Saturday, September 1, 2012

Orpheum Theater, 1 Hamilton Place, Boston, MA

Capacity 2763
Thomas Lamb was the architect.

1852 - The Boston Music-Hall Association, Dr. Jabez Baxter Upham, President, opened the Boston Music Hall to the public with a concert on Friday, November 20. The net proceeds of the event were "to form the nucleus of a fund, which, at some future day, might furnish the Hall with an Organ of the first class". The net proceeds realized were approximately $920.(7)
It began as the Boston Music Hall in 1852 and served as the original home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New England Conservatory, this grand old lady appears a bit dated, but despite its tattered appearance all seats are normally filled for most shows.

1853 - The Handel and Haydn Society, organized in 1815 in Boston, moved to the Boston Music Hall, and brought with it its three manual and pedal organ built in 1832 by Thomas Appleton.  Originally installed in Boylston Hall, the society and its organ moved in 1839 to Melodeon Hall. As relocated a second time to the Boston Music Hall, the organ stood in the niche behind the screen of the stage. The Boston Music-Hall Association rented this organ for $240 a year, and eventually purchased it.(7)

1856 - A festival concert was held in the Boston Music Hall on Saturday, March 1 to celebrate the unveiling of Thomas G. Crawford's sevenfoot high bronze statue of Beethoven. The statue itself was placed on a six-foot high pedestal located at the center of the stage.(7)
On December 31, 1862, the eve of the Emancipation Proclamation going into effect, Northern abolitionists gathered at the Music Hall to celebrate as the clock struck midnight, Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Lloyd Garrison & Harriet Tubman, were all in attendance.

The Boston Music Hall Organ, installed in 1862, was the first concert pipe organ installed in the United States. It was commissioned in 1857 and built in Germany by E.F. Walcker and Company of Ludwigsburg. It was the largest in the US at the time, containing 5,474 pipes and 84 registers.

1866 - The Boston Music-Hall Association reported that receipts at the Music Hall for the month of June were $576.(7)

The Boston Symphony Orchestra gave its inaugural concert in the Boston Music Hall on Saturday evening, October 22, 1881 under the direction of conductor Georg Henschel. Works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Christoph Willibald Gluck, Franz Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, Max Bruch and Carl Maria von Weber were performed.

The organ was removed from the Music Hall in 1884 to provide more performing space for the Boston Symphony. Initially put into storage, the organ was rebuilt and installed by the Methuen Organ Company in the Serlo Organ Hall in Methuen, Massachusetts, which was built to house the organ. The organ was later rebuilt again and augmented by the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company.(7)
Boston Music Hall Organ


1900 - The nineteenth season of the Boston Symphony Orchestra was the last held in the Boston Music Hall. The final concert in the venue took place on Saturday evening, April 28 under the direction of conductor Wilhelm Gericke. The program consisted of Ludwig van Beethoven's "Leonore Overture No. 2", Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Quintette, "Di scrivermi ogni giorno", from "Cosi fan tutte", and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
The interior of the Boston Music Hall was gutted and remodeled into a vaudeville theater. The facility reopened on Tuesday, September 4 as the "Boston Music-Musee Hall".(7)

In Feb. 1905, a third entrance was added from 415 Washington Street and the theater was renamed the Empire Theatre.(7) Boston movie theater historian Joe Cifre included the Empire as one of Boston’s earliest movie film venues.(6)
This theater is listed as the “Empire” in the 1906 Julius Cahn Official Theatrical Guide. This was after the heavy reconstruction of Summer, 1900; and further alterations in 1904-05. The seating capacity is listed as 1,844, The proscenium opening was 41 feet wide X 30 feet high, and the stage was 38 feet deep. The listing says that the Empire was occupied at that time by the Empire Stock Company.(6)
The "Empire Theatre" became the "Orpheum Theatre" on Monday, September 3, 1906.(7)
On Monday, September 13, 1909,  the "Boston Globe" reported that the "Orpheum Theatre" would be known as the "American Music Hall". (7)
1910 - After a summer of stock plays, the "American Music Hall" became the "Orpheum Theatre" once more.(7)

