National Theatre

533 Tremont Street,
Boston, MA 02118

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Showing 1 - 25 of 38 comments

Theatregirl22 on May 28, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Hello everyone i am searching for my father who worked as a doorman or ticket sales.. name of anthony “tony” rodrigues ..worked there sometime in the 60s to 70s if anyone could be of help i would greatly appreciate it! Thanks

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on May 27, 2013 at 7:56 am

The Theatre Historical Society archive has the MGM Theatre Report for the National Theatre. Exterior photo taken in May 1941 on Tremont St. The condition is “Poor”. There are 1000 orchestra seats, 950 balcony seats and 50 seats in the loges (boxes); total: 2,000 seats. No mention of the second balcony which may have been out of use in 1941.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on May 12, 2013 at 10:27 am

When it opened as the Waldorf, it was a name change. It had been purchased by the man who ran a chain of local Waldorf cafeterias. It originally opened in Sept. 1911.

rivest266 on May 12, 2013 at 7:16 am

This opened as Waldorf on March 17th, 1919. The Central Square theatre in Cambridge also opened on the same day.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on January 28, 2011 at 12:13 pm

The National is listed as the “Boston Hippodrome” Theatre in the Boston Register and Business Directory, Issue 83, 1918.

dick on January 6, 2011 at 4:02 pm

I remember the National Theatre in the mid50’s. It tried to become part of the chitlin circuit(Apollo-Howard. D.c) Uptown(philadelphia)ETC: The shows came in from the Apollo and were here for 7-10 days. There were not too many of them, and they were not successful and were cancelled. The theatre had a huge stage and was greatly under advertised and the area was beginning to become dangerous.

nonsportsnut on October 6, 2009 at 9:09 am

I’m a Three Stooges Fan Club member, trying to confirm a personal appearance by the “3” Stooges (Moe Larry and Shemp), on a bill with Wee Bonnie Baker, the Barretts and Don Hooton, after an appearance by the A.B. Marcus Revue. The movie “Queen of Burlesque” was also shown. I have a display ad, but no dates (or town shown). Believe it was the Summer of 1946, and may have been Shemp’s first appearance after Curly’s strokes. The National was advertised as air cooled and showed a phone number of JA-7863.
Any help will be appreciated.
Thanks Frank Reighter

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on June 16, 2008 at 11:06 am

During Christmas week of 1921, the National was featuring the Italian actor Giovanni Grasso and a company of 30 on stage in a repertoire of Italian plays. No movies.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on January 26, 2008 at 10:27 am

Nice memories, Leni ! I, too, thought the National was “beautiful and magical” (and glamourous) when I first went into it as a kid of 12 or so in the late-1940s. There were many plans to try to save it but nothing worked out and it was finally demolished around 1997, by which time it was a battered hulk.

Leni on January 26, 2008 at 9:42 am

Hi, I lived on Hanson Street in South End of Boston the early fifties. We went to the National Theater every Saturday for the Matinees. If I remember correctly, the cost was only a nickle for Matinee. There were no ratings on movies at that time so I saw whatever was playing. I remember seeing Niagra in that theater. It was the first time I ever saw Marilyn Monroe and I became an instant fan. My older sister once took me to see The War of the Worlds with Gene Barry. I was so frightened I ran out of the theater. The sound of the alien ships was so big. I had to cover my ears at first but I was so scared I ran out screaming. I remember the look of the theater then. What I saw of it was beautiful and magical to me. It had lovely ornate carvings, and a red velvet curtain opened to the screen just as the movie was about to start. It was a great place to spend a Saturday afternoon. I am sorry to know that it is gone. It had a lot of history for a lot of people.

Boywonder on November 12, 2007 at 11:23 am

I remember when it was being demolished.

I knew how Brooklyn Dodgers fans felt when Ebbets was torn down.

A piece of my heart gone…

I also felt bad when the Puritain burned down.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on November 12, 2007 at 11:05 am

It was replaced by condominiums and two new live-stage theatres. There might be a restaurant as well, I’m not sure.

