Tag Archives: Somerville Theater

The Somerville Theatre will be back

25 Jun

Somerville Theatre will bring Davis more music with Crystal Ballroom replacing upstairs screens

By Tom Meek Sunday, June 20, 2021

Frame One is building the Crystal Ballroom at Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The pandemic had its own victims in the film business, with the ShowPlace Icon and the ArcLight – luxe theaters that opened just before the pandemic in the Boston area – shuttered for good. On the upside, the Coolidge Corner Theatre just announced an expansion that includes two new screening rooms and a community space, and all Cambridge theaters have reopened or are about to. So what’s going on with the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square? The Capitol Theatre in Arlington, also owned and run by Frame One Theatres, has been up and running for a few weeks, but the Somerville cine, host to screenings and live performances since 1914, remains ominously dark.

“We’re undergoing renovations and a changeover,” theater manager and newly minted creative director Ian Judge said during a recent visit to the iconic structure. The lobby is in the middle of a refurbishing; the bar is now set back, and the concession and merchandise area has been expanded. That far too “homey” bathroom just off the lobby is getting a much needed makeover. The biggest change is upstairs, where two movie houses are being returned to their original ballroom format.

Ian Judge will oversee the Somerville Theatre cinema and its new performance space. (Photo: Tom Meek)

What that means is that the theater will now host a nearly 500-person-capacity performance hall dedicated to live music, special events and private engagements such as weddings and corporate gatherings. “We had remodeled the downstairs theaters and knew we had to do something with the upstairs,” Judge said. With the pandemic and six screens in Arlington (and potentially two more coming in Harvard Square), Frame One decided it could fill different needs.

The new/old hall has an airy amphitheater-like vibe and a space that could be turned into a cozy bar in the back, with a coatroom to boot. Judge said the room could also be used for special screenings, which is good news for Independent Film Festival Boston, but likely never would be opened as just a public bar. (“I could see us doing something like trivia nights,” Judge said.) The main focus will be booking music acts, something Davis Square has lagged in since the amps went silent at Johnny D’s back in 2016. The space, which was known as the Hobbs Crystal Ballroom back in the day – it’s in the Hobbs Building – will now be the Crystal Ballroom at Somerville Theatre. Its capacity will be far greater than the 300-plus that Johnny D’s seated, just short of the 525-person hall The Sinclair offers in Harvard Square. The main downstairs theater, which has a capacity of almost 900, will continue its mixed-use operation as a cinema and live performance venue. The new configuration will have two entrances for each space.

The Somerville Theatre lobby is getting a touchup as well. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Judge, who had been furloughed for a year, will oversee the cinema and the new ballroom, while longtime staffer Peter Mattchen will take on day-to-day general manager duties. The Crystal Ballroom is expected to open in the early fall; opening for the three movie screens should be mid- to late summer with, Judge said, a new ability to show 4K films and a re-honed focus on 70mm exhibition; the Somerville and Coolidge are two of few theaters in the United States equipped to exhibit the classic, grand format. Frame One’s involvement in a plan for two Harvard Square movie houses (replacing a cinema that went dark in 2012) continues, though the project is stalled.

Theater Updates

21 Dec

Trip to the movies changes for the luxurious, with more upgrades on the way along red line

Theaters by Alewife, Kendall, Davis and Harvard are all being refashioned

 

Apple Cinemas at Fresh Pond has received a refresh that includes luxurious recliners and reserved seating. (Photo: Apple Cinemas via Facebook)

Christmas and the usual slew of seasonal film openings is right around the corner, so after the tinsel trimming, paper shredding and eggnog overload, a trip to the cinema may be just what’s needed to take the edge off all the holiday cheer. Maybe a family excursion to Apple Cinemas at Fresh Pond, or perhaps a somber arthouse seating at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema? If you haven’t been to these venues recently, there’s been considerable change – and more is coming.

For one, both theaters replaced their old stadium-style seats recently with recliners (Kendall has a mix of recliners and rockers, which are a bit less like a La-Z-Boy) and Apple Cinemas now features reserved seating like the AMC in Assembly Square, as well as self-serve ticketing and concessions. All of this is part of a trend in cinema-going sparked by lux-experience theaters (see: Showplace Icon at Seaport or the Showcase SuperLux Chestnut Hill). Almost two years ago Landmark added beer and wine, with general manager Howard Sandler pointing to the local brewers among the offerings.

