A staple of Davis Square is the Somerville Theatre. The theatre, which is located in the Hobbs Building at 55 Davis Square, dates back to 1914. The theatre was designed to show motion pictures as well as live performances such as plays and vaudeville acts. According to a Somerville Journal article, the newly constructed theatre “has a commodious stage flanked by a double tier of boxes and the seats are leather tufted and very comfortable. There is one balcony and the booth for the picture lanterns is at the extreme top of the building. The decorations of the walls and ceiling are of rose color and the lights and all appliances are of the latest and most approved type.” The theatre’s grand opening took place on May 11, 1914 with The Inventor’s Wife as its feature picture and a vaudeville performance by the Stewart Sisters called A King for a Day.
Starting in 1915, the Somerville Theatre introduced their own stock theatre company. A stock theatre company is a group of actors who perform only at a particular theater. The group will have a collection of plays that they are familiar with and will select a different one for each week they perform. The original stock company was overseen by Nathan Appell who had previously managed a successful stock company in Malden.
One of the stock company’s best reviewed plays was titled Within the Law. The Somerville Journal reported, “Its many strong parts makes it specially fitted to introduce a new gathering of players as everyone in the cast will have excellent opportunities of showing his or her talents.” The play tells the story of a young woman named Mary Turner, played by Evelyn Varden, who was arrested and sent to Sing Sing prison for a crime she did not commit. Mary Turner then ends up falling for the son of one of the men who is behind her false imprisonment. The stock company performed both matinee and evening shows. Depending on where you sat, the price of a ticket for a matinee showing was 10 or 20 cents while the evening shows were 25 or 35 cents.
The Somerville Theatre was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, and in the mid 1990s the theatre went through a major renovation and restoration. Vacant retail space in the building was used for the addition of two new screens and the installation of modern bathrooms. An elevator was also added to make the building more accessible. The theatre continues to offer movie showings as well as live performances. Artists like U2, Bruce Springsteen and the Jonas Brothers have all performed at the theatre. Additionally, the theatre is also one of the hosts of The Independent Film Festival of Boston. The Somerville Theatre is also one of a handful of theatres in New England that can run 70mm film!
- “New Hobbs Building and Somerville Theatre Will Open Next Monday Evening”. Somerville Journal. 8 May, 1914, pg. 6
- “Stock Season to Open”. Somerville Journal. 7 May, 1915, pg. 3.