Boywonder on November 12, 2007 at 9:58 am

This was quite a theater. Isn’t there a fancy restaurant in it’s place now?

mrmxyzptlk on July 20, 2007 at 8:26 am

My friends and I spent many a Saturday afternoon at the National Theatre. I grew in Boston’s South End right across from the theatre on Hanson St. The street directly across from the theatre is called Milford St. In the 50s and 60s on a Saturday afternoon we would see a double feature, newsreel, cartoons, trailers, wacky races and more for a 15 cent admission!! When it was torn down in 1997, I went to the site and retrieved two bricks from the building to keep as a momento of a time gone by.

Boywonder on October 6, 2006 at 10:24 am

A wonderful second run theater. What a huge place this was. I spent much of my childhood seeing all sorts of movies here. Elvis movies, Jerry Lewis flicks, Beach Party flicks, Horror Fare, Sword and Sandal films, Sergio Leone’s Eastwood films, I even caught James Bond films here.

I didn’t realize the place had two balconies until my father and sister performed here as part of the old Boston Philharmonic. I greeted them onstage and looked out at the house to see the two balconies. The orchestra pit was all boarded up…this was say, 1977-78 I’m guessing. The place was in bad shape. But, I remember all the hubbub around the Boston Center for the Arts perhaps saving it, and the Boston Ballet possibly using it as performing space.

Too bad, I have fond memories of the place.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on September 3, 2006 at 10:31 am

A Boston Globe article published on December 28, 1982, lists the National as one of several cinemas showing Chinese-language movies in the 1960s.
[quote][brookline dentist Robert] Guen’s Chinatown moviegoing dates back to the Sixties, when sword flicks were the rage. “That’s where Chinese kids got their heroes,” he says.

In those days, Guen and his friends took their Chinese movies where they found them – at the Stuart, at the State Theatre on Friday nights, where they put one on after the skin flicks.

“Or at the National Theater,” says Guen. “That was the place to get together on Friday nights. Chinese parents were pretty strict about letting their daughters out. Parties had a bad connotation to them. So the girls would say they were going to the National Theater for the movies.”[/quote]

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on February 25, 2006 at 2:57 am

The National Theatre is visible near the top left of this 1928 map.

It is on the north (left) side of Tremont Street, next to the the Boston Flower Exchange (which was built as the Cyclorama, and is called that again today).

David Wodeyla
David Wodeyla on December 14, 2005 at 11:55 am

Richard Smith explained the role the National Theatre played in the founding of his father’s theatre business which eventually became General Cinema.
“The Keith-Albee-Orpheum vaudeville chain hired Philip Smith to revive Keith’s "white elephant”, the National on Tremont St. Smith revived the floundering business by booking 14 movies a week, 2 new films each day and reverting to old time prices, 10 cents per seat. This high volume strategy was a success and Smith was able to become lessee-operator as Smith Theatrical Enterprises. From that base, he began by leasing properties and opening theatres in Weymouth, Reading, Hudson, and East Greenwich Rhode Island. In 1925, when his son Richard Smith was a year old, Phil Smith owned 12 theatres. By 1929, they had 18 theatres, some in partnership with the Stoneman’s of Interstate Theatres. (the Broadway in South Boston was in partnership with the Doyle family. Philip Smith also had established a film distribution business called Piedmont Pictures, based in Boston’s Bay Village section near the Coconut Grove. They handled independent film, usually booked into second run houses. But with the stock market crash of 1929, he was forced to sell all but three, the Strand Ipswich, and the two in South Boston.“ At the time, Philip Smith established a relationship with the First National Bank of Boston, in order to pay off debts. This led to a long term business relationship that later enabled the Smith family to grow what would become General Cinema in the 1950’s and ‘60s.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on December 2, 2005 at 8:33 am

The architect for the National was Clarence Blackall, it opened on Sept. 18, 1911, and it had (take your pick) 3000 or 3500 seats. Apparently, the two other names, Hippodrome and Waldorf, did not last too long.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on December 2, 2005 at 8:26 am

