am

After World War I Keith’s became the Victory Theatre until the late 1930s when it became the Empire. Here is a photo of the theatre as the Victory. VICTORY THEATRE

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on May 2, 2015 at 2:57 pm

The Theatre Historical Society archive has the MGM Theatre Report for the Empire; it’s card # 543. Unfortunately, no one filled out the form. There is an exterior photo dated June 1950, but that date conflicts with the information above that it was demolished in the spring of 1948.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on May 4, 2015 at 3:30 pm

Ron, To clear up your concern in your comment, that photo is actually of the Bijou Theatre, which in its last months was renamed the Empire or “New Empire,” after the earlier Empire (Keith’s) down the street had closed a couple of years earlier. It looks like they transported the marquee up the street! This “New Empire” didn’t last more than a year. If you look at the marquee of this closed theatre, it urges patrons to patronize the Victory, further up the street, which was also at times named the Modern and Westminster Playhouse.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on May 5, 2015 at 2:15 pm

Thanks, Gerry! I didn’t look at the photo on Card #543 after my initial view, otherwise I would have realized that something was amiss.

rivest266 on June 4, 2024 at 7:29 pm

1898 grand opening ad posted.

rivest266 on June 5, 2024 at 4:02 pm

Reopened as Victory on September 1st, 1919. Grand opening ad posted.

rivest266 on June 6, 2024 at 3:05 pm

Reopened as Empire on August 6th, 1936. Ad posted.

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