In the first quarter of the 20th century, Arlington was expanding and prospering. Locals found themselves having more time for leisure activities and enjoying live theater. During this time, Arlington gained two large movie houses as well as a small community theater. More than 100 years later, these theaters continue to be culturally, socially, and economically important to the fabric of the town. In this article, we’ll talk about the history of these places.
The Regent Theatre
During the past 100 years, the Regent Theatre has remained true to its roots as one of the premiere independent performing arts centers and film houses in the Greater Boston area. The Regent’s current ownership took the reins in 2001 and revived the theatre’s film and live programming. Its first concert was a benefit for victims and families of 9/11. Since then, the Regent has hosted a wide variety of musical artists from many decades. Some examples are Odetta, Steven Tyler, Michelle Shocked, Yo-Yo Ma, The Quarrymen, They Might Be Giants, and many more.
For years, the Regent was the Boston home of the Bellydance Superstars and the venue for such eclectic events as an 85th birthday party in 2005 for TV and film icon Mickey Rooney, as well as the 2012 funeral for Doo-Wop music legend and long-time Arlington resident Herb Reed of Herb Reed & the Platters.
The Regent has also welcomed many comedians such as Paula Poundstone, Steven Wright, and Lenny Clarke, and jazz musicians such as Rebecca Parris, and now Grammy-certified rising star, Samara Joy.
On its big silver screen, the Regent has presented many Boston, US, and world premiered including the Janis Joplin film, “Little Girl Blue” (2015), and “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco” (2002); along with 50th anniversary screenings of “Singin’ in the Rain” (2002) and “The Seven Samurai” (2004).There are also beloved Regent traditions such as showings of “The Sound of Music”, “1776” and “Grease”. This modest-sized, independent venue could be dubbed “The United Nations of theatres” having presented countless cultural, many charitable events compromising countries and communities from every continent on earth, with the exception of Antarctica… maybe.
The Regent has recently completed major sound and lighting upgrades along with improvements to the stage and backstage areas. Having survived two worldwide pandemics, one in each century, and with the support of its patrons, the stage is set for “Arlington’s Show Place of Entertainment” to thrive for generations to come. You can even rent the theatre for special events. More information here.
There are many upcoming shows coming this spring, such as The Great Guitar Night, What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears?, Boston Comedy Blowout, Johnny Peers & The Muttville Comix, and A Little Wonder.
The Capitol Theatre
The Capitol Theatre has a rich history. The building opened its doors in the fall of 1925. The 1920s were a time of great productivity and optimism and the new theatre was a monument to this period. Built by the Locatelli family, builders of other area theatres like the Ball Square Theatre and Central Theatre, both in Somerville, the Capitol’s original auditorium held almost 1600 patrons between the expansive orchestra section and balcony. A mural above the proscenium arch incorporated Arlington’s town seal into its design. Films were accompanied by a powerful orchestral pipe organ, capable of making one hundred and fifty effects, at the time the largest of its kind in New England. The Capitol was one of the largest and most luxurious of the area’s neighborhood theatres. Even though Arlington’s unemployment rate was at 20%, people lined up down the street to see the latest movies. A night out at the movies was a nice pick me up during the depression years of the 1930s.
The Locatelli family sold the theatre in the late 1930s after which it was leased by various local cinema chains. Eventually Arthur Viano of Viano’s Theatres took over for many years. Along with other Viano’s locations like the nearby Regent Theatre, and the Somerville and Broadway theatres in Somerville, the Capitol became well known for its fresh popcorn and friendly atmosphere. The theatre was eventually sold to the Fraiman family, who restored the lobby back to its original glory, and they expanded to a new 5-screen multiplex in 1989.
Arlington movie-goers were now able to choose more films to see, with modern, comfortable seating and stereo sound. Today the Capitol continues its tradition of affording locals a steady mix of movies including family-friendly films, Hollywood blockbusters, and art house delights. Check out this week’s showtimes!
The Arlington Friends of the Drama, now known as AFD Theatre, was founded in 1923 and is one of the ten oldest continually operating community theatre groups in the United States.
Incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation in the early 1930s, Arlington Friends of the Drama, Inc. bid $8,200 on the St. John’s Episcopal Church building, which is now the theatre. The theatre now designs and produced a season of four shows annually, usually including a comedy, drama, a “smaller” musical and a major musical Its productions provide a home for some of the most creative directors, designers, and performing artists in New England and regularly garner regional and national awards. AFD Theatre is considered to be among the finest area playhouses for actors, directors, production designers and audiences to produce and enjoy live theatre. You can see Nunsense in May, and keep checking the website for upcoming performances!