Orpheum Theatre New Bedford
Written By: JASR
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
What used to be filled with entertainment and the arts is now an abandoned theatre that has been closed since the 1950s.
The Orpheum Theatre in New Bedford, Massachusetts, originally called the Majestic Opera House, opened with 1,500 seats which underwent various changes – making the seating capacity decrease to 1,200.
The theatre may have closed years ago, but a non-profit organization is committed to reviving it to its original majesty.
Construction and History
The Orpheum Theatre in New Bedford opened on April 15, 1912 – the same day the Titanic sank. It was part of a Beaux-Arts building that was built in 1910 by a French-Canadian group called Le Club des Francs-Tireurs, or The French Sharpshooters Club.
The building was designed by architect Louis Destremps. Construction began in 1910 and was finished two years later. It included the theatre, a ballroom, a shooting range, a gymnasium, retail space, and several office and meeting spaces. Locals gathered during the opening ceremony to watch the opening act of the Five Musical Durands.
The Sharpshooters Club leased the theatre to the Orpheum Circuit of Boston – making it home to vaudeville performances, feature films, serials, and newsreels.
Due to the Orpheum Circuit’s affiliations with other organizations, it later became Radio-Keith-Orpheum, or “the RKO,” known for showing films like “King Kong.” The Orpheum Theatre in New Bedford is one of the oldest surviving Orpheum Theatres in the country.
The Beginning of Change
The original 1,500 seats of the theatre were replaced with more modern ones over the years. They were sold when the theatre closed. The original seats were then reinstalled.
The theatre was closed for the first time in 1958-59 and later opened several times for certain events. In 1962, it was sold by the French Sharpshooters Club and was used as a warehouse by a tobacco and candy company.
The building started to deteriorate due to lack of maintenance. The theatre made it on a list called “31 Haunting Images of Abandoned Places That Will Give You Goose Bumps” published on Bored Panda in 2013.
While the building is currently privately owned, an organization called O.R.P.H. Inc., or Orpheum Rising Project Helpers, is dedicated to restoring the theatre.
Its mission is “to preserve, restore, protect and adapt the building known as the Orpheum Theater” and “to create and operate a multi-cultural arts facility, to promote arts, culture, diversity and education,” among others.
Lance Gunberg, the president of O.R.P.H, Inc., said the organization started to provide tours of the theatre a few years ago. He spoke with the organization’s then-president and said the community “needed to know about the forgotten treasure in their city.”
Gunberg then worked on a documentary about the French Sharpshooters Organization and The Orpheum Theatre, as well as their impact on the city. He was later asked to take over as president of the organization.
“Our goal is to take ownership of the structure, so that we may begin the process of revitalizing the building and the theatre within,” Gunberg said.
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