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Oriental Theatre, 1601 Blue Hill Avenue
Oriental Theatre
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 Located at 1601 Blue Hill Avenue in Mattapan Square, the Oriental Theatre building has become Capitol Electric Supply Co. The Oriental was one of the few and best "atmospheric" movie theatres in the area.

During the "golden" age of great movie houses, "atmospherics" were the ones with a strong romantic theme, such as an Egyptian theme, incorporating the features of lighting and architecture to create an illusion that the patrons were seated outdoors in an exotic locale. This effect was achieved by projecting images of stars and moving clouds onto a grey painted, seamless celing, using a brenograph, which is a special type of projection equipment designed expressly for this purpose. The use of projected images is the key element in an "atmospheric" theatre. When the lights would go down, the auditorium would seem to have no roof and the ceiling would light up like the night sky. This use of projected clouds and stars was quite innovative in the 1930s. Some theatres seemed to be Spanish Mediterranean villages; others were like walled medieval courtyards. The Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood is probably the most well-known example or the Fox in Detroit or the Fox in Atlanta.

The Oriental in Mattapan also had a "Chinese" atmosphere. There were niches along the theatre side walls with oriental figures in them. The eyes lit up red when the house lights went down. Clouds crossed over above the audience, and the ceiling appeared to be blue velvet with stars shining. The interior of the theatre was moved sometime ago to a theater somewhere on the South Shore, perhaps Canton.

The theatre opened in 1929 and closed in 1971 playing "Diamonds Are Forever." Originally part of Jacob Lourie's and Sam Pinanski's NETOCO, then Paramount-Publix and M & P, closing as one of the last of the old American Theatres Corp. (ATC). It was intended to be built in Waltham, but ended up in Boston's Mattapan neighborhood.

The theatre was designed by Boston architects Krokyn, Browne and Rosenstein, and the stadium-type auditorium was capable of seating 3000 patrons in an atmosphere faithfully re-creating such notable Chinese structures as the Street Gate of Tsinanfu and the fa?ade of the Wan Shou Tsu Temple.


Dorchester residents: Joseph Orfant, Debra Hall, Seater O'Hara

John Toto on

"Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ, opus 2131," by Terry Hochmuth.

Interior - Oriental Theatre
Oriental Theatre organ grille
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 Interior of the Oriental Theatre showing the organ grille.

The Wurlitzer Organ, opus 2131, was shipped out of the factory at North tonowanda, NY, on September 15, 1930, and installed prior to the theatre?s opening night in November, 1930. The theatre was quite unusual in that it opened with a reserved-seat ticket policy ? something unheard of for theatres showing moving pictures. By this time silent movies were no longer played very often, but the theatre chains had contracted with Wurlitzer for a large number of these organs. Many times, as was the case at the Oriental, the organs were very rarely used publicly, if at all.

The organ was later purchased by Arthur Goggin who worked for the Aeolian Skinner Organ Company with the intention of installing it in his home. That never happened. The organ was sold to a private party in Indianapolis and was, again, not installed. It was sold and installed in the home of Terry Hochmuth who used it, and some commercial CDs were produced on it. It has since been removed and installed in a private home in Phoenix.

The console is one of a kind. It is of a Chinese Art Deco design and was originally finished in gesso, a plaster-like substance that had a brushstroke design to it in a subtle gold color. The organ has 1411 pipes, ranging in size from less than one inch to over 16 feet in length.

The organ grille in the Oriental Theatre was patterned after details of the Imperial Barge, the Lama Temple and the Temple of the Five Pagodas in China.

Map Detail Oriental Theatre 1933
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 Scan of Map Detail Oriental Theatre from plate 39 of the 1933 Bromley Atlas. The Oriental Theatre was located on Blue Hill Avenue just north of Fairway Street.

Readers' Comments
 Readers' Comments

September 2006 From: Margery Kravitz

Re: Overview: Oriental Theatre

The Oriental Theatre was built by the White Construction Company. Benjamin White, the company's owner was my grandfather. Thank you. Margery

September 2007 From: Marcy Scandura

I went to the Oriental Theater all the time as a child and as a teenager. My grandparents and my parents and my sister and practically the whole neighborhood went to that theater frequently. I grew up in Dorchester off of BLue hill Ave. within walking distance to the G&G Deli. We either walked or took the bus or my dad drove us to the Ori every Saturday for the cartoons and the Sat.matinee double features.....the scary movies. I used to mostly look up at the ceiling amazed by the moving clouds and twinkling stars. We moved to Mattapan Sq.when I was 18 and I was thrilled that I could walk to the theater in under 10 mins.

I still have my friends from the 1960's and we still talk about and think about the wonderful, glamorous Oriental that was fashioned after the Grauman's Chinese Theater in CA. Oh to only have those days back again!! I'll always have my fond memories and being able to see the theater on-line means a lot to me. I'll always treasure those days.


From: Harvey Rosen, March 2009

My grandfather, Harry Berger, was a painter, muralist and artist in the Dorchester-Mattapan area. He was a primary artist on the wall and ceiling designs of the theatre. My Mother, Doris, visited him and helped a bit when the work was in progress. Harry Berger also did many murals and artwork for the temples and synogogues of the same area. He came to the United States about 1915 and died about 1992.

Related Images: showing 8 of 22 (more results)
Here are some images from the Atheneum archive related to this topic. Click on any of these images to open a slideshow of all 22 images.
Mattapan Square with TrolleysMattapan SquareMattapan Square, Mattapan, Mass.Mattapan Sq. from R.R. Depot
Mattapan SquareBridge over NeponsetNeponset River BridgeBoies House, Mattapan Square
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Created: February 8, 2004   Modified: November 20, 2009