Also this month, the parent company of the Kendall Square Cinema, Landmark Theatres, was sold by Mark Cuban’s group to Cohen Media Group, an independent film distribution company formed in 2008 with such credits as “Frozen River.” The deal ends months of speculation that saw Amazon and Netflix in the running. Just how the deal will affect the chain and Kendall Square location specifically is unclear, but the group’s head, Charles S. Cohen, is a cinephile. The news is likely only good and comes at an opportune time: The site has been affected greatly by a two-year construction buildout out front that has made getting to the theater difficult and confusing.

Across the line in Davis Square, the Somerville Theatre just renovated downstairs theaters 2 and 3 with new seats, a Dolby sound system upgrade and wide screens that pretty much ensure there’s not a bad viewing angle in the house. Director of operations Ian Judge says renovation of the restrooms and lower-level lobby area is next. 

Richard Fraiman – owner of Frame One Theatres and operator of the Somerville Theatre and Capitol Theatre in Arlington – is slated to add the theater space in the old Harvard Square AMC on Church Street whenever a new structure is ultimately built out. According to attorney (and former Cambridge mayor) Anthony Galluccio, who represents property owner Kirche and billionaire developer Gerald Chan, demolition of the old building is scheduled for January with an ongoing review by the Cambridge Historical Commission. Traffic counters have been posted to help gauge traffic impacts from demolition and construction, as well as for business use when the 60,000-square-foot structure is finally built. Given the congestion in Harvard Square and proximity to the T, demolition and construction will need to be done with some care. 

The theaters there have been dark since since AMC sold it to Charles Hotel owner Richard Friedman back in 2012 for $6.5 million. Kirche picked it up for $17.5 million in 2014. Amid allegations of real estate warehousing, the city pressured Chan for development plans. Estimates for the building’s completion are early to mid-2020s. The mixed-use building will have two below-ground theaters that Frame One will program. Judge said it’s hard to say anything else beyond that until there is an actual space to lease.

The Brattle Theatre carries on meanwhile as the square’s cinema stalwart, but the future for cinephiles seeking screenings off the red line looks bright.

The 13th Annual Independent Film Festival Boston

30 Apr

‘Gather Round’ For The 13th Annual Independent Film Festival Boston

The Look of Silence movie review (2015) | Roger Ebert

The tagline’s meant to underscore not only the concept of old fashion storytelling around the communal fire pit, but also the sense of community among filmmakers and filmgoers alike and the cross pollination of the two. Something the festival has had great success with in the past, bringing in such distinguished guests as Academy Award-winning actor Ben Kingsley and groundbreaking documentarian Albert Maysles. Local boy Casey Affleck has lent to the fest’s cred too, serving as its creative adviser and the popular indie actress Lili Taylor, starring in the new TV series “American Crime,” sits on the advisory board.

The festival has become something of Sundance East, with lines from the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square stemming around the block as eager moviegoers chase that elusive last ticket or hope to snag that prized center seating. But with sellout after sellout, the festival is still changing and growing.

“We want to be more,” says executive director Brian Tamm, “we want to do more with the city of Somerville and the arts community. We want to be more of resource and community for filmmakers here in Boston and Massachusetts. We also want to expand more into Boston.”

Tamm cites the UMass Boston “Works in Progress” program and award given to a promising documentary not yet completed. There are also select screenings, he says, at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, but Davis Square is the de facto hub of the fest with other regular screenings augmented at the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square.

A scene from "Results." (Courtesy)

That’s the future, for now IFFB has proven its mettle; for 13 years IFFB has operated on a wholly volunteer structure, but things have started to change. With the departure of longtime program director Adam Roffman (who remains on as a board member) last year, Tamm took on the newly created executive director role and longtime festival organizer, Nancy Campbell took over the reigns as program director. Part of the reason for the new structure, now capping its second festival, was to give prospective sponsors a conventional front door to gain traction with easily versus the “kibbutz” style, as Tamm jokingly calls the old “by committee” structure, that may have caused confusion with past potential investors and other backing organizations.   Continue reading