Marcus Lowe took over sometime around here. He did not renovate it into its present appearance until 1915.(6)

1916 - The Boston Music Hall was again gutted and remodeled. On Thursday, January 20, the facility reopened as the "Loew's Orpheum Theatre", to become Boston's first authentic movie palace when Marcus Loew took it over.   
The theatre organ database indicates a 3-manual 35 rank Frazee organ (their opus 30) was installed at the Loew’s Orpheum in 1916. Its current location unknown.(9)

This venue hasn't run film since the late 1960s.

A Boston Globe article says that the name changed from Loew’s Orpheum to just Orpheum in August of 1967.(8)
The Orpheum closed as a movie theatre on January 31, 1971 and reopened as the Aquarius, a live concert hall, on May 27, 1971. The first featured performer was James Brown.
The new owner was an African-American business owner and activist named Arthur Scott. Newspaper articles of the time compared his new venture to the Apollo Theatre in New York City.(8)

From 1975 to 1979, the Orpheum served as the home of the Opera Company of Boston, under director Sarah Caldwell, until that company moved to the current Boston Opera House.

The Music Hall and the "Great Organ" were listed in the National Register of Historic Places effective Thursday, December 14, 1978.(7)

It's a little scary when the balcony shakes when everyone dances and you would be quite turned off by the rundown-ness of the place.  The seating is kind of unstable and very squished, allowing for very little leg room. Here's the deal:  The Orpheum is about 30 seconds from crumbling to the ground - despite the 50 cent restoration fee paid for YEARS with every ticket.  The balcony bounced up and down when the music gets loud and people move, and even though you can't smoke there anymore, this place smells like it still has a 5-pack a day habit. It is difficult to navigate the building, random halls and stairways combined with confusing mirrors make you feel like you are in some sort of fun house.
But as Bostonians say, it's got chahm....
Photo by Adam Martin

In 1981 The Rolling Stones were banned from playing at The Orpheum.(4)

Currently, the theater is owned by the Drucker Realty Company. The contract to operate the Orpheum was acquired by Don Law, a Boston concert promoter, from the Live Nation entertainment company, in 2009. Law had announced a major renovation for the theater, after which it was scheduled to reopen in late 2009.[3]

Jerry performed here on
Old And In The Way
Doug Sahm opened.
This is Vassar Clements's first show with Old And In The Way.[12]
Tex Logan sits in.
Jerry plays a RB-250 Gibson Mastertone banjo.[22]

4/6/75  early and late shows Legion Of Mary
Promoter Don Law Presents
Attendance early show-2570
Attendance late show-2378[24]

10/24/75 early and late shows Jerry Garcia Band
Promoter Don Law
Attendance early show-1922
Attendance late show-2851
First time played: They Love Each Other.

12/2/77 early and late shows Jerry Garcia Band
Promoter Don Law
Attendance combined for both hows-4496[26]
"Jerry got a late start for the late show and had to cram in six songs before the midnight curfew resulting in the shortest but by far most incendiary Jerry-related show I ever attended."[13]

2/15/80 early and late shows Jerry Garcia Band
Rachel Sweet opened.
Promoter Don Law.
(for the late show)"He ambled on stage without announcement, and proceeded to spend a full two or three minutes with his back to the audience as he plugged in and tuned up with the rest of the band. Slightly pudgy and slightly stooped, thick beard and hair adding to his buffalo-headedness. The 37 year old wore what appeared to be the same untucked black t-shirt he was wearing when the Dead first rose to the top of the San Francisco acid-rock heap during 1967's Summer of Love."[15]

7/25/80 early and late shows Jerry Garcia Band
Promoter Don Law.
Jerry wore a black button down shirt and plays the guitar Tiger.[19]
Combined 5658 tickets sold.[17]
Keith Godchaux died two days before this show.

