• University to Begin Work on Modern Theatre Residence Hall
Preparing to unfurl the banner at the Modern Theatre celebration


Suffolk University is set to begin work on its new Modern Theatre residence hall on Washington Street, setting the stage for restoration of the Landmark Modern Theatre facade and breathing additional life into the Downtown Crossing neighborhood.
The building project will bring a new 184-seat theater to Downtown Crossing as it creates 197 student beds in suite-style housing. The lobby space in front of the theater will double as a gallery.

Preserving a Landmark

The Modern Theatre was included on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 as part of the Washington Street Theatre District. In 1995 it was designated a Boston Landmark.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has led the fight to save Washington Street’s theatrical heritage and was instrumental in raising public interest and awareness about the need for preserving the Modern, the Paramount and the Opera House.  The Opera House opened in 2004 after a $31 million restoration; and the Paramount Theatre is under construction as part of a redevelopment project.  The Modern is the last of these three Theater District jewels to be saved.

The building was initially constructed as retail and warehouse space in 1876. In 1913, it was converted into the Modern, the first Boston theater designed specifically to show films. Admission was 15 cents, and musical accompaniment was provided on an organ designed specifically for use in the theater. In 1928, the Modern Theatre premiered the first Boston showing of a “talkie” -- The Jazz Singer. It also introduced the double feature in an effort to compete with newer theaters showing movies and vaudeville together. By the 1980s, the building fell out of use and was considered beyond repair when Suffolk University stepped in.

Sustainable design

Architects worked with the University to design a building that will meet students’ needs, be environmentally sustainable and preserve the historic landmark.

The Modern Theatre project will be LEED certified. LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and buildings that earn this certification employ green design across all phases of design, construction and use. 

The University’s 10 West St. residence hall, which opened in January, won a LEED Gold award. Only a handful of student residence halls in Massachusetts have received this distinction.

Stone-by-stone deconstruction

The facade of the historic building will be taken apart stone by stone and sent to a masonry restoration expert before the remainder of the structure is torn down. The back of the several thousand stones removed will be marked so they can be put back in their proper places.

When the residence hall/theater opens in fall 2010, it will be a completely new building with a fully restored facade that will last another 100 years.

History repeats itself

The Modern Theatre residence hall project will not be Suffolk University’s first to use building materials recycled from a construction site.

As the Beacon Hill campus was being built in the 1920s, a building at 51 Temple St. was demolished, and the University made a deal with the demolition company to leave the brick behind. Work crews cleaned the nearly 150,000 bricks and used them in constructing a new building.

While making the most of its resources in those early years, Suffolk University was ahead of its time in practicing sustainable use of materials.

Today Suffolk University works diligently to find creative solutions to environmental challenges. The University instills the values of sustainability through education and practice -- in its buildings and by coaching students, faculty and staff.


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Greg Gatlin

Mariellen Norris