Friday, March 28, 2008

Springfield's Court Square Theatre

This artist's rendering of the Court Square Theatre Building appeared in the Summer, 1900, issue of The American Missionary quarterly, accompanying an announcement that the 54th Annual Meeting of the American Missionary Association would be taking place at the theater in the fall. "A great gathering...anticipated," it is noted in the article that the theater, which seated about 1800, boasts "the largest auditorium in the city."

On October 23, 1900, missionaries from all over the country descended upon Court Square for the 2:30 p.m. opening of the meeting under the gavel of Association President F. A. Noble. Some may have been a bit late, however, if they were looking for the building per the magazine illustration, as the artist had taken the liberty of adding an extra block of structure six windows wide to the far left of the true facade. Last anyone looked, the three story, brick-built 3-7 Elm Street still stands where the artist placed this embellishment, as it has since 1835, 57 years before the Court Square Theatre was built.

A more accurate depiction of the Court Square Theatre Building at the time of the missionary's convention can be seen in this Library of Congress photograph, taken between 1900 and 1910. The building at 3-7 Elm is seen to the left, where the artist of the previous illustration had imagined his six-story addition.

Not that the Frederick S. Newman-designed structure hasn't had a couple of major additions and subtractions over the years, the most prominent enhancement taking place early in the building's history. Only 8 years old (built in 1892), the five-story building was topped off in 1900 with a sixth-floor and connected to the newly constructed Court Square Hotel, which effectively gave the structure a footprint spanning a city block, stretching between Elm and State streets. Perhaps the first illustration is a rendering of how the owner of the building, Dwight O. Gilmore, would have liked to expand, had he been able to creep eastward into the stalwart 3-7 Elm Street's lot.

In March of 1957, a large chunk of the south side of the Court Square Theatre Building was razed to make way for parking, the bulk of the demolition destroying the main part of the theater itself. In the December, 2007, photograph above, one notices open sky to the left of the east wall of the building, above neighboring 3-7 Elm Street, while the postcard below tells a different story.

After the expansion, but before the razing, this old postcard shows the Court Square Theatre Building as it was in the early 1900s. The red brick segment on the east side of the building, to the left of the Court Square Theatre sign, housed the theater itself, gone for more than half a century now.

The original construction, including the Court Square Theatre and Office Block, set Mr. Gilmore back close to $250,000. The dedication of the building was held on September 5, 1892, with performances of "If I Were You," a comedy by William Young, and "Diana," burlesque by Sydney Rosenfeld, as given by the Manola-Mason Company. The Governor of Massachusetts, William E. Russell, then serving his first year in office, attended the grand event and even took the stage and spoke a few words of congratulations. Russell died four years later, at the age of 39, and still holds the distinction of having been the youngest person elected Governor of Massachusetts, in 1891, at the age of 34.

The addition of the Court Square Hotel in 1900 brought the southern face of the building to the edge of State Street, as seen in this December, 2007, photograph. The building has been dormant and deteriorating for years, with solid plans for its revitalization always seeming to be lurking just around the corner. Recent activity by the city and developers gives champions of the building renewed hope, as plans for the structure's refurbishment continue to move along with all deliberate speed.

From the book 'Springfield Present and Prospective,' this Clifton Johnson photograph was taken sometime after the 1900 expansion but before 1905, the year the book was published. It's not easy to find photographs of the original facade of the Court Square Theatre Building, but local historian Ralph Slate shares a fine example of the structure as it stood in its earliest days in a March 4, 2008, article posted on his web site,

In 1905, there were four playhouses in the city: The New Gilmore, the Nelson, the Poli, and, of course, Court Square Theatre. As to this circumstance, it is remarked dryly in the aforementioned book: "Enough theatrical entertainment is now given in a week to last the Springfield of ten years ago for an entire season, and people who would have then attended a performance perhaps once in a fortnight now seem to go almost daily. Yet the enormous development of the cheap theatres seems not to have hurt the patronage of the best plays, though the city could no doubt support more of the first-rate productions but for this diversion."

By the time 1938 rolled around, the year the advertisements above appeared in the Springfield Daily News, Hollywood's celluloid magic had captivated America's interest and movie theaters had begun to spring up like mushrooms. The Court Square was leased to E. M. Loew's chain of theaters in 1936, but had trouble competing with the newer, larger theaters, like 1926's Paramount at 1705 Main Street. The still-operating Paramount (now the Hippodrome), was the city's highest-capacity theater at the time it was built, seating 3,755, more than double the souls the Court Square Theatre could hold. Loew's lease didn't last long, and by 1941 the group, The Playgoers of Springfield, were the stewards of the theater, acting as such until 1953. The final curtain dropped for the Court Square Theatre on April 22, 1956.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

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Bill Dusty said...

Thanks for the fine trip down History Lane, Mark ;-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the beautiful photos. I will love to see something constructive done to the buildings but it will break my heart to see the inner courtyard mural go. My father worked for Tony and his likeness is up there on the wall next to Tony's. My Papa passed away in 1985 and I will miss seeing him up on that wall.

Wesson G Lussier Jr. said...

Hello, I'm researching info about the Paramount in the 1950's. My wife's mother, Joan Goetze. She was from Brimfield, Mass. and supposedly played musical instruments during intermissions. She was a teenager then and died in late 1960's. For reasons unknown, there is very little info about her. I'm trying to fill in some gaps. Who or where do I go to, hopefully, find info about Joan's playing at the Paramount. It would be wonderful if there were some archival contacts for the Paramount. Anyone with info, please contact Wes @ thank you

Anonymous said...

I believe my parents received free Homer Laughlin dinnerware pieces when they attended movies at the Court Square Theater during the 1940's. Is my memory correct?