2/7/81 early and late shows Jerry Garcia Band
Jonathan Edwards opened.
Promoter Don Law.

11/13/81 early and late shows Jerry Garcia Band
Ron Tutt on drums.[14]
Peter Rowan opened.[14]
Promoter Don Law.
2,800 tickets sold.[18]
"It was a full moon, AND Friday the 13th, at the Orpheum Theater in Boston. I was on the floor, 2nd row for the early show.
The late show we recorded from the front row, center balcony. There was some guy SCREAMING at the top of his lungs, right behind me. As bad as that was on my ears, I was amazed at how little of his screaming came out on the tape. Must have been the shotguns on the NAK 300's. They really did a good job of aiming. In any case, the power went out during the 4th song, and that was it. We went outside to a beautiful full moonlit night, and no lights to be seen in any of the buildings. Surreal."[10]

"The late show ended early due to power outage caused by a nearby fire."[14]

"Early show and late show, city of Boston blackout during 4th song of late show. Cries of ACOUSTIC ACOUSTIC ignored. Show ends early and we are released into a dark cold snowy city way before we are in any condition.."[5]

12/3/83 early and late shows Jerry Garcia Band
Rick Danko opened.
Promoter Michelob Presents/Don Law

11/17/84 John Kahn (acoustic)
Robert Hunter opened.
Promoter Tea Party Concerts in association with John Scher.
2800 tickets sold.[16]
Jerry plays a Takamine guitar.

2/1/86 John Kahn (acoustic)
Jerry plays a Takamine guitar.
2,763 tickets sold.[20]

2/2/86 John Kahn (acoustic)
Jerry plays a Takamine guitar.
2,763 tickets sold.[21]

Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA
2.)^Boston almanac and business directory. 1887, 1894
3.)^Goodison, Donna (May 6, 2009). "Live Nation sells halls". Boston Herald
4.)^The Hour, Boston Says No Thanks To The Rolling Stones, 1981-09-23, pg. 17.
5.)^Schwartz, Eric, comments, 2014-11-15, Grateful Dead Tour Veterans 1980s,
6.)^Salters, Ron, 2011-04-11,
7.)^ Sampson, Ed, 2009-09 "Methuen Memorial Music Hall History". Methuen Memorial Music Hall, Inc.,
8.)^Newman, Ron,
9.)^Dunkin, Will, 2011-11-03,
10.)^Jed's buddy (Lazyriverbob), 2012-10-23,
11.)^Boxoffice, 1926-08-28, pg. 6,
12.)^Jones, Greg and Andrew Pickard, Crazy Fingers: Jerry Garcia& The Banjo, 1992, April, Relix 19, 2, pg.17,
13.)^Daly, Pat, comments,
14.)^1981-11-13, Late show,
15.)^Adler, Bill, Garcia just keeps rolling along, 1980-02-18, Herald American, unknown page,
16.)^Billboard, 1984-12-01, pg. 37, LN jg1970-07-12.nrps-gd.aud-cooper.122707.flac1644, 2014-04-11,
19.)^Silberberg, Steve, photographer, 1980-07-25.
22.)^Schoepf, Frank, 2014-04-16, email to author.
23.)^Lennon, Beth, 2013-12-12, The Great organ At The Methuen Music Hall,
24.)^Box Office Statement, Orpheum Theater, 9/6/75, Joseph Jupille Archives.
25.)^Tour booklet notes, 1977-12-02, Joseph Jupille Archives.
26.)^Auditoriums (Under 6,000), Billboard, 1977-12-17, pg. 52, Joseph Jupille Archives.


  1. I recall seeing a P-Fink show there in the early 90s where the building shook and swayed to the point where it seemed it might crumble. Also, Bob Dylan covered 'Alabama Getaway' there shortly after Jerry's demise. A dump but a dump with a lot of classic memories.

  2. This would appear to be "Theater", not "Theatre".