One winter night in the 1940s, my dumb friends and I were at Boylston station to take a trolley up to Park St. Somehow we got confused and boarded an outbound car which went down the Tremont Street tunnel under the Majestic, Wilbur, Met and Shubert, coming to the surface just south of the Shubert and continuing down Tremont Street in the South End. We stumbled off the car and started walking up Tremont and came across a wondrous sight, the National Th. just letting out of its evening show. I popped into the lobby, the houselights were on. It seemed so glamourous to me with its red velvet. Years later, when I told Donald King, he snickered at my youthful impressions. It was an old barn to him. He worked there in the late-1930s. The projection booth was built into the facade of the 2nd balcony. He had to haul cans of film up to the top of the 2nd balcony and then down an inside staircase to the booth. The National was the only one of the various Boston theatres which I went into in the 1960s which had poor houses, only a dozen people in the huge auditorium. It had 2 balconies and many large side boxes. The lobby was rather small, but it had a big stage and a spacious backstage area. After E.M.Loew closed it to movies, there were a number of attractions on stage, ballet and opera. There was a scandal involving the roof— the City paid to have the leaking roof fixed but after the work, the roof leaked worse than before. I visited the house with Don King in July 1983 and there was over 6 feet of water under the stage— one could have drowned down there. Many plans to reuse this house came to nothing and it was finally razed around 1997.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on June 20, 2005 at 2:32 am

According to Donald C. King’s new book The Theatres of Boston: A Stage and Screen History, the “gigantic” National Theatre opened on September 18, 1911, with 3500 seats. The grand opening caused a near-riot, as 8000 people pressed against its doors, shattering the glass.

King says “there was little else remarkable about this structure, other than its size.”

In February 1913, the National and the B.F. Keith Theatre both offered Edison’s Talking Pictures, “a phonograph and film device, some 13 years ahead of workable sound pictures. The problem was amplification: a phonograph horn, no matter how big, could not carry sound any further than a few rows.”

In August 1915, the National was renamed the Boston Hippodrome, and it offered its customers free parking for their automobiles.

On March 19, 1919, it was renovated and renamed the Waldorf by Harry Kelcey, founder of the Waldorf restaurant chain. He established a policy of two-show-a-day vaudeville and photoplays, and also operated Waldorf theatres in suburban Lynn and Waltham. King doesn’t say how long the Waldorf name lasted before it reverted to National again.

On pages 232-233, King talks about his days as an usher and assistant manager of the National in the late 1930s, and a subsequent visit in 1983 after it had closed. I won’t quote all of it, but this sounds memorable:

“The National had Amateur Nights every Sunday, where contestants performed ‘in one’, that is, in front of the curtain. Those nights were wild, drawing a boisterous audience not averse to throwing objects at the performers….the manager, his assistant, and a policeman stood facing the audience while standing in front of its unused orchestra pit and organ remains. An usher was placed in each of the side boxes to keep watch. We never saw much of the would-be actors, since our eyes were focused on the audience. It all reminded me of wardens guarding their prisoners: the South End of Boston was really rough in those days, fallen from the rest of Back Bay elegance.”

When King returned for a tour in 1983, “the orchestra pit and the first three rows of seating were filled with water seeping from the old Charles River bay.” (The South End, like the Back Bay, was filled land.)

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on May 14, 2005 at 4:18 pm

The National has been replaced by the Atelier 505 condominiums and the Calderwood Pavilion, which contains two new live stages.

aderna on May 14, 2005 at 11:31 am

I own a 1931 print of this theatre I was just wondering if anyone knows the names of the streets the are across the street from the theatre and what is currently located on the site of the former theatre?

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on March 31, 2005 at 4:06 am

Looking at the exterior photo, it looks large enough to have had an upper circle/balcony which could have been closed off in later years.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on March 30, 2005 at 4:00 pm

Ken, could the seating reduction be the result of stricter fire laws that might have forced closing of a balcony? The Cocoanut Grove fire happened in 1942.