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 some time 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 facade of the Wan Shou Tsu Temple.
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.
Dorchester residents: Joseph Orfant, Debra Hall, Seater O’Hara
John Toto on www.cinematreasures.org
“Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ, opus 2131,” by Terry Hochmuth.
RE: the Oriental Theatre, 2006
THERE IS A RUMOR THAT THE CEILING FROM THE ORIENTAL THEATER IN MATTAPAN , WAS TAKEN DOWN AND RE INSTALLED IN THE ORIENTAL THEIR IN CANTON, ANYONE KNOW ANY THING ABOUT THAT? CAN WE CHECK IT OUT AND PUT THE STORY TO REST, ANYONE REMEMBERING THE BEAUTIFUL CEILING IN THE ORIENTAL THEATER IN MATTAPAN, IT WAS BEAUTIFUL STARS AND CLOUDS, THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THEATER I HAD EVER SEEN
Comment received from Karen Timmons, October, 2006:
I’ve reached the age of reminiscence, passing personal info on to my daughter and granddaughter. We went to the Morton Theater, where our parents gave us a nickel or a dime, packed us lunches, and sent us off for Saturday afternoon. We were loud and roudy kids. One Saturday, during the usual screeming, whistling, and pocorn throwing, the manager came on stage to quiet us and was pelted with popcorn and empty candy boxes. He got off the stage and intermission was over. We could walk it from my house on Jacob St. The Oriental was too far to walk and a real treat to be there. I spent more time looking at the ceiling than the screen. The Neponset Drive is where my parents and I went almost every Saturday night.